Minnesota is a state known for its majestic forests, crystal clear lakes and rich farm land. The beauty of this land is immediately apparent to people who visit here. Much of the northern part of the state was once covered with dense, majestic hardwood forests of deciduous trees, specifically sugar maple, red oak and basswood. While many forests have been cleared for farming and lumber, there are still large swaths of this region that remain densely wooded. Mature forests in Minnesota are comprised of multiple layers including a well-defined canopy, a sub-canopy and a dense shrub layer. These layers provide valuable habitats for wild birds such as the American Woodcock, the Easter Whip-poor-will, the Chimney Swift, the Northern Flicker and the Wood Thrush. Early spring wildflower species grow at the base of the canopies. Animals such as wild rabbits, white-tailed deer, black bears, eastern gray wolves, river otters, moose, elk, beavers and squirrels make their homes here in the wilderness of Minnesota. Crystal clear lakes and streams help provide life-giving hydration to plants and animals of the forest. The wetland habitats here are an important source of refuge for waterfowl and aquatic species of all varieties. The clean-crisp air of the Northwoods fills the lungs of the animals living here. Clearly, with all of these natural resources, the vegetation, animals, and human beings who reside here in the great state of Minnesota benefit from the extraordinarily rich and beautiful environment.
Unfortunately, there are forces that would destroy this natural beauty, if left unchecked. Many of the environmental difficulties facing the forests of Northwoods are caused by the careless actions of human beings. Deforestation by lumber companies; leaking chemicals, the byproduct of local factories; run-off from fields filled with pesticides and non-organic fertilizers; and climate change...these are but a few of the insidious issues capable of affecting the natural beauty of Minnesota.
Fortunately, there are efforts to combat these forces. Conservation efforts help protect the land, its inhabitants and the natural beauty of this great state. As human beings, it is important to remember that we are interconnected with the land and the other inhabitants that share this Earth with us. The health of the land for growing crops and providing food for animals is directly related to the health of humanity as a whole. A failure to protect the land and its inhabitants will ultimately have a negative impact on the well-being of the human race.
Groups such as The Nature Conservancy help work to protect Minnesota's natural areas. One of the most important ways they are able to do this is to acquire key parcels of land for the purpose of protecting the natural landscape. Their mission is to protect the land while simultaneously allowing private landowners to benefit from the land in ways that will not harm the plentiful natural resources here. One of the most important ways the Nature Conservancy helps protect Minnesotan land is the acquisition of key, identified parcels of land to obtain conservation easements. The parcels acquired are often identified as areas of priority conservation due to their unique features and importance as natural habitats. The Nature Conservancy acquires this land through purchases, land auctions, bargain sales and even donations. The Nature Conservancy also will accept donations of land parcels that have not been identified as ecologically important, so that they can subsequently sell this land and use the proceeds to benefit other environmentally important areas for preservation.
Other key conservation groups in Minnesota include the Minnesota Land Trust, The Trust for Public Land and the Conservation Fund. Such conservation groups seek to protect the land using a variety of different methods. Conservation groups seek to protect remaining areas of hardwood deciduous forests, expanding these forests whenever possible. If not possible to increase a particular area as a result of its proximity to a metropolitan area, conservation groups will frequently seek opportunities to connect patches of forests with corridors, to facilitate the movement of vegetative and animal species amongst various areas of land. They also seek to restore degraded forests by reintroducing native vegetation and animals to areas where numbers have been depleted. Conservation groups also focus their efforts on minimizing the negative impacts of invasive species, as these species often have a negative impact on other native plant and animal species. Whenever possible, conservation groups will work toward trying to eliminate invasive species.
Private landowners may wonder how they can preserve the beauty of their property for future generations. Whether a landowner owns a piece of property in the Big Woods ecological subsection of the state or in the prairie grasslands, both of these environments provide outstanding protection for various species of natural birds, animals and vegetation. Private landowners can help conservation efforts by donating a parcel of land for conservation purposes. Such a donation can be done during the landowner's life and also, by bequest in a will or testamentary document.
A property owner can also agree to enter into a conservation easement, similar to those entered into by the Nature Conservancy. In such an agreement, a landowner voluntarily agrees to limit their use of their own land to preserve the natural resources of the land. Such agreements may protect specific plant or animal species, wetland habitats, lake shorelines and even natural features of the land itself. Conservation agreements are legally binding and are recorded in the local municipality where the land is located. Not only are current landowners bound by the terms of the conservation easement; future property owners are also required to follow the restrictions laid out in the agreement, protecting the land in perpetuity. Many times, conservation groups will acquire parcels of land, create a conservation easement over the land and then transfer the land to an owner who is interested in making sure that the tenements of the easement are followed. Sometimes the land is even developed with the assistance of a developer who is committed to protecting the land while making improvements upon it. Conservation easements have the added benefits of making adjacent land more valuable as prospective owners know that the land affected by the conservation easement will be permanently protected, preventing any environmentally detrimental use of the land.
If you are a property owner in Minnesota, or a prospective property owner in Minnesota, who is interested in opportunities to protect portions of your land permanently, contact one of the many conservation groups of the state to see what steps might best suit your goals and circumstances. Even if you are not a property owner, many of these groups will gladly accept volunteers to help in their efforts to protect the beauty of Minnesota's natural lands. If you are a passionate supporter of preserving natural lands for the health and benefit of future generations, contact your local conservation agency today for ideas about how you can best help in these efforts.