WALKER-Dan Steward, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, informed the Cass County Board Tuesday, Sept. 4, about the expanding focus for protecting the Mississippi Headwaters area.

The Mississippi Headwaters Board has maintained zoning and river protection efforts for the first 400 miles of the river since 1980, Steward recalled. This board was formed as a local alternative to naming that portion of the river a national wild and scenic river and placing it under federal control.

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Now, Steward said BWSR learned protecting groundwater, river/lake water and whole watersheds is dependent upon more than just development along the river's watercourse edge. It also depends upon protecting forests throughout the watersheds.

It takes having 75 percent forest coverage to keep water clear, he said.

This does not mean land cannot be logged, but it means replanting to forest, not land development, he said.

To this end, MHB and BWSR have obtained Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund grants to buy land along the Mississippi River and to facilitate conservation easements on privately owned properties, Steward said.

Private land owners also can retain their ownership without an easement, but participate in protecting the watershed by developing their own land management plan.

A large section of land along the Mississippi southeast of Serpent Lake in Aitkin County has gone from 20 percent protected to now being 80 percent protected through the use of Outdoor Heritage grants, Steward reported.

They also are trying to encourage landowners behind developed shorelines to create management plans for their properties, which will retain forests by replanting when trees are logged and prevent second- and third-tier high-density development.

How far back from the Mississippi or from lakes in its watershed to protect depends upon whether there are streams leading between lakes or into the river and what types of soils are in an area, Steward said.

Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk said this effort in forested areas reflects the effort which has been made in some farming areas to use low-till methods and keep plant roots in the ground as much as possible.

Anyone interested in more information about private forest management or the potential for grants or a conservation easement may contact Steward at dan.steward@state.mn.us or 218-203-4474 or MHB Executive Director Tim Terrill at timt@misssissippiheadwaters.org or 218-824-1189.