Restoring Wildlife Management Areas in Cannon River Watershed

CRWP recently received news from the Minnesota DNR that Phelps Lake WMA and Big Woods Heritage Forest WMA were selected for funding through the Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program. CRWP was awarded $97,000 in grant funds to partner with Great River Greening (GRG) and possibly Conservation Corps of Minnesota to restore native habitats at these WMA’s over the next three years.

This project is part of a larger effort by Trust for Public Land, GRG, the DNR and CRWP to protect seasonally flooded wetlands, improve wildlife habitat, and open more outdoor recreation land to the public. Great River Greening, a St. Paul, MN based non-profit, has worked for over 20 years restoring land and water resources throughout Minnesota. With the help of local volunteers, their efforts to restore degraded forests and grasslands improves our outdoor recreation experiences, our economy and our drinking water.

Dense buckthorn and other invasive species such as honeysuckle are preventing natural regeneration of native “Big Woods” forest habitat in the 161 acre Phelps WMA located southwest of Lonsdale. This has significantly reduced the quality of habitat crucial for native wildlife populations. Objectives of this project are to remove and control woody invasive species, as well as other herbaceous invasive species, found on approximately 45 acres of wooded land within this WMA.

The 127 acre Big Woods Heritage Forest WMA located north of Shieldsville is a largely intact mixture of forested and brushland habitats comprised predominantly of healthy remnants of the “Big Woods” ecotype native to Minnesota. Green ash is encroaching onto old grassland habitats threatening to become a low diversity habitat. The objective of this project is to treat approximately 60 acres of old field grassland habitats which are rapidly succeeding to green ash. Planting of native trees will facilitate regeneration of diverse stands of “Big Woods” ecotype species including; oak, hickories, cherries, big-tooth and quaking aspens and other species of high value for wildlife.

Measurable results of these enhancements include increased native plant diversity and abundance, improved forest age class and structure, increased non-game and game species populations, and a forest composed of native, naturally regenerating tree species.

Steve Huckett, GRG director of conservation programs, said working with this partnership “gives GRG the opportunity to work across six counties in Greater Minnesota, with a focus on habitat restoration, improvement to water quality, and public engagement.”

With the addition of these WMA’s, CRWP will be partnering with Great River Greening and/or Conservation Corps of Minnesota to begin restoration on a total of 8 WMA’s in the Cannon River Watershed over the next three years. Great River Greening was awarded $400,000 in 2018 from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to restore, protect, and enhance Minnesota’s wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife on 6 other WMA’s including Warsaw WMA, Edward Velishek Memorial WMA, Dora Lake WMA, Diamond Lake WMA, and John Peter Hoffman Spring Brook Valley WMA.