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Conservation tour shows money well spent

Lessard-Sams, DNR, TNC, locals view projects funded in Kittson County

By Anna Jauhola
Several partnering conservation agencies toured three projects sites in Kittson County last week funded through Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council funding.
The group began its day in Hallock at the new rock arch rapids fish passageway, which replaced the 1930s era dam. About seven years ago, the city of Hallock received a $2 million grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for this project. Its purpose was to increase fishing by creating better passage habitat for fish to move up and downstream.
The LSOHC was created by the Minnesota Legislature through the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment. The council receives a third of funds raised through that amendment’s tax. LSOHC specifically focuses on “restoration, protection, and enhancement of wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife, and that prevent forest fragmentation, encourage forest consolidation, and expand restored native prairie,” according to its website.
Mark Johnson, LSOHC executive director, said the project was needed to improve the wildlife habitat. It’s a competitive process to apply for these grants and the Legislature makes the final decision.
“I think it was worth it,” he said of the project. “When the presentations came out, it looked like this was good for the community, good for the river – it was a win-win situation. There didn’t seem to be any downside. It’s just, how does it get done right so it stays right?”
The dam replacement and fish passageway project began in the spring of 2021, was completed in 2022 and almost immediately sustained major flooding events. The flooding caused significant damage, which has been partially repaired with FEMA funds, but more has to be done.
“Unfortunately, floods do what they’ll do and there’s always exceptions where nature says, ‘I don’t like that and I’m going to change it,’” Johnson said. “I know the OHC will be interested in seeing how that’s restored and to the proper degree. I’m just glad that project was able to be funded with OHC funds.”
Hallock Mayor Dave Treumer told the visitors the fish passageway seems to have improved the fishing. As a Hallock native, Treumer said fishing was only good at certain times. But now, he’s heard reports that fish are able to travel upstream and downstream even in the lowest flow. This has led to good fishing in pools above and below the dam.
Norway Dunes – Halma
Tucked just a half-mile off CSAH 10 east of Lake Bronson, 340 acres of land containing a huge variety of plant and wildlife was the group’s next stop. Faron Johnson and Tana Abrahamson own the property, and partnered with Audubon Minnesota to place it under a permanent conservation easement. Alexandra Wardwell, prairie project manager with Audubon, said they work with Minnesota Land Trust for easements like this.
“This easement was secured under our Phase 2 of Minnesota’s Important Bird Areas Grant,” Wardwell said. Minnesota Land Trust holds the easement, but Johnson and Abrahamson remain the landowners.
There will be a second piece regarding restoration and enhancement, which could include seeding different areas with native species or dealing with invasive species like leafy spurge.
The area they’re working with right now contains 12 plant community types within 340 acres. This is significant in providing good habitat for various types of birds and wildlife.
“Right now, we’re in the Kittson-Roseau Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Important Bird Area. It encompasses most of the remnant prairie that’s in northwest Minnesota right now,” Wardwell said. “So we’re in iconic tallgrass aspen parklands habitat. It’s the smallest eco-region in Minnesota. It is the only place in the U.S. that has this unique habitat characteristic.”
The tallgrass aspen parklands is a transition zone from western prairies to eastern deciduous forest to boreal forest. Wardwell said this section of land is a great example of how these areas meet and how it can support grassland, marsh and forest birds as well as waterfowl. This area is so varied because of the sandy ridges left behind by Glacial Lake Agassiz, including habitats like cattail marsh, wet prairie, wet meadow, mesic prairie and dry prairie.
The group took a walk into the property to see the variety of plantlife. Wardwell pointed out golden alexander, dogbane, water hemlock, shrubby sinkfoil, swamp lousewort, nannyberry, dogwood, licorice root plant, among many others.
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The nannyberry and dogwood produce berries which bears enjoy. The licorice root plant is a part of the bean and pea family, so grouse like it, and it fixes nitrogen into the soil. Wardwell said the hearty plants bend and stay intact under the snow, and grouse burrow in the snow for shelter and warmth. They find the seeds and eat them during winter.
Twin Lakes – Karlstad
Just east of Karlstad, Jon Eerkes hosted the group near several areas where LSOHC funded restoration projects. Eerkes, a land steward for The Nature Conservancy chapter in Karlstad, showed the group examples of restoration completed using LSOHC funds.
Like the location at Halma, the Twin Lakes area is based around sandy beach ridges from Glacial Lake Agassiz.
“It’s just a very diverse, very intact habitat. And that’s unique to North America,” Eerkes said. “This is the only place in North America where we have this level of intact tallgrass habitat.”
He touted the cooperation among agencies like The Nature Conservancy (TNC), MnDNR, Fish and Wildlife Service and others, which make these projects possible. He said between TNC and DNR, they are constantly working together on land management.
The first area of prairie restoration Eerkes showed the group represented what a nearby recently planted prairie restoration will eventually look like. He first worked to restore this example 20 years ago, and it’s still a work in progress.
“I chose this area to show you because it has good examples of everything we do,” he said.
Earlier this summer, TNC burned this tract of restored prairie. Because of that, the prairie looks a little thin, the grass isn’t as tall as expected and some plants were blooming out of season, or not at all.
“Our philosophy is, ‘Everything wins once in a while,’” Eerkes said. “So this was burned in mid-June because there are some cool-season grass problems here we wanted to work on and that was the time of year to do it.”
He said the burn gave room for native species to take over the space left when non-native grasses were destroyed. Carefully applied herbicides will do the same thing for different areas taken over by invasive species.
Another project funded through LSOHC funds had TNC hand-collecting native plant species seeds to have enough variety to plant on another acquired tract.
The group also visited an oak savannah Eerkes and the TNC worked to restore with recent funding from LSOHC. Here they also used fire for management, which unfortunately killed some oaks in the process.
Overall, the group of conservation specialists felt the LSOHC funds were well spent and look forward to proposals for investing more money in conservation within the county.

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