Nov 28, 2010

Minnesota Valley NWR: A Refuge on the Move

Minnesota Valley NWR and WMDStarTribune.com recently reported on efforts to expand the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge at a time when buying land is difficult for most.

In the late 1990s, plans to add a fourth runway to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport led to a settlement whereby the Minnesota Valley Trust was created to manage a one-time, $26 million payment from the Metropolitan Airports Commission to make up for the thousands of flights that would be going over the refuge each month. The money was meant for expanding the refuge upriver.

“We have bought a total of 3,722 acres, of which refuge expansion itself is 2,175 acres,” said Deb Loon, the trust’s director. “The rest is waterfowl production areas” — usually farmland that’s being restored to wetlands by ceasing to drain it, and which is often much farther upriver, including the Mankato area.

The trust only works with willing sellers, Loon said. When multiple family members and landowners are involved, the process can be somewhat glacial.

“In one case several siblings all had to agree to sell — all of them — and all of the spouses came to the closing,” she said. “It was what they wanted into the future, to have the land protected.”

The biggest cluster to be bought so far is 892 acres near Henderson, where there were eight landowners with parcels ranging in size from 426 acres to 15. The average price is around $3,500 an acre, with a range from $2,500 to $4,500, depending on location, farming value and other variables.

Nelson, whose main role is to direct the environmental group the Friends of the Minnesota Valley, said the refuge expansion will be a “really key component in protecting the valley. If we don’t have development, if we protect floodplains and bluffs, we’ll have cleaner water and better habitat. It’s always been our vision to expand the refuge upriver.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Valley NWR was established in 1976 to provide habitat for a large number of migratory waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife species threatened by commercial and industrial development. Located in the heart of the Twin Cities metro area, the refuge offers a variety of free outdoor recreational experiences for individuals and families. The refuge also has two Education and Visitors Centers, which are gateways to over 14,000 authorized acres. The main Center is located in Bloomington, one mile east of the Mall of America. A smaller Center is located south of Carver. The refuge stretches over 50 miles from Fort Snelling State Park beyond Belle Plain, Minnesota.

The refuge also manages a fourteen county Wetland Management District (WMD), stretching from Blue Earth County to Chisago County. Within the WMD over 2,600 acres of land have been designated as Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) lands, set aside for the production of waterfowl and other wetland and prairie dependent species. WPAs, like portions of the refuge, are open to the public. In addition, over 2,000 acres of wetlands and grasslands are protected through permanent easements.

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