Nestled between the expansive Chippewa National Forest and beautiful Land O’Lakes State Forest lies Thunder Lake, a quickly developing lake in Cass County. A lake with high water quality, Thunder Lake is home to iconic Minnesota species like the common loon. Thanks to the generosity of Bruce Steiner and his family, 49 acres of natural land and 2,700 feet of undisturbed shoreline are protected forever through a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust.

The property was first purchased by Steiner’s grandfather, Frank Steiner in 1925. Even then the area was facing development pressures, and the family worked diligently over the years to clean and manage the property for recreation and wildlife habitat. When it was acquired most of the trees had been harvested from the land, but the property now boasts a beautiful canopy of northern red oaks and bigtooth aspen trees.

In addition to the property’s importance to the Steiner family, it’s just as important a piece of wildlife habitat for common loon, least darter, and other Minnesota Species in Greatest Conservation Need. The protected parcel connects to 400 acres of state forest, adding another 49 acres of needed habitat to that larger wildlife complex.

“The importance of this project in this location cannot be understated,” said Ruurd Schoolderman, program manager at the Minnesota Land Trust. “If we are to continue to ensure our natural lands and wildlife are able to remain resilient in the face of a changing climate and increased development, we will need the support and additional protections provided by private landowners like Bruce Steiner and his family.”

Steiner agrees. “I’ve been a big supporter of initiatives around fresh water in Minnesota, and the upper Mississippi area is an important focus area to try and maintain that quality. A big part of that is shoreline preservation and here we have substantial undisturbed shoreline – that seemed to make it a fit for the things I support.”Thunder Lake shoreline with reeds showing great habitat

Long term, the property will be given to Steiner’s children to continue to manage and enjoy.

“For conservation in our state to succeed, we need private landowners like Steiners to be a part of the solution,” said Kris Larson, executive director of the Minnesota Land Trust. “This sort of generous protection means that the land will continue to be managed by a private landowner who truly knows and appreciates it, while also protecting wildlife habitat in perpetuity.”

“I’ve enjoyed seeing the maps where you have increasing numbers of these easements around the state – there’s a few right around us – it’s encouraging to see something that’s protecting land like this taking hold,” said Bruce. “The process was very valuable and the end result – I feel like it’s as good a forward-thinking way of stewarding and protecting the land as I can think of.”

Special Thanks

This permanent conservation easement was made possible by supporters of the Minnesota Land Trust, with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC). Thank you to the Northern Waters Land Trust for their support, and thank you most of all to Bruce Steiner for protecting this unique property forever!

County

Cass

Acreage

49

Feet of Shoreline

2,700

Species Protected

Tullibee (Coregonus artedi), Least darter (Etheostoma microperca), Common loon (Gavia immer), Cape May warbler (Dendroica tigrina)

Fun Fact

Minnesota has identified Species in Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the state, which are species that are rare, are declining in population, or face serious threats that may cause them to decline. A number of SGCN (including least darter) have been observed on this property

The property contains extensive undeveloped shoreline along Thunder Lake, a large, popular and publicly-accessible recreational lake. The lake is over 1,300 acres in size and contains approximately 15.9 miles of shoreline, much of which has been intensively developed.

Least darter is the smallest vertebrate fish species native to Minnesota, averaging only 1.5 inches in total length. This reclusive species prefers shallow and very clear freshwaterlakes and streams with little current. They often live in or near dense stands of submerged aquatic vegetation over substrates of gravel, sand, or silt and rely on this vegetation for spawning and cover.

Very little is known about the population of this species in Minnesota or North America. Prior to 1990, they were only known from 31 sites in 10 streams in Minnesota. Subsequent surveys added an additional 47 known sites for the species, though historical sites have also been lost in highly developed areas. Current populations are thought to center around the Otter Tail River system and in the Upper Mississippi River drainage.

Least darter is designated as a “Species of Special Concern” in Minnesota and is threatened by habitat loss and degradation. The Minnesota DNR recommends protection of high-quality water systems from human disturbances and development to aid in this species’ recovery, as well as protection of shoreline to protect water quality and habitat. The large number records of this species on and in close proximity to this property relative to the number of total occurrences of it in the state presents a rare opportunity to protect a section of undeveloped shoreline and habitat that is impactful to this species survival and continued presence in Minnesota.

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