Collaboration creates new wildlife management area in Dakota County

A portion of one of the last and largest wooded areas in Dakota County has been permanently protected as a state wildlife management area through the collaborative efforts of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Dakota County and the nonprofit conservation group Friends of the Mississippi River. 

Hampton Woods

Photo courtesy of Tom Reiter for Friends of the Mississippi River

The new Hampton Woods Wildlife Management Area consists of 191 acres of oak forest that will be managed by the DNR for wildlife habitat and public hunting. Located about four miles east of Farmington off state Hwy. 50, it’s the only forest for miles around in a largely agricultural landscape. The area is home to a number of rare species such as the red-shouldered hawk, as well as more common game species including deer, turkeys and squirrels. Each spring, the forest floor blossoms with wildflowers.

First identified by the DNR as an ecologically significant area worthy of protection in the mid-1990s, Hampton Woods also was ranked highly in Dakota County’s 2002 Farmland and Natural Areas Protection Plan. A few years ago, Friends of the Mississippi River helped several landowners contact the county to discuss the potential sale of their land. After purchasing 24 acres from Joan Uselmann and Mary and Glen Bakalars, and 167 acres from the estate of Rose Kuntz, Dakota County recently transferred ownership to the DNR.

“This is a beautiful area of Dakota County that will now be preserved and publicly accessible for future generations,” said Dakota County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Slavik, who represents the district where the new WMA is located. “Many people and organizations made this possible, and we are very thankful for their many contributions and collaboration.”

DNR regional wildlife manager Cynthia Osmundson praised the partnership that protected the area. “This new WMA is especially important because it not only protects an important and relatively rare forest area, it also provides close-to-home public hunting opportunities in the metro region,” she said. “Transactions like this can be complex and drawn out, and we’re very fortunate to have good partners like Dakota County and Friends of the Mississippi River.”

The acquisition was paid for with $540,800 from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature, and $197,700 in Dakota County funds. The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created in 2008 when Minnesota voters passed a constitutional amendment dedicating a portion of sales taxes to restore, protect, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Friends of the Mississippi River also has received a $133,000 grant from the Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, to conduct management activities in the WMA, such as removal of non-native invasive species like buckthorn.

Friends of the Mississippi River previously developed a natural resource management plan for the site with financial assistance from the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, Southern Dakota County Sportsmen’s Club, Wild Turkey Federation, Hastings Environmental Protectors, Winter Wheat Foundation, and Pheasants Forever – Dakota Ringnecks Chapter.