Healthy Organizations Program
The Cass SWCD Board has completed its strategic plan in cooperation with the Initiative Foundation’s Healthy Organizations Program. This program seeks to empower local organization by identifying current strengths and weakness, training teams of leaders in effective administrative techniques, organizing facilitated public input sessions, and assisting in plan drafting and review. Two major areas of emphasis were identified:
- Small Woodlot Management Program—The plan calls for a cooperative literature research project with Bemidji State University (BSU) to determine the most effective ways to get the landowners to actively manage their forests. BSU Graduate Student, Patrick Schuett, has assembled an annotated bibliography of articles and research materials for presentation to the Board. Review of the data and meetings with other conservation groups were scheduled in 2009 to arrive at an action plan.
- The conclusions of Patrick Schuett's study on "Determining Characteristics and Forest Management Preferences of Non-Industrial Private Landowners Who Own 20 Acres or Less in Cass County, MN" have been published in a thesis that is available at BSU. His thesis is based on conclusions gathered from a survey sent out to a random selection of woodlot owners that met certain criteria. It was found most woodlot owners in Cass County do not plan on harvesting wood on their property in the future. He also found that most woodlot owners do not belong to a conservation organization, but a majority do seek information about forests and forest management.
- Shoreline Buffer Program—The plan calls Multi-County cooperative project, that encompasses the Upper Mississippi Drainage to provide cost sharing and technical assistance to lakeshore owners to establish native buffers.
The Board conducted facilitated evaluation meetings on the plan in the fall of 2009. The Initiative Foundation provided funding and technical support for plan development.
The SWCD makes cost-sharing dollars available to Cass County landowners for a variety of conservation projects. Eligible practices must meet technical specifications and be maintained by the landowner for a minimum effective life of 10 years. Shoreline erosion control measures have been the most often requested projects in Cass. Other cost-sharing projects could include pollinator habitat improvement and erosion control. There is also funding available on a competitive basis from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources for larger projects.
The SWCD continues to support agricultural conservation programs in cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS District Conservationist WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program), CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program), provides technical assistance to farmers participating in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) as well as other federal and state programs.
The SWCD works with a variety of organizations including Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM), the Minnesota DNR, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to provide Cass County landowners the opportunity to participate in a variety of conservation easements for their land. There are several programs currently available to landowners.
Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation (LLAWF) in collaboration with RIM has a pilot project which includes acquiring conservation easements on critical shoreland and forest within watersheds of 8 selected lakes. These include Ten Mile, Roosevelt, Thunder, Washburn, and the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. Shoreland easements protect fisheries habitat and limit nutrient runoff that can impair water quality. Forest easements reduce nutrient runoff by reducing forest fragmentation and allowing infiltration of water. This easement puts a focus on lakes that play a dual role in fisheries and source water. Funding for this grant, acquired by LLAWF, is provided by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
A subset of priority recreational lakes in Cass and Crow Wing County have been designated by the DNR as “tullibee refuge lakes” in need of further protection. There are 38 lakes in 4 counties eligible. These lakes are deep, cold, and well oxygenated, supporting high populations of tullibee, the primary food source for game fish. DNR Fisheries research has determined if the land surface of the watershed is less than 25% disturbed by development or intensive land use and 75% of the land area of the watershed is permanently protected, these lakes can generally be assured of maintaining high water quality for the survival of tullibee along with recreational benefits and resiliency against climate change.
BWSR currently has a project emphasizing the protection of shallow wild rice lakes. Tracts to be targeted for easements will be selected based on the degree they help to permanently protect all the land around a given wild rice lake, threat of development, or other conservation objectives. This program fills a niche that targets funding for shore-land protection specifically on shallow lakes. Increased boat traffic and outboard motor use associated with development have direct impacts on wild rice and waterfowl. Wild rice is extremely sensitive to water level changes. The wake from an outboard motor is enough to pull the young plant roots from their tenuous hold on the lake bottom. People who own undeveloped tracts of shoreline along water producing outstanding stands of wild rice now have an opportunity to preserve this precious resource. Funding for wild rice protection began in 2012. Phase II began in 2013 and is still underway. The BWSR, working together with the DNR and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), have prioritized the list of wild rice lakes for protection efforts and is working to fully allocate funds. This program is expected to continue in the coming years with funding available for phases three and four of the program.
The SWCD continues to enjoy an excellent working relationship with the Cass County Board and the Cass County Environmental Services Department. Through a formal service agreement, the County provides office space, vehicles, equipment, supplies, and personnel to carry out the SWCD’s program. Supervisor, Jim Ballenthin, represents the SWCD on the Cass County Board of Adjustment. The County and SWCD Boards meet as a Liaison Committee to discuss budgets and policy issues.