Department of the Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: Shane Wolfe
For Release on October 12, 2004
Bush Administration Creates New Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota 35,000 Acre Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge to Preserve Tallgrass Prairie
and Wetlands in Northwest Minnesota

St. Paul, Minn. -- Thirty-five thousand acres of wetland and tallgrass prairie habitat in Minnesota has become the nation's newest National Wildlife Refuge as a result of action taken today by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams, moving forward the largest tallgrass prairie and wetland restoration project in history. The new Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, located near Crookston, in northwest Minnesota's Polk County, will become a major waterfowl breeding and nesting area. Currently, less than 1 percent of Minnesota's original prairie habitat is still in existence. The refuge will provide critical habitat for declining grassland birds, greater prairie chickens, sandhill cranes and other wildlife, as well as the endangered western prairie fringed orchid. Secretary Norton announced the decision at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul after flying over the new refuge earlier in the day with Governor Tim Pawlenty.

"Today's action reflects the Bush Administration's commitment to work with partners so wetlands are preserved and wildlife protected," Norton said. "Additionally, it means that more outdoor enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the unique landscape Glacial Ridge has to offer."

Glacial Ridge becomes the 545th refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve, manage, and restore fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations. Refuge status provides greater public opportunity for hunting, fishing and other wildlife dependent recreation.

The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization, will donate about 2,000 acres of land that will become the first parcel of the new Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. The Nature Conservancy will formally transfer the land on October 26th at an event in Crookston.

"It's been a great pleasure to see this project come to fruition," said Ron Nargang, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota. "It has been one of the finest examples of partnership I've ever been associated with. More than 30 entities have contributed to its success. This is a classic example of cooperative conservation."

The new refuge is officially established upon today's approval of the Land Protection Plan for the area by Director Steven Williams. This approval allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire lands located within the refuge boundary either through donation or purchase from willing sellers. Funding for additions to the refuge, estimated to be between $3 million and $4 million over the next decade, will come from fees generated through the existing Federal Duck Stamp Program.

Today's action culminates a four-year review of this proposal and celebrates National Wildlife Refuge Week. The new refuge has the strong support of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Senator Norm Coleman, Senator Mark Dayton, Representative Collin Peterson, as well as numerous Minnesota, Polk County and local leaders. In addition to The Nature Conservancy, project partners include the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

"Minnesota's beautiful natural resources are a big part of our quality of life and our state's heritage," said Governor Tim Pawlenty. "The Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge will help meet our responsibilities as stewards of our natural resources and it is a great gift to future generations."

"Minnesota's natural habitat is an important piece of Minnesota's history and a critical component to our future," said Senator Coleman "I commend the efforts of President Bush, Secretary Norton, and Governor Pawlenty for their diligence in securing these lands and granting permanent refuge status to Glacial Ridge. Restoration and preservation of one of Minnesota's most beautiful areas and largest wetlands and prairie projects in U.S. history means that we have successfully secured a vital and significant portion of our state to enjoy for years to come."

Crookston city officials have expressed support for the proposed refuge, which is adjacent to the city's drinking water wells. The establishment of the refuge will protect the city's water quality. In addition, both the Red Lake Watershed District and the Sand Hill River Watershed District support the project for its contribution to flood control along the Red River.

Over the last 30 years, much of the proposed refuge area has been drained or converted for agricultural purposes. One of the goals of this refuge is to restore up to 12,000 acres of wetlands and 14,000 acres of tallgrass prairie upland habitat. To date, the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) has provided funding to restore 13,000 acres of wetlands. WRP is a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Of the 35,000 acres that will eventually make up the refuge, 24,140 acres are currently owned by The Nature Conservancy. The remaining acres are owned by private landowners and/or managed by the State of Minnesota. The Nature Conservancy will donate 2,000 of its acres to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition, The Nature Conservancy has established an endowment fund that will make sure local governments continue to receive the full value of property taxes currently paid on the private property.

Efforts to preserve the area began in August 2000 with The Nature Conservancy's purchase of the 24,140 acres and continued when the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Preliminary Project Proposal that authorized the Service to study the area for consideration as a refuge. In January 2001, the Environmental Assessment (EA) was released that called for the creation of a 35,756 acre refuge, including the important restoration and enhancement of several large wetland basins. The EA began the process of extensive public comment and consultation.

Initially, the new Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge is to be managed by staff from the Rydell National Wildlife Refuge, located eight miles south of Glacial Ridge, in Erskine, Minnesota.

Even before today's action, the area now known as Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge has benefited from its association with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Funds from the Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program have benefited the Conservancy's and Service's efforts to reclaim ditches and restore wetlands at Glacial Ridge as well as the Conservancy's efforts to replant native wildflowers. In addition, the Service has partnered with Ducks Unlimited to provide a total of $75,000 in North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) funding to support the Glacial Ridge restoration efforts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.




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