Loss, Degradation and Fragmentation
Habitat Threats: Loss, Degradation and Fragmentation
- Prioritize the protection of existing areas of open space and quality habitat
- Focus on connecting existing areas of open space and quality habitat
- Encourage restoration efforts in priority habitats, specifically, grasslands/prairie, oak savanna, wetlands and floodplain forests, and deciduous upland forests
- Enhance cost effectiveness through collaborative conservation efforts among partner organizations and agencies
Conservation Concern: Loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat is the leading cause of declining bird populations.
Conservation Strategy: Significant parcels of quality bird habitat remain throughout the metro area. In order to ensure that the metro area is an increasingly effective sanctuary for resident and migratory birds, resources need to be directed toward protecting existing parcels of quality habitat while enhancing areas of degraded habitat, and creating habitat corridors to improve connectivity of isolated areas. The extent and approach to land restoration will differ considerably between highly developed and outer regions and should be considered on a case by case basis.
Land Acquisition and Conservation Easements
Because of high land values and the small patch sizes of real estate in the metro area, it is important that land acquisition and conservation easements are strategic to protect the highest quality existing areas of open space and habitat. Opportunities for the outright purchase of significant parcels of land are limited and unlikely to be a significant factor in bird conservation in the metro area. Conservation easements, however, are a tool that may have significant impact in protecting habitat. Conservation easements are voluntary, legally binding agreements that limit certain types of land uses or prevent development from taking place on a piece of property, while protecting the property’s ecological or open-space valuesxxix. Conservations easements are a way for a landowner to maintain private land ownership and receive support for providing an ecological public benefit.
Current Land Protection Programs
Conservation easements are established at multiple scales and through many different agencies and organizations. In the metro area, Ramsey and Hennepin Counties had land protection programs in the 1970’s and lead to what is now their established county parks and open space areas. Currently, Dakota and Washington counties have established land programs for habitat protection. Dakota County has an agricultural preservation focus and specializes in two types of easements: agricultural and natural area. Both require a Stewardship or Natural Resource Plan. These plans, which describe activities, responsibilities and costs, are jointly developed between the participating land owner and the county.
The Minnesota Land Trust is also working in the metro area, helping developers and communities to successfully combine development with the protection of natural areasxxx. Their focus is on working with landowners, communities and conservation partners to preserve land and water resources as well as to educate and advocate for the preservation of unique environmental systems. The Metro Greenways Programxxxi has likewise been committed to the establishment of a regional network of natural areas and open spaces interconnected by green corridors in the metro area. It has been a collaborative effort including many partners working together to assist in restoring habitat on prioritized public and private lands, in part by using conservation easements with willing and interested land owners.
Metro Greenways, which ended in the summer of 2012, created several useful tools aimed at directing conservation activities within the metro area, including maps of desirable Metro Conservation Corridorsxxxii (2005) and Regionally Significant Ecological Areasxxxiii (2005). The latter map is based on Landsat data as and used various habitat modeling applications, including songbirds and their breeding habitat, as a significance indicator.
In an effort to develop bird habitat conservation strategies, Audubon Minnesota created a map layering the Metro Greenways areas of highest ecological significance with designated Important Bird Areas (Figure 3.1). This helps provide guidance on ideal areas for conservation practitioners to focus their concerted and collaborative efforts.
Better coordination among the many agencies and organizations that work toward land protection is needed if quality wildlife habitat is to remain in the metro area. This includes organizations that have natural resource protection as a major goal, but should also include other potential partners. A tangible example of this would be working with the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area Protection Program, which focuses on farmland preservation. By incorporating Best Management Practices for birds that are compatible with the working lands focus into the required plans developed by these easement programs, environmental protection efforts would be enhanced and strengthened beyond the original intent of farmland protection.
The absence of Metro Greenways has left a general void in the overall organization of partnerships and direction of land protection and restoration efforts. A replacement strategy needs to be found and high priority needs to be placed on maintaining the existing tools developed by Metro Greenways through updating land cover data on a regular basis. Similarly, the overall organization of partnerships provided by Metro Greenways cannot be left to chance.
Conservation Actions for Addressing Habitat in the Metro Area
- Establish a metro area working group and decide how to facilitate and coordinate the implementation of the Guide to Urban Bird Conservation
- All land being considered for acquisition or easement should have a prescribed management plan outlining the activities, responsibilities and costs
- Support the continued success of existing programs by building on what has already been done, forging new partnerships and creating tangible goals for the future
- Maintain and update the tools created by Metro Greenways (i.e. update land coverage information)
- Develop an overall support network including agencies, NGOs and landowners, for continued collaborative partnerships
- Develop and promote Best Management Practices for birds that can be incorporated into existing programs, such as the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area Protection Program