CLEAN WATER CRITICAL HABITAT PROGRAM
Fisheries research has shown that healthy watersheds with intact forests are fundamental to good fish habitat. If a lake’s watershed has less than 25% land disturbance and 75% or more of its landscape remains forested and permanently protected, the lake has a high probability of sustaining clean water and healthy lake ecosystem to support fish. Projects that can simultaneously reduce shoreline development and watershed disturbances can yield the greatest conservation return.
We focus our protection strategy on 38 Tullibee Refuge Lake and their watersheds. Tullibee are the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” fish species due to their sensitivity to even slight changes in water temperature and oxygen levels. A decrease in tullibee population can signal deterioration of the lake’s water quality. Protecting lakes from excess nutrients such as phosphorus is critical to maintaining sufficient oxygen levels. Forestland plays a key role in ensuring quality habitat, acting like a sponge to absorb and hold rainfall and reduce runoff to the surface waters of lakes and streams. Tullibee is an important food source for lake trout, northern pike, muskie and walleye. This program will also benefit habitat for many wildlife and water fowl species.
The conservation easement program focuses on critical shoreland and forested parcels. The 38 refuge Tullibee lakes in North Central Minnesota all have less than 25% land disturbance in their watersheds and already have some degree of watershed protection. With strategic effort, it is feasible to reach permanent 75% watershed protection for many of these lakes. Additionally, we will develop conservation complexes that can act as corridors, connecting existing protected land and expanding their impact.
HOW WILL PROJECTS BE CHOSEN FOR THIS PROGRAM?
The Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation and the Minnesota Land Trust use a competitive application process to select conservation easements for funding on private lands within Minnesota’s North Central lake region which includes Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Aitkin Counties. Using a multi-faceted approach to prioritizing easements, a technical committee comprised of County and State agencies and project partners will weigh the overall habitat benefits of the property against the costs of acquiring the easement.
Funding will be invested on lands within the Tullibee Refuge Lake watersheds although special project applications outside the focus area will also be accepted and evaluated for their potential to protect critical fish habitat. A complete list of current lakes is below.
Initial applications are non-binding. Landowners and project partners are not legally bound to a conservation easement until both parties agree to and sign final conservation easement documents.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Each landowner will have their land scored based on a set of established habitat value factors. This habitat value score takes into account the size of the parcel, ecological features, amount of shoreline, protection of water quality, location in relation to other protected lands, etc.
To ensure we maximize our ecological impact, we are asking landowners to consider taking less than full compensation. This will allow us to increase the total number of acres protected and help create a competitive process. A landowner’s willingness to take less than full appraised value of the easement will be taken into consideration when applications are reviewed, but will not be the sole determining factor. You may choose to be fully compensated, partially compensated, or to donate the easement.
The applications will then be ranked based on the tract’s habitat value. Examples of criteria include; feet of sensitive shoreland, percentage of wetland, percentage in forest, and proximity to public or other protected lands. Existence of forest management plans and the number of additional homesites the applicant would like to retain will also be factored and rated. After all the applications have been received, a compilation of scores with rankings will be assembled and used to guide the selection process.
Easements will be funded in order of highest project value rating to lowest. After the highest rated project is selected, the application with the next highest rating will be selected in order until all available funds have been assigned to selected projects. If for any reason a conservation easement does not move forward or the application is withdrawn, the next highest rated project may be selected.
WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
Conservation easements are individually tailored agreements through which landowners limit the use and development of their property to permanently preserve its natural or scenic features. These features – called conservation values – might include significant wildlife and plant habitat, lake or river shoreline, wetlands or important scenic or cultural lands which benefit the public. Conservation easements targeted at sensitive shoreland and private forest within Tullibee Refuge Lake watersheds are an effective approach to protecting water quality.
In order to protect these conservation values, certain restrictions regarding use of the property and the reserved rights of the landowner are detailed in a conservation easement, which is conveyed to a non-profit conservation organization or government agency qualified to hold and enforce easements. In this program the Minnesota Land Trust will be holding acquired easements. Once the easement is signed by the landowner and the easement holder, the document is filed with the local county land records.
Most conservation easements, including all of those by the Minnesota Land Trust, are perpetual. They apply to the current and all future landowners, permanently protecting the property. Each conservation easement is unique and is individually crafted to reflect the special characteristics of the land and the particular situation of the landowner.
The Clean Water Critical Habitat Project partners are the Minnesota Land Trust and MN DNR.
The program is funded by the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment.
These 38 refuge Tullibee lakes in North Central Minnesota all have less than 25% land disturbance in their watersheds and already have some degree of watershed protection. With strategic effort, it is feasible to reach permanent 75% watershed protection for many of these lakes.
Funding will be focused on lands within the Tullibee Refuge Lake watersheds although special project applications outside the focus area will also be accepted and evaulated for their potential to protect critical fish habitat.
Aitkin County: Cedar Lake, Long Lake, Round Lake
Cass County: Bass Lake, Cooper Lake, Deep Portage Lake, Girl Lake, Long Lake, Ten Mile Lake, Thunder Lake, Washburn Lake, Women Lake
Crow Wing County: Big Trout, Borden Lake, Clear Lake, Crooked Lake, Kenny Lake, Lower Hay Lake, Ossawinamakee Lake, Pelican Lake, Roosevelt Lake, Star Lake, Whitefish Lake
Hubbard County: Big Sand Lake, Eleventh Crow Wing Lake, Kabekona Lake, LaSalle Lake, Ninth Crow Wing Lake, Spearhead Lake
The focus of this program is to protect “tullibee refuge” lakes. Tullibee are an important food source for lake trout, northern pike, muskie and walleye. They are the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” fish species due to their sensitivity to even slight changes in water temperature and oxygen levels. A decrease in population can signal deterioration of the lake’s water quality. Protecting these lakes and surrounding watersheds from excess nutrients, such as phosphorus is critical to maintaining sufficient oxygen levels.
We are using Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources Conservation Easements, which is a voluntary agreement you would place on your land that limits future development in perpetuity. You still own the land and use it as you desire within the parameters of the easement. Because the conservation easement goes with the land it insures future owners will also keep the property in the natural state that you appreciate and enjoy and leaves a legacy for everyone.
Again, this program is strictly voluntary. The landowners and parcels chosen for funding will be offered a payment of up to 60 percent of the County’s estimated market value of the land (excluding value of buildings) for shoreland parcels and up to 50% for non-shoreland parcels. Parcels submitted for easement purchase will be reviewed by our local grants team to determine which provide the best natural resource investment for the conservation dollar.
If preserving the natural resources on your land, protecting the water quality of your lake, and leaving a legacy for the future is important to you, we would be happy to visit with you via email, in person, or by phone to provide more information and provide application information.
Cass County: Ten Mile, Roosevelt, Thunder Lake, and Washburn Lakes
Crow Wing County: Big Trout, Ossawinamakee, Roosevelt, and Star Lakes
Applications for funding must received before May 31, 2017.
For questions, contact John Sumption, our Land Conservation Specialist (218-368-8304 or firstname.lastname@example.org).