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Scott Rall: Conservation efforts drive local economies

Scott Rall is shown with a whole host of USFWS employees at a recent project tour on the columnist's property. (submitted photo)

SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

I really love hanging around with super smart people. If you want to learn about certain subject matter, you can read and research those topics online or in books. It’s a great way to learn stuff.

The other way to learn stuff is first-hand while in action. This is what I did a few weeks back when I had the chance of hanging out with a whole bunch of United States Fish and Wildlife personnel.

They were gathered from all across the upper Midwest to tour some of the sites the Service had been working over the past years.

I have written about the private lands work the USFWS did on my wildlife property in Ransom Township south of Rushmore.  They removed many years of sediment in what was the old stream channel of the Little Sioux Creek that runs through my property.  This was done to create back waters for the endangered Topeka shiner.

They built these backwaters last spring and came back to see if they were, in fact, working. They found some in a few of those areas, but not in one.  

The one that did not have the desired endangered minnow in it had become connected to a cold-water spring and the water temperatures were too cold.  This might change as the summer warms up and the Topeka might find that one more likeable later in the summer.

They did find Topeka shiners in the oxbows dig on Les Johnsons’ property just one-fourth of a mile away. The Service had personnel from all over the region on hand to see the work they were doing. I saw many different kinds of native fish that were captured with nets just before the group’s arrival.

After an explanation to the group about how this project worked I spent a few minutes telling them why I wanted to participate.  I explained that I wanted my wildlife property to have the highest capacity to hold as much wildlife as it could. By doing this instream work I was adding to the diversity and increased capacity of instream wildlife habitat as well as the work I had done on the land.

I learned much more about the private lands work the Service does after talking to Scott Ralston, who is their private lands expert.

The USFWS does may other things on private lands to help wildlife than just digging Topeka shiner oxbows. They participate in stream bank restorations -- fixing areas that have high sediment loss due to water erosion. They use private contractors to come in and scrape back the banks and re-plant vegetation. It keeps the soil where it belongs, and that is not in the bottom of the stream.

They also do stream watercourse meanderings. Back in the day, many creeks and streams were straightened so the water could flow off the land faster. The rush of water can create much difficulties for downstream landowners. By taking a stream and returning it to a slower moving meandered condition, it allows the stream to reconnect to the old flood plains and slows the water down.

Those meanders in the stream help reduce the energy of the flow. During high water flows the sediments are deposited in the floodplain of that stream and do not find their way all the way to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you drive down the Interstate near Adrian you can see that the Service there removed a dam that was impeding fish passage. Low head dams are dangerous to humans, who can easily drown there. Removing the dam and replacing it with a series of rock riffles also slows the water and makes fish passage possible once again.

In addition to all of these things the Service also does pollinator projects and watershed improvements.

There are only eight full-time staff in the Windom office. They are responsible to maintain all of the Waterfowl Production Areas in those 12 counties. That’s 16,000 acres. They oversee 89 private lands easements to ensure that all of the elements of those agreements are in compliance.

The national wildlife refuge system, managed by the USFWS produces 27 percent of all the ducks raised in the Prairie Pothole region and accounts for the less than 1 percent of the total land base.  I think that is pretty cool.

The one important thing that I think many folks are unaware of is the fact that much, if not most, of the projects done in our area are completed by private contractors. There has been more than $4 million spent in our region over the past three years, and those dollars went into the pockets of hard working local vendors and contractors.

Conservation work promotes local economies. If you care about a robust economy in the farmland zones of southwest Minnesota, then you should support this kind of conservation work taking place here for the economic engine it produces.

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