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Interest in protecting rock outcrops exceeds funding

OLIVIA -- An effort to protect some of Minnesota's rarest landscapes is finding support from landowners in the Upper Minnesota River Valley.

The interest has proven strong enough that the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in five counties may seek additional funding to enroll more rock outcrops in the unique conservation easement program.

Tom Kalahar, Renville County SWCD, told members of the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the program has now approved applications to protect 1,481 acres of rock outcrops in Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Redwood, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties.

Initially begun in 2007, the program has been able to obtain grant funds to make it possible to protect all but 237 acres of those acres. Kalahar said they had expected to complete the program this year, but may go back to the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources and request funding so that the final 237 acres can be included in the program. He calculates an additional $1.7 million is needed.

Kalahar called the 1,481 acres the "best of the best.'' The outcrops were evaluated so that those offering the greatest biological diversity and integrity could be protected.

Unique plants not found elsewhere in Minnesota -- such as cacti -- eke out their existence on the rock outcrops.

They offer a harsh environment of extremes in temperature and desert-like conditions, but also provide highly coveted scenery in the upper river valley.

The ease of access to the hard, granite rock that comprises the outcrops has also made them attractive to the mining industry. There is a growing demand for the crushed granite in road and building construction.

The conservation program offers landowners one-time payments averaging $2,500 per acre for perpetual easements. Landowners are responsible for ongoing maintenance and taxes, and development is not allowed on the lands.

Kalahar said the program gives landowners an option to protect the outcrops. Most could realize far greater financial gain by allowing mining or residential and other development to occur on those sites, he explained.

He said the acres offered for the program have come from owners who want to see the land protected in its natural state, and appreciate its value for hunting and other recreational uses.

Lottery proceeds have made possible the grant funds used for the easements, he added.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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