Readers offer ideas to improve farmland conservation

  • Updated: November 9, 2013 - 6:10 PM
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Restoring wetlands and grasslands — as shown in this 2005 photo from McLeod County — benefits game and nongame wildlife.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service file photo,

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In response to dwindling grassland and wetland habitat in Minnesota, and the resulting loss of game and nongame wildlife, Dennis Anderson recently asked readers to forward suggestions how to improve farmland conservation in the state. Three of the many responses are published below. Have ideas of your own? Forward them to danderson@startribune.com.

Matt Spaniol, Elk River

I have never been a fan of food for fuel products. But a substitute for corn as a fuel source could be an answer that could create a positive outcome for wildlife, and also for the environment and farmers’ bottom lines.

Switch grass is just one example of cellulosic biomass that could be the nirvana for wildlife. As you know, the grass grows in these parts up to 5-7 feet, is harvested once a year, late in the season, and does not require fertilizing or replanting after the initial crop is harvested.

It’s a durable crop that is highly disease-resistant and an excellent source of nesting for wildlife. The cost of seed I understand is high, and perhaps state extension agencies should provide assistance. If the Legislature is not motivated, maybe groups such as Pheasants Forever or Ducks Unlimited can help. As a small-business owner (a one-man show), I must be proactive at all times. As a member of a broader group of outdoor enthusiasts we must take the matter into our own hands. Waiting for Congress, the Legislature, the DNR, or the Second Coming to effectively carve out a positive solution will not help.

I believe watching the outcomes at the various cellulosic plants in Iowa and Kansas is critical. I encourage you to study this issue and write about it. I think farmers might embrace the technology, assuming the outcomes are positive at the cellulosic processing plants and positive cash flow can be realized with biomass products such as switch grass. We know this, however: Farming is a for-profit enterprise, and until an alternative for row crops can be realized, these small business enterprises will continue to put land back into production, eliminating nesting sites, draining wetlands and producing pollutants into waterways.

Mike Roll, Lake Crystal

Local incentives and organization would be a good thing, as you suggested, Dennis, in your column. Example: We have created Crystal Waters Project (www.crystalwatersproject.org) for our local watershed in southern Minnesota. Our board of directors consists of lakeshore owners, farmers and local residents.

We are finding that local government agencies are listening to us. We have managed to install two gardens in the town of Lake Crystal, including a rain garden on the gutter downspout of City Hall. The other garden was installed during a benefit concert in one of the local parks to help prevent erosion into the local lake.

After these events we have been in contact with the local county agencies on a possible plan for a grant application for Legacy funding next year. We realize that these are small accomplishments for the scope of things. But people are talking about the problems with the lake now, which is more than what was happening before.

Mike Pankey, Lakeville

• Figure out a way to neutralize Roundup after it does its job in the field but before it gets into wetland systems that are surrounded by farm fields. Who would have a problem with that? I’m sure someone at 3M or another science-based, innovative company can figure that one out cost-effectively and unobtrusively.

• Kill carp in every wetland in the state. Offer a bounty similar to pocket gopher bounties. Turn the carp into fertilizer for sale from the state at a cheap price.

• Stock freshwater shrimp in every wetland in the state (much like Minnesota’s DNR stocks fish). Pretty cheap to do and waterfowl thrive on the invertebrates.

• Pick a number of wetlands (from the state’s detailed list) each year and dedicate Legacy money into restoring them. How about one in each county per year? And you shouldn’t have to write a thousand-page dissertation to get money from the Legacy fund. Just “dedicate” the money and do it.

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