According to an economic report released today by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), prairie and wetland restoration at The Nature Conservancy’s Glacial Ridge Project in Polk County has brought substantial economic benefits to the area including an average local economic contribution of $1.4 million annually and the creation of jobs and new small businesses.
“When we purchased the land at Glacial Ridge in 2000 and began restoration efforts, we knew it would not only provide environmental benefits, but economic and social ones as well,” said Peggy Ladner, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s work in Minnesota. “This report confirms that protecting and restoring our lands and waters is a wise investment in Minnesota’s economy.”
Findings from the report include the following:
• Annual project expenditures for restoration at Glacial Ridge averaged about $2.2 million from 2001 to 2011.
• These expenditures directly supported 6 jobs in local communities surrounding the property and provided $476,000 in salaries, wages, and benefits each year.
• The project also supported another 9 jobs each year, which provided an additional $363,000 in labor income.
• Four new seed supply businesses and a new seeding and mowing business were created to meet the demand for native seed, which averaged about $430,000 in purchases each year. Other local vendors expanded as a result of the new demand.
In 2000, The Nature Conservancy purchased 24,000 acres at Glacial Ridge and launched what is today the largest prairie and wetland restoration project in the United States. To date, the Conservancy has restored more than 20,000 acres, reconstructing 3,068 acres of wetlands in 258 basins that are already being used by waterfowl, planting 17,000 acres of prairie and filling 110 miles of drainage ditches.
These lands form the core of the 35,000-acre Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 2004. To date, the Conservancy has transferred almost 16,000 acres to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, with the remaining lands to be transferred by the end of this calendar year. The restored grasslands and wetlands provide excellent habitat for waterfowl, prairie nesting birds, rare prairie plants and other wildlife.
In addition to the economic benefits highlighted in the DOI report, Glacial Ridge has provided and continues to provide other benefits to neighboring communities:
• Two wells on the property supply clean drinking water to the nearby town of Crookston.
• The restored prairies and wetlands store water and help slow runoff into rivers and streams, which benefit farms and communities downstream during flood conditions.
• Area elementary school and university students use Glacial Ridge as an “outdoor classroom” for nature study and research.
• Glacial Ridge provides thousands of acres of excellent quality prairie pothole habitat for hunters in pursuit of deer, waterfowl and other game species.
• Refuge staff are working with a neighboring landowner to use cattle grazing in combination with prescribed fire to manage 2,100 acres of prairie at Glacial Ridge. The collaboration returns grazing to the prairie landscape as a management tool while providing much-needed grazing land to the local rancher and revenue to the county.
• Four prairie chicken viewing blinds bring bird lovers from across the U.S. and other countries to Glacial Ridge each spring, providing increased tourism revenue to local businesses. The Crookston Chamber of Commerce advertises the blinds in their tourism brochure and takes reservations.
“Thousands of people visit Glacial Ridge each year for a variety of activities,” said Dave Bennett, refuge manager at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, “and we continue to attract new visitors each year through our Library Program and other outreach efforts. The refuge attracts deer and waterfowl hunters, bird-watchers, photographers and people who enjoy prairie wildflowers and want to learn about the glacially-formed Agassiz beach ridges that are found here.”
Refuge staff are in the process of creating a half-mile interpretive wildflower trail at Glacial Ridge and have future plans for several more interpretive exhibits that highlight prairie and wetland restoration, tallgrass prairie and other native habitats, the beach ridges and the oxcart trails of the 1860s.
“Tallgrass prairie originally covered more than 18 million acres in Minnesota but only about 1 percent remains today,” Ladner commented. “The Glacial Ridge Project is a significant effort among many partners to restore and preserve Minnesota’s prairie heritage for the benefit of people and wildlife.”
The entire DOI economic report, entitled The Department of Interior's Economic Contributions, can be found online.
In Minnesota, the Conservancy has helped conserve more than 650,000 acres since 1958. The Conservancy has 23,000 members in Minnesota and offices in Minneapolis, St. Joseph, Glyndon, Duluth, Karlstad, Mentor and Preston. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org/minnesota.
Photo of Glacial Ridge restoration work: © John Gregor/ColdSnap Photography
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.