Otter Tail County conservation easement: creating a family legacy for future generations

(Minnesota Land Trust)

Nestled amongst three scenic Minnesota lakes, the property of Jim and Joan Burkett is emblematic of the wildlife habitat found in Otter Tail County’s lake country and connects to more than 3,000 acres that have been protected near the Burkett’s land on Spitzer Lake.

In order to ensure that their prairie, woodlands and wetlands remain intact, the Burkett’s recently acted to protect their property with a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust.

A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or other qualified agency that permanently limits certain uses of land in order to protect its conservation values. Landowners continue to own and enjoy the land and pay property taxes. Once created, the conservation easement is binding on all future owners of the property. More information may be found at www.mnland.org.

For Jim Burkett, protecting the land was his way of preserving his memories of watching his family growing up enjoying the land and water.

“I’ve made so many memories recreating on this land; from the first duck my daughter shot, to my son’s first deer.” he said. “We host an annual Fourth of July event here for the family, and give the kids a scavenger hunt that takes them to different sections of the land to collect things like cattails and oak leaves. It exposes them to different parts of the property.”

The land is mostly forested, but features remnant prairie and oak savanna, both increasingly rare landscapes in Minnesota. In fact, oak savanna is considered Minnesota’s rarest remaining habitat type. The Burkett’s long-term plan is to further restore and manage the prairie and oak savanna. Over the years they’ve seen a wide range of wildlife on their land, including bald eagle, whitetail deer, and American kestrel. Neighbors in the area have also seen hooded warbler and red-shouldered hawk.

In addition to the land and wildlife benefits of protecting the property, there are water benefits, too. Otter Tail County has over 1,000 lakes, more than any other county in Minnesota, and the undeveloped shoreline along this piece of protected land will benefit the water quality in adjacent lakes for the years to come.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find undeveloped shoreline along a lake in Minnesota nowadays,” said Pat Anderson, program manager at the Minnesota Land Trust. “By agreeing to a conservation
easement, Jim and Joan have preserved the shorelines of three beautiful lakes which will help ensure that these lakes will have clean, undisturbed water for anyone who uses them in the future.”

This permanent conservation easement was made possible thanks to the members of the Minnesota Land Trust and with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC).