Valley Creek Protection Partnership
Conservation Easement Acquisition: The Minnesota Land Trust completed 2 conservation easements along Valley Creek that permanently protected 66 acres of important habitat including prairie, grasslands, mixed hardwood forest, floodplain forest, wetlands and 6,681 feet of shoreline (including 2,822 linear feet along Valley Creek). Purchase of these easements leveraged $679,500 through a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation through the Conservation Fund, a CPL grant to Washington County, donated easement value by a landowner, and funding from the Belwin Conservancy. In addition, the Minnesota Land Trust provided $24,300 in funding to cover the long term stewardship and enforcement costs on the Daley parcel and personnel costs attributed to the projects. The Minnesota Land Trust is responsible for annual monitoring and enforcement of the two conservation easements in perpetuity.
Fee Title Acquisition: Belwin Conservancy acquired - as leverage to the grant - the underlying fee interest in 17 acres of land permanently protected with a conservation easement held by the Minnesota Land Trust (see Johnson parcel above). This parcel provides for public angling access and includes grasslands, mixed hardwood forest, floodplain forest, wetlands and 741 linear feet of shoreline. No OHF funds were used for this fee title acquisition.
Restoration and Enhancement of In-Stream and Upland Habitat: Belwin Conservancy completed restoration on 124 acres of prairie and upland habitat owned by Belwin. In-stream habitat was not completed due to Trout Unlimited requirement of public angling access. Public angling access was accomplished through this grant on a parcel that did not require in-stream enhancements.
The Valley Creek watershed, located on the eastern edge of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area and a direct tributary to the St. Croix River, is one of the most biologically significant areas within the Metro region. Valley Creek is one of Minnesota's best trout-producing streams. It is one of only a few with a naturally reproducing brook trout population (Minnesota's only native trout species), and sustains large populations of brown and rainbow trout as well. While many of the trout streams in Minnesota depend on stocking to maintain their trout populations, Valley Creek’s habitat is of sufficiently high quality for natural reproduction to occur. The Valley Creek watershed is home to more than 20 endangered, threatened, and special concern species, including the American brook lamprey, the hooded warbler, and Blanding’s turtle. Protection of this critical natural resource in the ever-growing Metro region is the focus of the Valley Creek Protection Partnership.
The proposed outcomes of the Valley Creek Protection Partnership were to permanently protect (through conservation easement and fee title acquisition), restore and enhance priority lands (oak savanna, coldwater fisheries and a viable habitat corridor within the watershed of Valley Creek) through:
• Protection via easement and fee title 80 acres of upland habitat and 1 mile of trout stream;
• Restoration of 30 acres of oak savanna and upland habitats; and
• Enhancement of 0.75 miles of trout stream
Processes and methods to achieve these outcomes are detailed below:
1. Protection through Conservation Easement: The Minnesota Land Trust and Washington County jointly targeted three parcels for protection via conservation easement. Ultimately two conservation easements were acquired on important properties over the course of the grant. One potential project failed to materialize. Acquisition of easements were realized through intensive one-on-one negotiations with landowners over 2-3 years. Although landowner motivations for pursuing conservation easements varied, a donated value of nearly $270,000 was realized from the landowners. Both landowners required some level of compensation for loss of development rights. The two properties include:
• Vallley Creek (Daley): A conservation easement now protects a 49-acre property of very high natural resource value, with 2,081 linear feet of Valley Creek shoreline. The easement is co-held by the Belwin Conservancy.
• Valley Creek (T & C Johnson): A conservation easement now protects 17 acres of wetlands, forests, grasslands and 741 feet of shoreline along Valley Creek.
The land protected through conservation easements will be sustained through the best standards and practices for conservation easement stewardship. The Minnesota Land Trust has a stewardship program that includes annual property monitoring, effective records management, addressing inquiries and interpretations, tracking changes in ownership, investigating potential violations and defending the easement in the rare case of a violation. The 2 conservation easements have been monitored by the Minnesota Land Trust each year since purchase. There have been no reported violations. Monitoring and defense of the conservation easement terms will continue in perpetuity.
2. Protection through Fee Title Acquisition: Belwin Conservancy purchased the fee interest in 17 acres that included 741 linear feet of Valley Creek. No funds from the Outdoor Heritage Fund were used to purchase this property through fee title. This parcel provides for public angling access. Because public angling access to Valley Creek in Afton and West Lakeland Township was vocally opposed, Belwin Conservancy convened a working group composed of local residents some of whom were amateur fly fishing people, and worked through access, parking, hours, and an educational program that would highlight stream ecology, fish populations and stream stewardship. This was a pilot program in 2016 and will be evaluated at the end of the season with feedback being used to design the 2017 program. A limited access public angling access is what the community is willing to support at this time.
3. Restoration and Enhancement of In-Stream and Upland Habitat: Belwin Conservancy staff and contractors including Conservation Minnesota, Prairie Restorations, Inc. and ForeControl performed restoration work on 46.07 acres of prairie and 78.21 acres of habitat. The work involved: hand cutting buckthorn, hand pulling grecian foxglove, garlic mustard, dames rocket, removal of undesirable sapling and canopy trees, promoting regrowth of understory vegetation by selective chemical control of invasives, subsequent multi-year chemical spraying. As much of the topography is steep slope or wetland complexes, the majority of the work was done by hand. Continued follow-up invasive control is necessary for a 10-year period after restoration, and then continued monitoring and ad hoc control measures to ensure the on-going health of the restoration project. Please note: LSOHC reporting requires that the majority activity be listed (e.g. protection through conservation easement) even if that property is also the recipient of restoration $. In this report, the reader may note differences in acreage and funding attributed to those parcels that were primary restoration parcels as the reporting format did not allow us to attribute restoration $ to the Daley project - though restoration $ were spent on that project. Instead, we allocated the restoration $ from the Daley project to the 3 other restoration parcels.
In-stream restoration work did not take place because the Partnership was unable to obtain consent of the landowner for public angling access on the parcel where in-stream enhancements were needed.