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Rare rocks, even rarer opportunity

OLIVIA -- Landowners interested in protecting rock outcrops in the Upper Minnesota River Valley may have a unique opportunity to do so in the next two years.

Legislation is moving forward that will expand the program initially launched in Renville and Redwood counties to include neighboring Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties. The legislation includes $1.5 million in funding approved by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

If approved, the funding would make it possible to acquire perpetual easements on over 500 acres of outcrops in 2009.

If landowner interest can be shown, it is very possible that the program could be offered in 2010 as well, according to Tom Kalahar with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Kalahar said he is encouraged about the prospects for expanding the program after a recent visit to the capitol. He met with legislators and representatives of the LCCMR about the potential to continue the program for two more years.

The LCCMR does not generally make long-term funding commitments, so consequently Kalahar believes the prospects for rock outcrop funding will be limited to the next two years. He said the request to the LCCMR for 2010 will be based on landowner interest. He'd like to see funding for as many 2,000 acres in 2010.

If that is to happen, Kalahar said landowners will need to make known their interest in the program now by contacting the Soil and Water Conservation District offices in their respective offices.

The original program has made it possible to acquire easements on 212 acres in Renville and Redwood counties. Had the funding been there, nearly 10 times as many acres were offered by interested landowners, he pointed out.

The program has won attention for protecting a unique resource. The rock outcrops are appreciated both for their rugged beauty as well as the rare and hardy plants that inhabit them.

The granite bedrock is also valued commercially. The strength provided by the angular, crushed rock makes it valuable in road and building construction.

Kalahar and others are hoping to protect the rock outcrops while steering mining to the ample reserves of granite bedrock available that are not exposed as part of an outcrop. Kalahar said the goal of this program is to provide landowners with compensation for doing the right thing, and assisting them with removing invasive species such as red cedar and sumac to restore the outcrops.

He said we face the same challenge today with granite outcrops as we did when we began draining our wetlands. If we do not take steps to protect the outcrops, he said they could disappear as easily from the landscape we value as have more than 95 percent of the wetlands.