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Turning land into Wildlife Management Area a challenge

WORTHINGTON -- I have written columns in the past highlighting the wetland activities that Ducks Unlimited has been involved with in southwest Minnesota.

WORTHINGTON -- I have written columns in the past highlighting the wetland activities that Ducks Unlimited has been involved with in southwest Minnesota.

As a member of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, I have had the opportunity to meet and visit with John Schneider, Manager of Conservation Programs in Minnesota for Ducks Unlimited. These have been pretty enlightening conversations about their work. At our last visit, he was sharing with me some specifics on a project that they are working on in Wilmont Township in the northwest part of Nobles County.

I have never been up close and personal in the engineering of one of these projects, and I asked John if I could tag along on the project that was happening in my part of the world.

The project that I am referring to is one that we call the Hansen/Harms project. Nobles County Pheasants Forever purchased the 254-acre parcel a few years ago, and it is now in the hands of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It is connected to the already existing Wildlife Management Area named the Fenmont WMA.

Nobles County Pheasants Forever is very excited about this acquisition because of the 50-plus acre wetland restoration possibility that it provides. I got a call from Josh Kavanagh, the DU biologist for this area, and was invited to participate in an on-site inspection to see what they were up to. I gladly accepted and met up with Doug Lipetzky, DU senior regional engineer, James Streifel, regional engineer and Josh, along with the area wildlife manager from the DNR, Wendy Kreuger, and her assistant, Kent Schaap.

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I was able to participant in what I would call Engineering 101. I learned some of the basic steps required in any wetland restoration effort.

They start out by gathering the basic topography of the proposed wetland.

What this really means in layman's terms is they need to gather all of the elevations on the site to determine where the water will stand and in how big of an area if the water control structure is installed.

I was amazed at how this was done. A technician with an ATV equipped with a Global Satellite Positioning system drives the subject property in a grid fashion.

The GPS records the elevation every time the ATV moves 10 feet. After the ATV crisscrosses the property, the data is entered and a topographical map is created. This can be done now by one man in a day or two and used to take a survey team of three or more men more than a week.

Once the topo-map is completed, then the research starts to determine what efforts are required to ensure that all of the area land-owners agricultural drainage needs will continue to be met. If it is needed, tile can be rerouted or converted to non-perforated tile in order to keep all entities happy.

This step, along with notifying the local units of government, townships, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and every department in the DNR, is critical in order to achieve maximum success.

In some cases, flowage easements might be needed if the basin exceeds the property already available. In the case of the Fenmont WMA, the wetland restoration is completely contained in the property that Pheasant Forever purchased. This makes the project much easier and faster to complete.

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Once these fundamentals have been completed and no major obstacles are identified, then the type of structure that is to be used and its exact location is identified. The structures that are used are called variable crest structures. This is because they can be adjusted to raise and lower the water level in the basin. This is important because managers can manipulate the water level to mimic the drought cycles that occur in nature.

By periodically raising and lowering the water level, undesirable fish can be removed by winterkill and the very best natural vegetation can be achieved and maintained. The end result of these management actions will be the highest quality of wildlife habitat for all species and an emphasis on maximum production of waterfowl. These projects can be very expensive, ranging in cost from $50,000-$250,000. This cost is in addition to the acquisition cost of the under lying property. It is these high costs that unfortunately make these projects very few and far between. As a result we see very few waterfowl in southwest Minnesota.

I was very impressed with the skills and the commitment of the DU staff that I have meet over the past year. Top-notch engineers with a passion for waterfowl and the outdoors in general are a benefit to all folks, regardless if you hunt of not.

Wetland restorations provide many other benefits other than more ducks. They reduce flooding, improve water quality and filter chemical runoff down stream.

I am very excited to see a parcel of ground that was previously used with limited success in row crop agriculture being restored the wetland that it once was. Southwest Minnesota has lost more than 90 percent of the wetlands that once existed here.

There is much more involved in the ultimate completion of this project and I will leave those details to the professions in charge. My hat is off to the folks doing what it takes one acre at a time to make southwest Minnesota a little better off than it was before.

I would like to thank all of those involved in my Engineering 101 class for allowing a novice wetland engineer wan-a-be to tag along. I know that the wetlands in our area are in good hands.

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