904 Acres of Prairie, Wetlands Protected (MN)

Crookston, MN, 2/21/03 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced today the protection of 904 acres of tallgrass prairie and wetland in Polk County, Minnesota to become a new National Waterfowl Production Area. This past year more than 2,800 acres of prairie, wetland and critical wildlife habitat have been set aside as part of the Thorson Prairie conservation effort, becoming the largest project supported by the state Wildlife Corridors project.

The Wildlife Corridors project was established by the 2001 Legislature as recommended by the Legislative Commission of Minnesota Resources to restore the fragmented landscape corridors that connect high quality habitats for the purpose of sustaining fish, wildlife and plant populations. Funding is provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Under a broad partnership, the Wildlife Corridors project provides for a statewide coordination of existing federal, state and private land and water conservation programs. The project focuses existing programs and resources towards identified habitat corridors for the benefit of all of Minnesota. It is one of the largest conservation collaborations in the country.

“The Wildlife Corridors project is based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” notes Susan Schmidt, Minnesota Director of the Trust for Public Land. “Keeping this land intact and in its natural condition is a tremendous achievement. It is exactly what our state leaders had in mind when they created the program.”

A Norwegian settler named Ludvig Thorson in 1898 acquired the land, located on the prehistoric, glacial Lake Agasiz beachhead. Passing through two generations to his grandchildren, Thorson’s land still holds vital remnants of virgin tall grass prairie and is an important corridor for the regions wildlife, including moose, deer, waterfowl, and prairie chicken.

After being approached by Thorson’s grandchildren, who wanted to conserve their 2800-acre property, the Trust for Public Land coordinated the real estate transactions that brought together the skills and financial resources of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The newly created USFWS Waterfowl Production Area will be adjacent to the DNR’s Chicog Wildlife Management Area and a portion of TNC’s Glacial Ridge Preserve, the largest prairie restoration project in history.

“The Thorson Waterfowl Production Area will be an integral parcel in an impressive complex of habitat in the Agasiz beach ridges of Polk County,” adds Mark Chase of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Service will work to restore wetland basins, tallgrass prairie, and the native oak savannahs that once dominated the landscape.” Ongoing management priorities will focus on controlling invasive species including non-indigenous trees.

“We hope to see this kind of conservation effort replicated around the state,” adds Mike McGinty, Executive Director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. “Minnesota’s habitat is too important for us to allow it to become fragmented and unprotected. The Wildlife Corridors project ensures that we continue to have healthy, interconnected habitats that support our wildlife.”

The Wildlife Corridor project activities include researching and mapping potential habitat corridors, protecting sensitive conservation lands through fee acquisition and conservation easements and physically restoring certain habitats, such as tall grass prairie or shallow wetlands.

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit established to conserve land for people in our cities, suburbs and rural communities to improve our quality of life and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations.