The Pine River and Leech Lake River comprehensive watershed management plans were awarded $2.4 million in Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council grant funds to preserve 900 acres of high-quality woodlands and aquatic habitat in north-central Minnesota.

“This is the first attempt statewide to meld watershed and habitat preservation through the local comprehensive watershed planning process,” Melissa Barrick, Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District district manager, said in a news release.

The Hubbard, Cass and Crow Wing conservation districts will approach landowners who meet the program criteria to gauge their interest in enrolling land into the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources’ Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve program, or RIM, conservation easements.

“The SWCDs will work hand in hand with landowners and the Board of Water and Soil Resources to complete approximately 15 RIM conservation easements,” Barrick said.

The program works with private landowners to permanently protect environmentally sensitive and high-quality habitat. The land remains in private ownership and can still be used for hunting, recreating, timber harvest under the forest stewardship plan and other suitable uses.

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“Keeping forest intact around lakes will help to maintain high-quality fisheries,” Dan Steward, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources private forest management program coordinator, said in the release.

The landowner agrees to permanently protect the land, and not develop buildings and roads within the easement boundary. In return, the landowner will receive a one-time payment for 60% of the assessed land value.

The watershed plans identified areas as priorities for this first round of funding. Landowners within those areas will be mailed information about the program. Program funding was provided by the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.