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Funds available to protect riparian lands in Minn.

Jeanette and David Stottrup enrolled 60 acres in the Reinvest in Minnesota Riparian Buffer Easement program to protect water quality on Battle Creek and provide wildlife habitat on their land west of Litchfield. (Submitted photo)

LITCHFIELD -- Contracts on 60 percent of the land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program in Minnesota will expire in the next five years, and conservationists and hunters are bracing for the inevitable.

Rising land and crop values will lead some landowners to return many of those 823,000 acres up for renewal to production.

It's also why many are pinning hopes on a new Reinvest in Minnesota Riparian Buffer Easement program. It offers the opportunity to permanently protect some of the most critical riparian lands, according to Tabor Hoek, a private lands specialist with the state Board of Water and Soil Resources based in Marshall.

Speaking on a conference call Friday, Hoek said the new program had been unveiled at an event one day earlier on the David and Jeanette Stottrup property west of Litchfield. The Stottrups have 162 acres in CRP that are to expire in the coming years. They enrolled 60 acres in the Riparian Buffer Easement program. A 200-foot-wide buffer offers wildlife habitat and permanently protects water quality along Battle Creek, which cuts through their property.

Enrollment in this program provides a perpetual easement. It also allows the flexibility to develop wider buffers that can do so much more for water quality and wildlife than the standard, 16½-foot buffer required by law on many ditch systems.

"Three big steps,'' said Hoek to describe the size of the limited amount of habitat that a standard one-rod buffer offers.

More than $10 million is available to enroll lands in the Reinvest in Minnesota Riparian Buffer Easement. It's made possible by funding from both the Outdoor Heritage and Clean Water funds from the Legacy Amendment.

The funding should make it possible to enroll 2,500 acres. The funding per acre has been increased to reflect current land values, and ranges from $4,000 to $8,000 per acre, depending on location.

The goal in coming years is to re-enroll at least 80,000 acres or 10 percent of the land in expiring CRP contracts, according to John Jaschke, executive director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

With so many Conservation Reserve Program acres likely to go back into production, state officials are hoping to be as strategic as possible in protecting those lands that can do the most good for water quality and wildlife, he said.

Enrollment in the Reinvest in Minnesota Riparian Buffer Easement program is now open, and interested landowners should contact their county Soil and Water Conservation District office. County offices will also be contacting many landowners with expiring CRP acres and encouraging them to consider this opportunity.

Tom Cherveny

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

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