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Restoring a wetland: Bloom Township section work nearly complete

WILMONT -- A square mile of land in Bloom Township once drained of its many wetlands to produce bushels of corn and soybeans is still in the process of being restored to the benefit of waterfowl and wildlife habitat and clean water.

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The David B. Jones Tract of the Swessinger Wildlife Management Area is comprised of a full section -- 640 acres -- in Bloom Township. The land was seeded to 100 different varieties of grasses and forbs, and work continues to restore more than 30 wetlands on the parcel. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

WILMONT - A square mile of land in Bloom Township once drained of its many wetlands to produce bushels of corn and soybeans is still in the process of being restored to the benefit of waterfowl and wildlife habitat and clean water.

The David B. Jones Tract of the Swessinger Wildlife Management Area was purchased in October 2015 by Ducks Unlimited and transferred 16 months ago to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Today, the site is seeded to 100 different native prairie species of grasses and forbs, and 27 wetlands have been re-established.

Jon Schnieder, Ducks Unlimited’s Manager of Minnesota Conservation Programs, said about half a dozen wetlands have yet to be restored. Weather permitting, the work will be done before the end of the year. DU hired a contractor to do the work.

The 640-acre tract comprising Section 17 in Bloom Township is the largest parcel DU has purchased and restored in Minnesota, Schneider said. It’s part of a greater habitat complex, with the state-owned Swessinger Wildlife Management Area (WMA) directly to the north and the federal Bloom Waterfowl Production Area to the south.

“We looked at the landscape and said that would make a real critical waterfowl habitat complex,” Schnieder said of the land purchase. DU was one of several organizations approached by the David B. Jones Trust manager about taking the land permanently out of production agriculture.

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Schnieder said two existing public lands neighboring Section 17 were too small to have an impact on waterfowl production, but the acquisition of the Jones tract will create a habitat complex.

“Ducks need more than one wetland and a little bit of prairie - they need lots of wetland and lots of prairie to successfully breed in numbers to offset those killed during the breeding season,” he said. “Ducks nest up to a mile away from water, so it takes more than just wetland to have duck-breeding habitat.”

In addition to multiple species of ducks, the site will also attract pheasants and non-game birds. Because the site is home to the headwaters of Jack Creek, the land will also provide water quality and flood storage benefits to the Heron Lake Watershed.

Bill Schuna, DNR Area Wildlife Manager at Slayton, helped lead the seedings on the tract, with both shortgrass and tallgrass prairie established. Not knowing what kind of seedbank would come back after the land was in agriculture production for so many years, he said the DNR did something it rarely does - plant native vegetation in the wetland to outcompete native cattail.

“Just like farmers use precision planting equipment to plant crops, we use the same stuff to plant the prairie,” Schuna said. “We’re extremely pleased with how the prairie is growing.”

Though there has been some broadleaf competition, Schuna said that will disappear in a year or two as the native prairie grasses and forbs take over. Local ecotype seed was used, meaning all species would be present in Nobles County if its lands were unplowed. The prairie will be managed through periodic controlled burns.

“This has been one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on,” Schuna said. “To hunters, these properties are pieces of heaven. As a hunter, I can say that.”

Purchase of the David B. Jones tract by DU, as well as restoration work, was funded through a Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council appropriation in 2015. Schnieder said $9 million was awarded to DU for three projects - the site in Bloom Township, along with a parcel in Martin County and another in LeSueur County.

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With the land taken out of production agriculture and gifted to the state, Nobles County will now receive an annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes. That money will be divided between the county, Bloom Township and the school district.

Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer Beth Van Hove said that in 2017, the real estate taxes that would have gone to Bloom Township were calculated at $3,005.19. That amount will be abated because of the PILT payment, and instead, the township will receive $6,105.60 - more than double what it received when the land was in private ownership.

Schnieder said Nobles County and the area will see even greater benefit with its public use.

“It provides public recreational opportunities and … the Nobles County area will benefit from hunters and birdwatchers visiting the area in the future,” Schnieder said. “Many of us that go pheasant hunting stay overnight in Worthington or Slayton, buy dinners and drinks in the bar, supplies, gas and the whole nine yards. The economic benefit is pretty significant.”

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(Julie Buntjer/The Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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