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Scott Rall: What's in a wetland evaluation?

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoor columnist 

So just what is a wetland restoration/enhancement technical evaluation? I needed to find the answer to this question, so I attended yet another meeting earlier this week to see what I could find out for myself.

I am referring to the evaluation of wildlife habitat projects funded through the Land and Legacy Fund after being recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The state Legislature required that the council set aside more than $100,000 to do these evaluations to ensure that the state’s tax moneys were being well spent. These individual evaluations cost almost 10 grand each and I, for one, thought that was a lot more money than they should have costed.

We don’t get to make those decisions, so I figured I would at least try to see what they were up to.

I went to a project site in Nobles County just south of the Murray County line north of Wilmont. Ducks Unlimited had received about $250,000 to do a wetland enhancement in the form of a new water control structure on a property purchased several years ago by Nobles County Pheasants Forever that is currently managed by the DNR and open to public hunting.

This property was originally a wetland that had been drained and, for the most part, unsuccessfully farmed for the last 50 years. It was tiled and tiled and still the crop was drowned out most years — at least partially. Crop production has ceased and this new variable crest dam allows the DNR to fill and empty the wetland basin for the management of habitat for ducks and other wetland species.

Low water levels kill carp and increase vegetation that ducks use in their life cycle. Filling the basin in the spring allows ducks to propagate and makes for some quality hunting opportunity for area hunters. This project is designed to allow land managers to do what nature used to do all by itself before the invention and mass introduction of farm land field drain tile.

When smaller wetlands existed in great numbers they were all very shallow and had small watersheds. They held water for a few months and then most of them dried up. With the use of field tile, many wetland watersheds have increased in many cases 10 fold or more.

This increased water volume directed to a much smaller number of basins keeps them half full to overflowing in most years, and common carp thrive. So the intent of this evaluation was to see if the project manager did as they said they would and to see if the goals of the project were being met.

The structure DU engineered I have seen many times, and it is beautiful and working wonderfully. This was obvious to the project evaluators. Their job did not end there, though. They dug deeper to see how this project integrated with the much larger overall watershed — and the much bigger picture of how well this wetland was producing its share of the water and wildlife habitat benefits to the entire area of south west Minnesota.

This is a lot harder to determine. They made notes to add to the evaluation with the intent of sharing what worked well and what could be done better the next time to ensure that each time the state committed its funds to this type of project it would be getting the best and continually improving outcomes — and also the biggest bang for the buck.

I questioned how this information was to going to be disseminated to the general public and they assured me that they were in the process of developing those distribution systems.

I was not all that excited about this evaluation process initially, but after seeing how it operated I guess that when government dollars are involved this is a necessary part of the process. I think that you should all do your own wetland restoration evaluation on the wetland located in the Fenmont WMA. It will get you out for a great exercise walk in the outdoors and allow you to see first-hand how your tax dollars are being spent.

You will be the best evaluator we can have, and the better you understand the intent and the outcomes of dollars expended from the Outdoor Heritage Fund the better you can judge if they are meeting the most important habitat needs of our state.

This site is north of Wilmont and one mile south of the Murray County line. Take a drive and see for yourself.