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Preserving Our Natural Habitat: The Minnesota Land Trust’s Efforts to Protect and Restore the North Star State

From the Boundary Waters to the bluffs, Minnesota has no shortage of outdoor attractions.

The state’s geographic landscape is made up of an amalgam of natural treasures. Snow or shine, there’s nothing an outdoors lover couldn’t find in the North Star State.

The Minnesota Land Trust has been protecting and restoring these natural assets for nearly 30 years. To date, the Land Trust has protected more than 59,000 acres of habitat and 330 miles of shoreline throughout Minnesota.

The Land Trust helps restore land that has been degraded by industrial development and protect areas that hold essential habitat, recreational value or natural beauty.

A majority of the organization’s work has been done through conservation easement agreements with residential land owners. Land Trust easements are voluntary contracts that limit future use or development of a person’s land.

An easement, for example, could prohibit the building of certain large structures on protected land or ban cutting down trees. Generally, these agreements make sure no natural landscape is degraded through unnatural development.

“We are unique in that we hold 96% of all conservation easements held by nonprofits in our state,” said Minnesota Land Trust Director of Development and Communications Alex Tsatsoulis.

He adds that Land Trust employees and volunteers walk each acre of easement land every year to ensure they’re being sufficiently protected.

So what do the Land Trust projects look like? It varies from case to case.

In Houston County, one landowner saw up-and-coming developments approaching his 98 acres, so he recruited the Land Trust to enact an easement while also protecting the land’s integrity through responsible agricultural practices.

The Land Trust has also worked on the St. Louis River Restoration Initiative, helping to recreate the body of water’s natural habitat through the removal of wood waste left from sawmills and reseeding wild rice crops.

Steve Ramsey has worked with the Land Trust for close to 10 years. His 160 acres of woodlands in Northern Washington County is protected through an easement with the organization.

“It has a wide diversity of not only flora, but fauna,” said Ramsey of the property. “I wanted the property preserved in its natural state like our family has done for well over 100 years. (The Land Trust) provides a legal means to preserve the property in perpetuity.”

The Land Trust is also active in engaging individuals – especially kids — with the outdoors. In 2016, the Land Trust partnered with the City of Duluth and local community groups to create Youth Outdoors, which plans and coordinates activities for underserved youth in the area.

“That connection to nature, especially at a young age, builds not only a conservation ethic, but really is important for their mental health and physical wellbeing,” said Tsatsoulis.

Youth Outdoors Duluth worked with more than 400 kids in its first year, offering activities like archery, rock climbing and canoeing to the area’s youth.

The Land Trust has set an ambitious goal for itself: By 2027, the organization looks to have completed 1,000 projects that protect 100,000 acres of land and 2 million feet of shoreline.

In that same amount of time, the Land Trust hopes to complete 3,000 acres of restoration and three community engagement projects.

“(The work) is important because we, along with all the species in the state, rely on the natural systems that surround us,” said Tsatsoulis. “Whether it’s clean water for us to drink or wildlife habitat. It’s also important from a health aspect for people to connect with nature and get outdoors. These experiences are important for our health and for us as human beings.”

Learn more about the Minnesota Land Trust here.

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