Minnesota’s wetlands and adjoining grasslands are a haven for songbirds like the Henslow’s sparrow and the bobolink, and home to nearly half of North America’s ducks. They’re also invaluable clean water sources and floodwater retainers. Yet these bogs and marshes have been shrinking due to agricultural development. Now the state and federal government are investing $52 million to restore an estimated 17,000 acres of wetlands in Minnesota.
The victory was hard earned. Defying popular opinion, Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a $25 million wetlands investment in 2010. Concerned that another such opportunity could be lost this year amid the political turbulence of a government shutdown, Audubon Minnesota’s Don Arnosti sprang to action and galvanized 52 organizations to sign on to a letter supporting the legislation calling for a $20 million state investment. The legislation was signed into law and the funds matched by $32 million from the federal government.
“Even in the most toxic moments of Minnesota politics, we got it done,” Arnosti says. “The people of Minnesota said, we will partner with farmers who agree that we need to restore this wonderful, critical habitat on agricultural lands.”
The funds will be administered through Reinvest in Minnesota, a 25-year-old state program that encourages citizens and organizations to fund the acquisition and restoration of critical wildlife habitat. The money will go to landowners who agree to restore—through activities like planting and controlled burns—and maintain their private property as permanent wetland restoration areas.
“Minnesota had 20 million acres [of wetlands],” says John Jaschke, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. “We’ve got 10 million remaining. We can’t get them all back. We’re trying to get back the most important wetlands.” Thanks to the recent influx of funds, thousands of acres of that vital habitat will thrive once again.