New prairie plan aims to rebuild native wetlands

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Most of Minnesota’s original, native prairie and wetlands are long gone. Now conservation leaders are hoping to protect what is left and perhaps regrow more.

Their initiative is called The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. It was finalized this past summer and identifies common goals among conservation organizations for the next 25 years. It will serve as a road map for protecting, restoring and enhancing prairies for the state’s primary conservation organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNR, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, the Conservation Fund, Audubon Minnesota, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.

Long ago, Minnesota had about 18 million acres of native prairie. Today, that number is closer to 235,000 acres. Much wild was lost as society found ways to tame the land and grow food for the world. State organizations are looking to work with landowners, agricultural interests and others to protect and enhance Minnesota’s prairie legacy.

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The plan proposes to achieve conservation goals by:

• Permanent protection of grasslands via easements and acquisition of critical lands from willing sellers.

• Restoration activities including buffer strips, native plant seeding, wetland restoration and water level management.

• Enhancement of prairies and grasslands through prescribed fire, conservation grazing and invasive species control.

Minnesota is at a crossroads and has already lost 99 percent of its original, native prairie and 90 percent of prairie wetlands. In the next five years, nearly 800,000 additional acres of restored grassland is at risk due to expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts, and the current congressional stalemate on the next Federal Farm Bill prevented processing any new enrollments after Sept. 30. This leaves agricultural producers unable to predictably forecast and plan key aspects of their business.

Minnesota has a funding option in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which can be used to “protect, enhance and restore” the critical parts of the prairie landscape. Additionally, conservationists seek opportunities to incorporate conservation into “working lands” — like grazing lands — so conservation can contribute directly to local economies and agricultural lands.

To review the Minnesota Prairie Plan, go to DNR website at