Land Added to Franconia Bluffs Scientific & Natural Area (MN)

Franconia, MN 6/4/2009:? River pollution does not simply originate from the land alongside a river. That’s one reason The Trust for Public Land and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are protecting forests, blufflands, and stream and river headwaters further from the immediate shoreline of the St. Croix River, including a new tract near Franconia saved today.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have been working for months to protect a 38-acre tract of land adjacent to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The property-near the village of Franconia in southeast Chisago County-is situated on bluffs overlooking the scenic St. Croix River Valley and conservationists had worried that the land would be developed. Building along these sensitive bluffs can negatively impact the viewshed from the river and create runoff that degrades the river’s water quality.

In 1968, Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson partnered to include the St. Croix in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and subsequently, nearly 35,302 acres of land and scenic easements have been donated to and purchased by the National Park Service in partnership with TPL and other conservation groups. Approximately 27,471 acres within the Riverway’s boundaries have been purchased by or donated to other units of government for protection. But these actions have only protected a relatively thin ribbon of land along the river. Development near the river and run-off from lands adjacent to the river continue to be threats. The nonprofit group American Rivers has listed the Lower St. Croix River as a top-ten endangered river in the United States.

TPL, DNR, and groups like the St. Croix River Association are working to broaden and strengthen the thin ribbon of protection along the river. In June 2008, TPL and the DNR protected land in the corridor that supports numerous rare species in Minnesota, such as the Coopers Hawk, Cerulean Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher and Bald Eagle. DNR now owns and manages this land as part of the Franconia Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area (SNA).

“Citizens and conservation groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota are making their voices heard on the need for more protection along the St. Croix and our role is to help them achieve their conservation vision,” said Becca Nash, project manager for TPL.

The deal announced today will add hardwood forest habitat for species in need of conservation. The property also contains a number of steep and scenic ravines and an intermittent stream that drains into the St. Croix River. Purchasing these ravines for a natural area will help protect the water quality and scenic viewshed for people as well. As an addition to an SNA the land will be open to the public for passive activities such as birding, wildlife watching, viewing wildflowers, hiking, education, and scientific research.

“This is a significant step forward in land protection efforts along the St. Croix River,” said Dan McGuiness, Interim Executive Director, St. Croix River Association. “As a partner organization working to protect critical lands, protect and restore water quality, and build a constituency for the St. Croix River and its watershed, the St. Croix River Association congratulates TPL and the DNR on this accomplishment.”

Senator Mondale is happy to see conservation along the St. Croix continue: “TPL, DNR, and other groups have committed to a lasting legacy befitting the spectacular St. Croix and are ensuring that all Minnesotans will benefit.”

“TPL is all about ensuring that everyone can enjoy nature nearby,” said Susan Schmidt, director of the Minnesota Office of TPL. “As our population grows, our job gets more difficult and more urgent.”

Over the next twenty-five years, Minnesota’s population is projected to grow by about 1.2 million people-roughly one million of this total growth will be in the expanding Twin Cities metropolitan area. This population influx will lead to more than one million acres of Minnesota land being developed, which is roughly the combined area of Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, and Carver counties. The Twin Cities alone has 255,000 acres of high quality natural lands remaining and only 32 percent of this is currently protected as DNR-administered lands, U.S. Fish & Wildlife preserves, regional parks, and nature preserves.

The land being added to the Franconia Bluffs SNA today was targeted for protection through the Metro Conservation Corridors program, a partnership of government and nonprofit organizations focused on protecting natural areas and water quality in the rapidly developing metro region. Funding for the purchase of the land was provided by Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.