We’ve scrambled over the hills, through the woods, and into a giant field of radish and turnip greens where Isanti County landowner Dave Medvecky is leading us deeper in to view a wetland restoration currently underway. It feels more or less like we’re walking through a giant bowl of salad.
Medvecky tells us that the land here was heavily pastured during the drought of the 1930s. Later, when water levels returned to normal, the landowners constructed lateral ditches to drain wetlands on the property and keep it available for farming. Since purchasing the land, he has been working to restore habitat and incorporate sustainable farming practices like cover crops on the areas still in production.
Wetlands provide critical services to humans and wildlife. Along the edges of rivers, streams and lakes, they provide flood protection and reduce shoreline erosion. Some wetlands collect surface water from rain and melting snow and allow it to soak into the ground, replenishing groundwater supplies. Others create unique habitats for plants and animals. Approximately 43% of threatened and endangered plant and animal species in the U.S. live in or depend on wetlands.
Despite these many benefits, Minnesota lost nearly half of its wetland acreage to farming and development during late 1800s to mid-1900s.
One goal of the newly created Lower St. Croix Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan is to restore 1000 acres of wetlands in high priority locations within Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Pine and Washington Counties in order to increase resiliency against flooding and provide natural treatment for water flowing downstream to the St. Croix River. Dave Medvecky’s project in Isanti County will restore approximately 13 acres of wetlands that have been lost to farming for nearly a century.
As we continue walking across his property, Medvecky points out a sedge meadow, which contains many of the native plant species he hopes to see establish in the newly restored wetland basins. Before excavating these basins, he worked hard to remove invasive, nonnative reed canary grass, so that the native plants will have room to grow. He also constructed large berms to block ditches on the property so that water will be held back and drain more slowly when it rains. The radishes and turnips are an annual crop, planted to hold the soil in place and prevent erosion until he is able to seed the area with deep-rooted, native plants later this fall.
In addition to restoring large wetlands on his land, Medvecky has also worked with US Fish and Wildlife Service in the past to create smaller, vernal pools in woodland areas to provide habitat for frogs and salamanders. These shallow wetlands fill with water in the spring are usually dry by June. Approximately half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species in North America lay their eggs in seasonal wetlands such as these.
Today, the remaining wetlands in Minnesota are protected by state and federal law. In general, these laws prohibit draining, filling or otherwise altering wetlands, although farmland is exempted from many of these rules. Landowners are also required to get a permit for all projects that impact wetlands, including driveways, culverts, new construction and home additions. In addition, some cities and watershed districts require landowners to preserve buffers of un-mowed vegetation around wetlands to protect wildlife habitat and reduce runoff pollution.
If you are interested in restoring wetlands on your land, contact your county’s Soil and Water Conservation District for assistance. There are numerous grant programs available to support wetland restoration, and landowners may also qualify to enroll their property into the a Wetlands Banking Program for additional revenue.