Sauk River Watershed Protection Program

Protect wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands while maintaining ownership of your property
People paddle in canoes on the Sauk River with a verdant green shoreline on either side and blue sky
The Sauk River, a state-designated water trail, provides an excellent recreational opportunity for paddlers.

A variety of landscapes unfold along the 90-mile Sauk River, including near-shore wetlands and oak savannas, as well as prairie grasslands and thick hardwood forests—home to most of the birds that are native to central Minnesota, including cardinals, woodpeckers and a variety of songbirds, as well as popular game birds like grouse and pheasant.

This winding waterway is a crucial habitat corridor but also provides fishing and hunting opportunities and is an important source of drinking water for the region. The river is also a state-designated water trail providing additional outdoor recreational opportunities.

Download the Brochure

Have questions? Contact
Leah Hall, Program Manager

Protect the Land You Love!

As a landowner in this region, you can help improve water for drinking, recreation, and aquatic species; and ensure that the remaining wetlands, forest, and prairie continue to provide habitat for birds and other wildlife to help preserve your way of life in western Minnesota. The Minnesota Land Trust is seeking private landowners who wish to help protect this important habitat through permanent conservation easements on their land. Will you join us in preserving this region for future generations?

Why apply for a conservation easement?

  • Protect Minnesota’s important wildlife habitat, water quality, and beautiful open spaces  
  • Preserve your family’s legacy on the land
  • Join a community of more than 700 dedicated landowners who steward over 76,000 acres of important Minnesota places
  • Receive tax incentives or other compensation for a permanent conservation easement on your property 
  • Receive a free habitat management plan, with the potential for financial and technical land management assistance

Do you qualify for a conservation easement?

The proposed conservation easement area must:

  • Be located within the Sauk River Watershed Habitat Protection & Restoration Program area; this includes portions of the following counties: Douglas, Todd, Pope, Stearns, Meeker, and Wright; and the outlying areas and cities of Sauk Centre, Paynesville, Cold Spring, Saint Cloud, and Saint Joseph
  • Be at least 40 acres in size with larger parcels preferred
  • Include wetlands or water bodies within the proposed easement area or contribute to conservation of adjacent wetland habitats
  • Contain less than 20% of proposed easement area in cultivation
Map showing the Sauk River watershed region and corresponding program area

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement safeguards the natural features of a property through voluntary, legally binding, and permanent land use restrictions. Lands protected by a conservation easement remain in the landowner’s private ownership. Public access is not required. When the land is transferred to a new owner, the easement stays with the land ensuring it is permanently preserved for generations to come.

Each conservation easement completed by the Minnesota Land Trust is individually crafted to reflect the special characteristics of the land and its uses. However, certain restrictions are required to protect the natural habitat and associated species.

What are the easement terms?

Conservation easements are complex legal documents. Land Trust conservation easement terms generally:

  • Permit low impact recreational uses, such as camping and hunting. 
  • Prohibit or limit agricultural uses, including wildlife food plots. 
  • Permit vegetation management in accordance with a habitat management plan approved by the Land Trust. The first plan is funded by the Land Trust.  
  • Prohibit division into separate ownerships. One conservation easement per owner. 

Easement value and compensation

On your application, you must specify a desired payment amount per acre. The amount you choose may affect whether your project is ranked and if it is ultimately chosen.  

Applications to the program will be ranked on both the ecological value of the land and the payment amount desired. The Land Trust will evaluate all applications received and make selections.

If your application is selected, the Land Trust will use a certified appraiser to determine the value of the proposed conservation easement. Upon finalizing the conservation easement, you would receive a one-time payment, up to 100% of the appraised value.

The Land Trust cannot pay more than the appraised value of the conservation easement.

Benefits of donating conservation easement value

The Minnesota Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) public charity. As with other charitable contributions, the donation of a conservation easement may allow the landowner to claim a federal income tax deduction for the value of the easement. A gift of a conservation easement may also reduce estate taxes. Please consult your attorney. 

Are You Ready to Permanently Protect Your Land?

Join over 700 other dedicated private land stewards across Minnesota who have put their land to work in support of environmental conservation.

Have questions or want help completing the application process? Contact Minnesota Land Trust Program Manager Leah Hall at 651-240-7878 or

Completed Protection & Restoration Projects in Your Area

Funding for this program is provided by the Outdoor Heritage Fund as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

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The Minnesota Land Trust protects and restores Minnesota’s most vital natural lands. Learn more.

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