Critical Shoreline Habitat Protection Program
This program protected 1,330 acres and 30,700 feet of critical shoreline in northeastern Minnesota helping to fulfill the goals of the DNR's Aquatic Management Area program, the State Conservation and Preservation Plan and many others.
About the Issue
The natural shoreline around Minnesota's celebrated lakes and rivers comprises one of the most biologically important systems in the state for fish, game and wildlife. It is also one of the most threatened. In order to preserve this important component of Minnesota's natural heritage, the Minnesota Land Trust implemented the Critical Shoreline Habitat Protection Program. This program protected 1,330 acres and 30,700 feet of critical shoreline in northeastern Minnesota helping to fulfill the goals of the DNR's Aquatic Management Area program, the State Conservation and Preservation Plan and many others.
The Minnesota Land Trust strategically concentrated its activity on important aquatic resources within northeast Minnesota's Arrowhead region, including DNR-designated high priority trout streams such as the Knife River, Crow Creek, and the Encampment River and on signature border lakes such as Vermilion and Burntside. In all, seven conservation easement projects were finalized including a 997-acre project in the Encampment Forest area near Two Harbors.
Another highlight of the program was leverage. Six of the seven easements were donations from the landowners. The largest project, Encampment Forest, did require a purchase but over 50% of the purchase cost was raised in private donations. In all, only $692,900 of state funding generated over $2,875,000 in conservation value -- a ratio of $4 of conservation benefit for every $1 of state investment. These estimates are overly conservative as the Land Trust is not taking into account the easement value for 3 parcels which did not conduct an appraisal. As we consider lessons-learned from this grant and others, it is clear that all parties would benefit from developing a methodology to calculate the value of landowner donations when then land is not appraised. To date, the Land Trust has been cautious of estimating easement values and as a practice has not documented any leverage or donated values without an appraisal. A model for the future will be considered and discussed with the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC).
A final highlight of the program is the ongoing interest generated through outreach to landowners. While seven properties were protected throughout the duration of the Critical Shorelines I Grant Program, many more landowners expressed interest and still represent excellent conservation opportunities in the future. To date, 43 landowners are engaged in discussions about potential easements and another several dozen are in the initial inquiry stage. The Land Trust considers this an extraordinary pool of potential conservation partners from which to secure easements directly targeted to the critical shoreline goals of this program. As such, it is important to note that the Critical Shorelines II was applied for in 2013 and received funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to build upon the efforts of this grant and ultimately secure protection of at least 700 acres of naturally vegetated shoreline, forest habitat, and wetlands in northeastern Minnesota.
To summarize the program’s accomplishments, seven conservation easements totaling 1,330 acres secured under this program are perpetual and were drafted to further prevent the fragmentation and destruction of existing pristine habitat. These easements will ensure that the sensitive shoreline habitat under easement will remain ecologically viable and productive for fish, game and wildlife. The conservation easements acquired prohibit land use and development that negatively impacts the important habitat values and ensure that long-term management will maximize the benefits of the shoreline and associated forested uplands. Furthermore, the Land Trust will continue to seek opportunities to work with the landowners and other organizations to conduct restoration activities and secure angler access if appropriate. In fact, at least one landowner has already taken initial steps to permit an angler access easement on his property.
As part of its long-term stewardship obligations, the Land Trust will work to educate the landowners to use best management practices for their shoreline and connect the landowners with other partners such as the DNR, Trout Unlimited or others who may be able to improve the habitat quality. The Minnesota Land Trust will also work with these partners in identifying other potential projects which would have multiple public benefits.
The Land Trust is proud to have exceeded the acreage goals while coming in under budget for the program. The number of projects, 7, came in slightly under the goal of 9-12, but the Land Trust focused efforts on larger blocks of habitat such as the 997-acre Encampment Forest conservation easement rather than simply hitting an estimated project total. The ‘feet of shoreline’ outcome also fell short of the original goal. The proposal estimated 50,000 feet could be protected. The final result was 30,700 feet. In hindsight, we overestimated what was attainable based on a few projects with substantial shoreline which didn’t come to fruition and to the fact that we only measure one-side of protected streams in our shoreline totals (which is different than many other’s practices). For Critical Shorelines II, no similar estimate was forwarded, though we have high expectations.
A final word on goals vs. outcomes -- the Land Trust originally proposed 1,000 acres, 9-12 projects and 50,000 feet of shoreline for a budget of $1,200,000. The budget request was subsequently reduced and the grant contract awarded $816,000, not $1,200,000. Despite the reduction in funding, the outcome goals were not adjusted accordingly. This was an error that is no longer made. Whenever a grant request is reduced, adjustments are now made to the expected outcomes.
The Minnesota Land Trust is pleased with the outcomes of the 2010 Critical Shorelines Grant and looks forward to continuing this important work through the 2013 Critical Shorelines II grant.