New Prairie Plan takes aim at rebuilding grasslands, wetlands

News release banner

For release: Oct. 12, 2012     Contacts: Jennifer Maleitzke, 651-215-9008 (office); 651-315-5082 (cell); Chris Niskanen, DNR communications director, 651-259-5023 

New Prairie Plan takes aim at rebuilding grasslands, wetlands

By John Jaschke, executive director, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources; Tom Landwehr, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

St. Paul, Minn.— When Minnesota pheasant hunters go afield starting Saturday, they will head to prairie country, where tall native grasses provide food and shelter for this fast-flying and fine-tasting bird.

Unfortunately, Minnesota’s prairie country isn’t what it once was.

Long ago, Minnesota had about 18 million acres of native prairie. Today, that number is closer to 235,000 acres. Much wild was lost as society found ways to tame the land in the name of a noble pursuit – growing food for America and the global community beyond our borders.

While no one can turn back the hands of time, we can look to new ways to build a strong agriculture and prairie conservation partnership in the future. Forging a better future for prairie conservation and crop production is the right thing to do to help slow flooding, clean the state’s waters, shelter wildlife, provide for recreation and support our strong agricultural community.

Fortunately, there is a new tool to do this. It’s called The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.

It was finalized this past summer and identifies common goals among conservation organizations for the next 25 years. It will serve as a road map for protecting, restoring and enhancing prairies for the state’s primary conservation organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNR, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, the Conservation Fund, Audubon Minnesota, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.

The DNR, BWSR and other partners look to work with landowners, agricultural interests and others to protect and enhance Minnesota’s prairie legacy.

The plan proposes to achieve conservation goals by:

  • Permanent protection of grasslands via easements and acquisition of critical lands from willing sellers.
  • Restoration activities including buffer strips, native plant seeding, wetland restoration and water level management.
  • Enhancement of prairies and grasslands through prescribed fire, conservation grazing and invasive species control.

Minnesota is at a crossroads. We have already lost 99 percent of our original native prairie and 90 percent of our prairie wetlands. In the next five years, nearly 800,000 additional acres of restored grassland is at risk due to expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and the current congressional stalemate on the next Federal Farm Bill prevents processing any new enrollments after Sept. 30, 2012. This leaves agricultural producers unable to predictably forecast and plan key aspects of their business.  

It is Minnesota’s good fortune to have a funding option in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which can be used to “protect, enhance and restore” the critical parts of the prairie landscape. Additionally, we need to seek opportunities to incorporate conservation into “working lands” – like grazing lands -- so conservation can contribute directly to local economies and agricultural lands.

Now is the time to act, before the crisis is upon us. Our fish and our wildlife, including game and non-game species, depend upon native prairie, grasslands and associated wetlands for survival. We don’t want to look back one day and ask ourselves what we should have done to preserve the state’s grassland heritage.

Rather, let us act now for a future where we can visit the Prairie Region and be proud to have saved our grassland legacy – and the economic and conservation benefits it supports – for many future generations.

To review the Minnesota Prairie Plan, go to DNR website at