WORTHINGTON - Ongoing complaints by township supervisors and landowners against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ management of wildlife areas came to a head Wednesday when the two groups appeared before Nobles County commissioners in a morning work session.
In discussions that lasted for more than two hours, Bloom Township supervisors aired their grievances - claiming everything from a DNR-created environmental disaster and skunk and mosquito breeding ground to intentional stream blockages and waterhemp and thistle-infested public lands.
DNR representatives offered counterpoint, telling of the prairie reconstruction taking place on the David B. Jones tract of the Swessinger WMA, a 640-acre parcel that encompasses Bloom Township Section 17. The site was seeded to 100 different native prairie species of grasses and forbs, with 27 reestablished wetlands.
Complaints were raised about weed growth on the parcel last summer, leading to some mowing along the parcel’s edges.
Dave Trauba, DNR’s Southern Regional Wildlife Manager, said 80 percent of the department’s work is restoring grasslands and wetland habitat, which includes noxious weed control and invasive species management.
He said differences exist between the DNR and the agriculture community in identification of invasive species. While smooth brome grass is considered an invasive species by the DNR, it’s valuable to farmers who graze livestock. Meanwhile, species such as compass plant, wild rose and lead plant - all iconic prairie plants - were identified by Ag PHD as weeds of the week, Trauba said.
With just 1 percent of Minnesota’s native prairie remaining, Trauba said prairies are complex systems. With the Swessinger WMA, the DNR is working to create a diverse system that encompasses grass, pollinators, small mammals and wetlands.
Creating that system takes time.
Trauba said the DNR is doing targeted treatment for noxious and invasive weed control on the tract, but will not do blanket spraying as it will kill the prairie grasses and forbs it’s wanting to grow. He said native plant species seeded on the Swessinger WMA spend their first three years putting their energy into the root system. After three years, and with management to include fire, mowing, haying and possibly grazing, the prairie will do what is intended - supporting pollinators and controlling invasive species.
Bloom Township Supervisor Jim Joens accused the DNR of not being a good neighbor. He wasn’t talking solely about the Swessinger WMA, but also of a state-owned parcel in Bloom Township Section 34, where the Jack Creek flows.
Joens said the DNR is blocking the flow of water and has “no clue what (it’s) doing to the farming community.” Of the DNR, he said it will “talk a good talk, but you don’t follow through.”
Trauba responded by saying the two groups may have to agree to disagree on points.
“My goal is information sharing so you have a better understanding on where and why we’re doing work,” Trauba said.
Joens countered by telling county commissioners there should be a moratorium on DNR acquisitions because he thinks the agency is getting more land than it can handle.
Commissioner Gene Metz, who was part of a working group last year that discussed potential moratoriums, said there isn’t enough support.
“Even in Nobles County there’s land that has benefitted from (public lands restoration),” Metz said. However, he said the state’s acquisition of the 640-acre Swessinger tract - in the middle of an agriculture production area - is why the “hair stands up on our back.”
Metz, in essence, hit at the core of the issues between the township and the DNR. How much public land is too much in an agricultural area?
The David B. Jones tract had been held in trust and its manager approached several organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, about taking the land permanently out of production agriculture. DU ultimately purchased and restored the parcel.
Trauba asked Joens if his vision is for Minnesota to have two plant species - corn and soybeans - to which Joens said he grows other crops.
“The trouble is when you have a new plot in the middle of everyone else,” Joens said. “You’re sitting in the middle of us, and we have to learn to get along somehow. We want bees, we don’t want mosquitos. The bats don’t bother me, but the aphids do.
“What are we going to do with the wildlife? What do we do with all the people driving out there?” Joens asked of the DNR. “You’re creating headaches.”Bloom Township Section 34
While there was no agreement between the township officials and DNR regarding the Swessinger WMA, Bloom Township farmer Lance Rogers asked the DNR to address issues in Jack Creek in Section 34.
Armed with a couple dozen photographs he’d taken while kayaking on Jack Creek, Rogers spoke of obstructions he’d like to see removed, including beaver dams, a tree stump and a 6-foot diameter water tank that rolled into the creek from a neighboring landowner.
He said he offered to remove the tank, but was told by someone with the DNR that he’d be reported for trespassing.
“We’re trying to keep our water flowing,” Rogers said.
Trauba said Jack Creek is taking on more water today as a result of increased tiling, and its leading to cutting and widening of the creek.
Increased water flows aren’t just a challenge on Jack Creek, but on water courses throughout the state, he added.
“If that ground is not maintained, we’re going to have a lot of problems,” Rogers responded. He said it’s been a year since the two groups last met with county commissioners and nothing was done to alleviate the township’s concerns.
Joens said he wants the DNR to clean out Jack Creek in Section 34. If it doesn’t, he said the county needs to put a judicial ditch through the land.
“If no action is taken, all it’s going to do is create harder feelings,” Rogers added.
After more than two hours of discussion, Metz encouraged both groups to go home and think everything over.
“We could sit here all day and go back and forth,” Metz said.
Trauba said the DNR doesn’t want an old water tank in the creek and told Rogers he felt bad that someone wouldn’t allow the tank to be removed. Trauba didn’t offer a timeline as to when the obstruction will be removed.
Prior to adjournment, Joens promised to stay vocal on DNR management until “we get something done.”
“I hope you don’t walk out of here and forget about it,” he added.
Anyone wanting to comment on the condition of a state WMA may do so on the DNR website at dnr.state.mn.us/wmas/index.html.