Legacy funds enhancing wildlife habitat near Orr

Legacy money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund dedicated to enhancing and restoring forest habitats are funding a series of projects to enhance rock outcrop habitats in the Lost River area near Orr.

Wildlife staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been focusing on the unique characteristics and special needs of rock outcrop habitats in far northeastern Minnesota.

By late November, a contractor will remove all competing woody vegetation from around red oak, white pine, jack pine and red pine growing in several locations and totaling 54 acres. It is hoped that the removal of the fire-sensitive species, such as balsam fir, will mimic the effects of a low intensity wildfire that is often discouraged today; something that was once an important part of the rock outcrop habitats in northeastern Minnesota. Previous projects included similar handwork and some use of low-intensity prescribed fire.

Encouraging the productivity of blueberries and other fruits in the understory that will be used by wildlife is an added benefit to this type of project.

“These enhancement projects benefit a wide variety of wildlife species including game species such as bear, deer, ruffed grouse and moose,” said Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, DNR wildlife habitat contract specialist. “Once the understory is exposed and has less competition, these areas thrive and become popular locations for wildlife to feed and people often use them to pick wild berries.”

Funding for these projects is provided by the Outdoor Heritage Fund, created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008, which increased sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent. The fund receives one-third of the sale tax dollars and may only be spent to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for game fish and wildlife.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, made up of citizen and legislative members, reviews project proposals for the Outdoor Heritage Fund and makes funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature for approval.