In 2018, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources constructed and opened a new state park campground, reached out to new diverse audiences, and signed an agreement that makes way for restoration of historic buildings at the Fort Snelling Upper Post into affordable housing for military veterans.
These are among the many accomplishments the agency achieved as part of its ongoing goals to work with Minnesotans to conserve and manage the state’s natural resources, provide world-class outdoor experiences and provide for the sustainable uses of the state’s natural resources.
“I want to thank the thousands of Minnesotans who provided us input, attended public meetings and engaged with us in person and digitally through our website and social media channels,” said Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “It was a year of great accomplishments for the agency that couldn’t have been achieved without the work and input of so many committed outdoor enthusiasts across our great state.”
Here are some highlights of DNR accomplishments in 2018:
Reaching new outdoor enthusiasts
The DNR has committed to diversifying its workforce and reaching out to new outdoor enthusiasts. To better reflect the communities it serves, the agency hired 21 new conservation officers, of whom six were women, six were minorities and five were recently separated veterans. The agency strengthened its outreach to multi-cultural communities by building stronger relationships with media serving those audiences to encourage all Minnesotans to explore the great outdoors. A new initiative called the Bridges Project was launched to help under-represented youth learn about opportunities for jobs in natural resources management.
Upper Post Flats preservation and redevelopment project
The DNR signed a $100 million agreement with the Plymouth-based housing developer Dominium to restore and convert 26 nationally significant historic buildings at the Upper Post of Fort Snelling to affordable housing with a preference towards veterans. The Upper Post Flats are expected to open in 2021.
New state park facilities
The DNR opened a new campground and related amenities at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. The campground has 33 sites and three modern group campsites. Reservations for the park campground can be made online at mndnr.gov/reservations. The agency also opened the Cable Bay Public Water Access and 3.5 miles of new hiking trails with boardwalks, bridges and overlooks at the park.
Sustainable timber for Minnesota
After 16 months of analysis, interest group and industry engagement, and public input, the DNR announced it will annually offer 870,000 cords of timber for sale to provide vital raw material to the state’s forest industry, while also ensuring sound forest management. The DNR also launched a five-year initiative to accelerate the harvest of ash and tamarack by up to 30,000 cords each year; this additional harvest allows the DNR to respond to the spread of emerald ash borer and eastern larch beetle, which are fatal to ash and tamarack trees. These sustainable harvest decisions will support healthy forests, water, air, and wildlife habitat.
Walleye populations strong on major northern lakes
Lake of the Woods, Leech, and Upper Red are all among Minnesota’s top 10 largest lakes accounting for about 40 percent of the annual walleye harvest statewide. The DNR worked with a 15-member citizen input group to update the Lake of the Woods Management Plan, which garnered more than 70 percent public support for the long-term health of the fishery. The agency engaged input groups for both Leech and Upper Red lakes, and determined to relax angling regulations in 2019 on both lakes because walleye populations are excellent.
The DNR issued a permit to mine, dam safety and water appropriations permits, and other approvals for the proposed NorthMet project in northeastern Minnesota. The permit to mine includes a comprehensive financial assurance plan and wetland replacement plan. After more than 14 years of exhaustive review and careful consideration of more than 80,000 public comments, the permit decisions were based on sound science and provide strong protections for Minnesota taxpayers.
Electric fish barriers protect recreational lakes
Two electric fish barriers in southern Minnesota will protect 31 lakes and 142 miles of rivers, streams and ditches from the threat of invasive carp. Invasive carp can degrade water quality, outcompete native fish populations, and pose a danger for recreational boating. The barriers constructed in eastern Blue Earth County and western Waseca County will protect recreational lakes in those counties as well as Le Sueur County.
Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project
Following the DNR’s 2016 denial of a public waters and dam safety permit for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project, the Diversion Authority submitted a revised project proposal known as Plan B. The Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area is a regional economic hub. Flooding poses a considerable risk of damage to businesses and homes, as well as roads and other infrastructure. The project would provide enhanced flood protection for the Fargo-Moorhead area and a net reduction to flooding in Minnesota.
The DNR completed a supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) for the new project in November. The DNR expects to make its final adequacy determination on the supplemental EIS before the end of 2018, followed shortly by a decision on whether to grant the necessary public waters and dam safety permit for Plan B.
New forest maps help users
Hunters, hikers, and trail users can easily navigate the woods without getting lost with new interactive, user-friendly state forest maps. State forest visitors can download the new maps onto their mobile devices and track their location as a blue dot on the screen. The system works even when not connected to the internet. New paper maps were also created with site-specific information on the backs to help visitors easily navigate state forests. Seventeen state forests have been mapped so far, covering over 1 million acres and thousands of miles of trail. An additional eight to 10 maps will be developed in 2019.
New mobile-friendly public website
The DNR collaborated with Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) to refresh and improve the visitor experience on the agency’s website (mndnr.gov). This new platform incorporates the state of Minnesota unified brand, includes updated information for the public about the agency, and implements a responsive design throughout the entire website that enables hikers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to easily navigate it while using a phone, tablet, or other mobile device.
Minnesota River Valley Master Plan collaboration
The Minnesota River Valley Master Plan was formally adopted in 2018 by county boards in Redwood and Renville counties and the DNR. The unique planning approach was developed with input from Minnesotans and conservation groups, as well as all divisions of the DNR. It will guide conservation practices and recreational opportunities on public lands in the Minnesota River valley between Upper Sioux Agency and Fort Ridgely state parks. The plan is a result of legislation passed during the 2014 Minnesota legislative session and a grant from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to the counties in 2015.
Safety education and training
More than 20,000 Minnesota students completed a DNR firearms safety course in 2018. Since the first firearms safety class was held in 1955, more than 1.3 million students have been certified. There is a long-term correlation between increased numbers of certified students and decreases in hunting-related incidents. There is a similar correlation when it comes to ATV and snowmobile safety classes. In 2018, 6,700 students were certified in snowmobile safety and 5,371 were certified in ATV safety. The agency partners with thousands of volunteer instructors throughout the state to provide the majority of classes.