Metro Big Rivers Habitat Program
Minnesota National Wildlife Refuge Trust, Inc.
Phase 1 of the Metro Big Rivers Habitat Program protected 194 acres of critical habitat (173 acres by fee title acquisition and 21 acres by conservation easement) and enhanced 357 acres, all in the Metropolitan Urbanizing Area.
About the Issue
The three Big Rivers in the Metro Urbanizing Area, including their tributaries and natural resources within the watersheds, provide critical habitat that must be protected and improved for resident and migrating wildlife, both game and non-game species. In this first phase of work, the Metro Big Rivers Habitat Partnership protected 194 acres and enhanced 357 acres with the OHF grant. The partnership exceeded its original goal of enhancing 116 acres by 207%. It also protected an additional 257 acres with leveraged funding, for a total of 451 acres protected.
The resources protected and enhanced by the Metro Big Rivers Partnership are under pressure because of population growth and the high amenity values associated with most, if not all, of these lands. All lands protected had been identified as high priorities through public planning processes by the public entities that will eventually own the properties or hold the easement, as follows: 1) MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS) for the Refuge lands to be acquired; 2) Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the Savage Fen expansion, and 3) Dakota County and DNR for the conservation easement acquired to expand the Pine Bend Bluffs SNA.
All lands enhanced were under public ownership. The enhancement work had been identified as a high priority by the public entities that owned the land, as follows – City of St. Paul (Parks and Recreation) for the restoration on the Mississippi blufflands at Indian Mounds and Cherokee Bluff and MN DNR for enhancement at Savage Fen, Seminary Fen, Pine Bend Bluffs SNA, Falls Creek SNA and Franconia Bluffs SNA. The public has access to all of the land protected through this program for wildlife-based outdoor recreation.
In addition to accomplishing the projected outcomes, this phase provided learnings that will benefit future work, including:
* At Pine Bend Bluffs SNA, Friends of the Mississippi River required buckthorn-removal contractors to use glyphosate herbicide, which has the least toxic impacts of the herbicides typically used to treat buckthorn. The buckthorn was cut and treated in late fall, while the plants were still biologically active. This is a departure from the standard practices that contractors use, as they more commonly cut buckthorn in winter and use an herbicide with an oil penetrant. While effective, that herbicide also has a long soil residual and kills surrounding vegetation. The results of the alternative treatment approach required by FMR were very good, estimated at 90% success rate, with very low amounts of re-sprouting occurring.
* Great River Greening participated in the first year of restoration evaluations conducted by the DNR for OHF grant recipients. The project evaluated was at Cherokee Park in the City of St. Paul. The evaluation went smoothly, but would have benefited by including the landowner (St. Paul Parks) in the process. Understanding why certain activities took place is but half the answer; understanding how the benefits will be maintained is equally important, and landowners are key to that discussion.