Improving habitat, cleaning the water and restoring prairie to its natural state were all reasons Minnesotans voted in 2008 to pass the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
The Conservation Partners Legacy grants, which are part of the funds generated from a smaller percentage of the state's sales tax revenue, are given each year for projects that meet certain requirements established for improving our natural resources.
Of the 35 grant requests approved by the Lessard-Sams Outdoors Heritage Council for the 2011 fiscal year, four have effects on projects in west central Minnesota.
Two in Kandiyohi County were awarded to the Prairie Pothole Chapter of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, one in Pope County was awarded to the Friends of the Morris Wetland Management District and the last was in Chippewa County to The Nature Conservancy. All four grants are for land acquisition.
The Kandiyohi projects are the Ella Lake WPA water-control structure on the Ella Lake Waterfowl Productions Area and the Burr Oak WPA grassland enhancement.
The Ella Lake grant is for $7,500 to construct a water-control structure on a 9.5-acre wetland, allowing for the control of rough fish populations and the improvement of aquatic plants. The Burr Oak grant of $30,548 is for the enhancement of 70 acres of grassland, which has been invaded by woody, non-native vegetation.
The Prairie Pothole chapter has taken advantage of the increase in funds over the last couple of years, going from a couple of fund-rasiers and a habitat day to securing money for projects like Ella Lake and Burr Oak.
"We went from Wood Duck Habitat Day, which we can't get a grant for, and one other project for a year. This year, we applied for 9-10 grants and got approved for about half of them," said chapter president Troy Heck. "It improves our visibility. We have people who call us to come work on a project. People talk to us a year in advance and we write the grants and try to get the finances for it. We had turned down projects (in the past) because we had run out of money."
The grant to the Friends of the Morris Wetland Management District will be used on a 320-acre tract adjacent to the Ordway Prairie.
"The Legacy grant funds will allow us to hire a contractor to remove the red cedar trees from the prairie," Bruce Freske, Morris Wetland Management District manager, noted in an email.
"The private grassland is part of one of the largest contiguous tracts of native prairie and grassland in west central Minnesota and is important for many species of grassland birds and plants which are becoming increasingly uncommon in Minnesota as grasslands are lost to row crop agriculture or become forests.
"The removal of the red cedar will not only allow the area to receive more use by grassland wildlife but will remove a large seed source for red cedar which is spreading throughout grassland areas in the region."
The Friends group secured $71,750 in grant money for the project. Dale Livingston, president of the group, said the Legacy grants have improved their ability to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
"It's provided us money and an avenue to help organizations carry out their missions. The mission for the Friends of Morris Wetland Management District is to try to come up with volunteers or dollars to help them do what they need to do."
The $32,000 grant to The Nature Conservancy goes to the continuation of a perimeter fence on land owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to complete a plan for allowing grazing on the land that mimics the natural processes of prairie management.