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Renville County parks could become native seed repositories

OLIVIA -- Visitors to some of Renville County's parks could be greeted by the colors of native grasses and flowers in small fields now holding rows of corn and soybeans.

The county's park commission is recommending that the county work with the Renville County Soil and Water District to obtain funding to convert some of the county-owned fields within the park boundaries to native prairie. Cory Netland, with the Renville County SWCD staff, said a program that is working to develop a repository of indigenous prairie plants could fund 75 percent of the costs.

Netland and Mark Erickson, community and environment director for the county, outlined the proposal to the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. They are seeking formal approval for the program at the board's next meeting.

The program's goal is to increase the amount of land with prairie grasses and forbs that are indigenous to various areas of the state.

The plants are best adapted to the soils and climate of a particular area, but are also among the most threatened. Less than 1 percent of the original, native prairie remains in Minnesota.

Netland said the program would allow Renville County to obtain native prairie seeds from outside of the county if necessary. The emphasis is placed on locating seeds as close as possible to the county, and within the same eco-region, he explained.

Currently, the county leases some small field areas in the boundaries of its parks for farming. Returning these lands to native prairie would increase the amount of publicly owned land available for public use, while also improving the aesthetics of the parks, according to Netland and Erickson.

The park commission recommended that the county pursue the prairie program, but do so by giving those raising crops on these lands one year's notice. The fields are leased on a year-by-year basis, Erickson said.

The commissioners said the lease-holders could be encouraged to plant RoundUp ready soybeans in the fields next year, which would facilitate the process of restoring native grasses.