Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Working Lands Initiative has Pawlenty’s support

Staff Writer

St. Paul — For all the groups in Minnesota working for habitat
improvement and conservation, there’s generally been a lack of
focus and coordination.

Government agencies such as DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service have been opportunistic in acquisition and restoration of
land, as have private groups like The Nature Conservancy and
Pheasants Forever.

A new partnership, called the Working Lands Initiative, aims to
change that. The Initiative earned legitimacy last week when Gov.
Tim Pawlenty, who supports the idea, sent a letter to Secretary of
the Interior Gale Norton and requested a memorandum of
understanding between the DNR and USFWS.

“One of the things that’s been missing, and maybe the duck
crisis brings this front and center, is everyone is off doing their
own thing,” said Tom Landwehr, The Nature Conservancy’s assistant
state director for conservation.

“We’re not talking enough,” said Ray Norrgard, wetland wildlife
program leader for DNR.

In addition to the conservancy, DNR, USFWS, Minnesota Waterfowl
Association, Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever are partners in
the Initiative. The group will rely on maps produced by the USFWS’
Habitat and Population Evaluation Team in Fergus Falls to identify
areas to direct resources.

“As you know, until now, the numerous state and federal
conservation programs that exist have operated somewhat
independently,” Pawlenty wrote in his letter. “The Working Lands
Initiative will identify, map, and protect the state’s most
productive wetland complexes and focus these programs in the most
comprehensive and effective manner possible.”

Pawlenty included $1.8 million in his budget proposal for the
Initiative, and the other groups have pledged nearly $4 million in
matching funds.

State funds will be spent on a statewide wetlands inventory, the
Prairie Land Stewardship Program, and acquisition and development
of wildlife management areas. Matching funds will used for habitat
restoration and protection, Norrgard said.

A large chunk of money and effort will be spent on private land,
where it will be used to obtain grants, or leverage Farm Bill money
for programs such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement

“The real charge here is we have to figure out how to take that
money and turn one dollar into five,” Landwehr said.

One of the Initiative’s primary objectives is to come up with an
acreage goal for acquisition and restoration, which also will help
bring other organizations and agencies into the group, like U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource
Conservation Service, and agri-business, said Jim Leach, USFWS
refuge supervisor for Minnesota.

A cornerstone of the group’s plan is to use the USFWS maps to
focus its efforts. The USFWS currently uses those maps, in part, to
direct where Duck Stamp dollars are spent.

“Through this modeling program and landscape-level planning, we
can get down to the acreage that is needed for waterfowl, for
pheasants, for water quality,” Leach said.

Efforts and funding will focus on quality prairie wetland
complexes, which are areas four to nine square miles with 20
percent of the area in wetlands (half temporary and seasonal
wetlands), and 40 percent of the area in grass (half under
long-term protection).

Additionally, money coming into the state for programs like CREP
and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program will be similarly
targeted, as will any money for WMAs in the state bonding bill,
Norrgard said.

The USFWS maps can predict the amount of habitat it will take to
produce a certain number of ducks, for example, but the groups
hasn’t settled yet on an acreage goal.

The group needs to figure out details on how to get the money
into the ground, and realize that it’s going to take a lot of money
to make a real difference. And outside help will be important,
Landwehr said.

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