In the upper reaches of Northwestern Minnesota, along the border with Canada, lies the property of Wayne and Keith Johnson. Over 100 acres of classic Minnesota aspen woodland and sedge meadow wetlands – home to birds, bear, elk, and moose – are now protected forever thanks to a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust.
This unique property falls within an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan Core Area, and its protection is the result of a partnership between the Minnesota Land Trust and Audubon Minnesota who are working to protect over 450 acres of land together. With support from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC), the goal of the partnership is to preserve essential wildlife habitat in the Tallgrass Aspen Parkland eco-region. The National Audubon Society has identified areas vital to birds and other wildlife across the country as a priority for conservation efforts. This property is in the Kittson-Roseau Aspen Parkland IBA, where Audubon Minnesota has compiled the documentation of over 262 different bird species. Sharp-tailed grouse and sandhill cranes have been spotted on the Johnson family property which is providing habitat for a host of other birds and wildlife.
“Important Bird Areas help guide conservation actions on the ground” said Alex Wardwell, Audubon Minnesota. “The Johnsons’ conservation easement, within this larger IBA and prairie core, is one piece in the landscape, but it adds considerable value to the overall integrity of other conserved lands and will have an positive and enduring impact on wildlife populations.”
Beyond the birds, this property is also of importance because it provides habitat for some of the few remaining Minnesota elk herds. With 79 elk counted in the last DNR survey in our state, every acre of habitat counts. Preserving natural grasslands in this region as elk habitat can also relieve some of the conflicts that arise when elk browse cultivated lands. Protecting private land can expand the impacts of other protected public and private lands, by creating corridors for wildlife and larger habitat blocks.
“There are more than 20,000 acres of protected lands in wildlife management areas around this particular property,” says Pat Anderson, program manager with the Minnesota Land Trust. “By protecting their land with the Land Trust, Wayne and Keith are helping build critical connections for the wildlife and birds that rely on those areas to survive. And the fact that the land will stay private is important, as the landowners will continue to pay property taxes, hunt, recreate, and manage the land as they have been.”
“Protecting the natural places of our state for future generations depends on the generous spirit of Minnesotans like Wayne and Keith as well as partnerships like this one with Audubon Minnesota,” says Kris Larson, executive director of the Minnesota Land Trust. “By taking this important step to preserve their land forever, they have really preserved a unique part of our state for all Minnesotans.”
“It was a pleasure to work with the team from Minnesota Land Trust and Audubon Minnesota as we looked into putting some of our land into an easement with them.” says Wayne Johnson. “They were very patient with us as we went through the process and then explained in detail what it would mean to us, and to the preserving of our land. Their extreme thoroughness helped us feel very comfortable with our decision to partner with them.”