DNR advances work to protect lands, waters and species in 2013
Web posted December 24, 2013
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working hard to preserve and protect the state’s environment through research and active conservation projects.
For example, in 2013, the agency preserved more than 21,000 acres of conservation lands and initiated two major research projects to determine what’s killing the state’s iconic moose. Further, the state now has an updated endangered species list and hunters and anglers can for the first time purchase licenses on their smartphones with a new mobile application. Also, the historic swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park reopened to the public after being destroyed by floods last year.
“We at your DNR worked hard this year, tackling some tough issues,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We achieved successes that touched Minnesotans across the state. We’ve got lots more to do. We’re looking forward to some big challenges and some big accomplishments in 2014.”
Among this year’s highlights:
Major Moose Studies Launched
The DNR instituted two large research projects to determine what is killing the state’s adult and calf moose population. The adult study involved capturing 110 moose during the winter of 2013 and affixing radio-telemetry collars that have the ability to send text messages to researchers when a moose has died. Researchers can quickly get to animals, obtain diagnostic samples, and determine the cause of death. A similar study is examining calf moose mortality factors.
Aquatic Invasive Species Response
The DNR increased enforcement and education efforts to gain voluntary compliance with Minnesota’s invasive species regulations. DNR conservation officers made 17,000 citizen contacts for aquatic invasive species (AIS) education and enforcement, conducted 18 AIS roadside check stations, and made 322 inspections. The agency deployed three new, specially trained zebra mussel detection dogs and continued working with lake associations and other user groups to spread the word about controlling the spread of AIS.
The DNR completed a statewide watershed-based risk assessment of potential pathways for the spread of Asian carp by their own swimming abilities. Efforts continued on a design for an effective carp barrier at Lock and Dam 1 on the Mississippi River. The DNR has continued to support the closure of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam to prevent the upstream spread of carp. Phase one of improvements to the Coon Rapids dam was completed to make it a more effective carp barrier. Projects are still ongoing in southwestern Minnesota to limit the expansion of Asian carp in the Missouri River watershed portion of Minnesota. The Department collaborated closely with the new University of Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Institute to look for long-term control techniques.
Protecting Minnesota’s Conservation Lands
The DNR protected more than 21,000 acres of conservation lands in 2013, including the addition of more than 8,300 acres to the state wildlife management area system through fee title acquisition, partner acquisitions, and land donations. The DNR also completed a 10,581 forest conservation easement near Finland, Minn., and accepted a donation from The Nature Conservancy of the 2,751-acre Camp Lake forest property in Cass County.
Connecting People with the Outdoors
The DNR’s popular “I Can!” programs in state parks, where families are provided equipment and instruction on outdoor recreation activities, served a record 2,000 visitors in 2013. The Archery in the Schools program reached more than 166,000 Minnesota students. The MinnAqua program taught fishing skills and education to more than 50,000 youth, and the DNR certified approximately 21,000 new students through firearms safety training, with the help of many volunteers. A new trail center was constructed at Bear Head Lake State Park and a new visitor center is under construction at Tettegouche State Park. The Upper Mississippi Academy charter school was selected to lease and redevelop part of the Fort Snelling Upper Post national historic landmark.
Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List Updated
The state’s Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List, first established in 1984, was updated for the first time since 1996. Using significant new information, the DNR proposed status changes to 300 species of plants and animals. Following five public hearings, an 86-day comment period, and approval from an administrative law judge, the DNR adopted the new list on Aug. 19. Twenty-nine species, including the bald eagle, wolf, and snapping turtle, were removed from the list, while 180 species were added and 91 species had their status changed.
Making Information More Accessible
Mobile applications for smartphones became available to hunters and anglers, enabling them to purchase their fishing and hunting licenses (if they don’t require a site tag), and to register their harvest or obtain wolf season updates. This new service is a major convenience for outdoor enthusiasts. The DNR’s popular Lakefinder website was also improved and is now available through a mobile application. In addition to detailed maps of each lake, the site provides information on invasive species, special fishing regulations, fish stocking and management data, and other information useful to lake users. These applications were built and implemented in partnership with a licensing vendor at no cost to the state.
A new DNR land records computer system integrates work flow and data management so our internal and external customers get more accurate and timely information about land transactions.
In May, DNR wildland firefighters, along with a mutual aid response from over 40 local fire departments, saved more than 400 structures at the Green Valley fire near Menahga. While the fire ultimately destroyed 12 homes, 43 outbuildings, and three commercial properties in Becker, Hubbard, and Wadena counties, there were no human accidents or injuries. Approximately 217 personnel from the DNR, their local fire department partners, and federal, state, and local emergency response organizations fought the fire, evacuated and cared for local citizens and dealt with the aftermath of the wildfire.
Flood Recovery at Jay Cooke State Park
After being destroyed by floods in June 2012, the historic swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park reopened to the public Nov. 1. The 219-foot bridge is now ADA-compliant with a wheelchair platform and turnaround location. The repairs cost about $1.1 million, with money coming from the 2012 bonding bill and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Jay Cooke is the ninth most visited of Minnesota’s 76 state parks and recreation areas in 2010.
The DNR improved the state nonferrous metallic minerals lease sale process to provide further transparency and more opportunities for public comment. Improvements include reviewing and updating the land use evaluation processes; preparing a draft mining unit book at the beginning of the formal mineral lease sale process; expanding notification of the mineral lease sale; improving maps of the mineral lease sale parcels; and expanding education and communication.
NorthMet Environmental Impact Study Released
The DNR worked with other agencies to prepare a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for Minnesota’s first proposed copper-nickel mine and processing plant. Proposed by PolyMet Mining, the NorthMet project would include a mine near Babbitt and a refurbished taconite processing plant near Hoyt Lakes. The 2,200-page SDEIS was published in December and initiates a 90-day public review and comment period for the document.
In 2013, the DNR installed six renewable energy systems (solar panels) at sites across the state, including Soudan Underground Mine, Tettegouche and Afton state parks. The DNR now has 31 renewable energy systems installed around the state. These sites will generate over 700,000 kilowatt-hours annually, or enough electricity to run about 63 average U.S. homes for a year. The installations save the agency about $70,000 in reduced operating costs per year and help reduce emissions by over 1.2 million pounds of carbon per year.
The DNR created a new permit for silica sand facilities in the southeastern portion of the state where there is critical cold-water habitat for trout. Under the new permit program, proposed silica sand facilities within 1 mile of designated trout streams must apply for a DNR permit, which can only be granted when no impacts to trout streams are proven. The agency also began developing rules on the reclamation of silica sand projects and participated with other state agencies to develop tools and recommendations to assist local governments with regulating silica sand mines and facilities.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
The DNR was recognized as a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon company in June 2013. This recognition is for agencies or companies with a detailed plan for supporting their military members and families. The program also recognizes the DNR’s dedication to hiring and supporting military staff and veterans.
Completion of the White Earth Land Settlement Act (WELSA)
WELSA was a legislative settlement to transfer 10,000 acres of land from state ownership to ownership in trust for the White Earth Band. Most parcels were conveyed in the 1990s, and in 2013 the DNR facilitated the final completion of deed transfers for the final 22 parcels that had been awaiting resolution for a number of years.
The DNR created a new map, web page and other materials explaining the environmental improvements and accomplishments that have resulted from the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The agency highlighted the fifth anniversary of the amendment’s passage with specific examples of environmental work occurring around the state.
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