Prime loon nesting habitat on East and West Fox lakes may soon be permanently protected thanks to the efforts of a Fifty Lakes conservation group.

Mike Hammer, co-chair of the Fifty Lakes Loon Conservancy, sought the support of the Crow Wing County Board Sept. 8 for a grant application to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In partnership with the National Loon Center, the facility for which will be located in Crosslake, the conservation group purchased about 6 acres of undeveloped land amounting to 2,500 feet of lakeshore property. The two lakes are home to several pairs of nesting loons, according to the group.

A map shows an area of East and West Fox lakes where nearby property was purchased in an effort to protect prime loon nesting habitat. Map / Crow Wing County
A map shows an area of East and West Fox lakes where nearby property was purchased in an effort to protect prime loon nesting habitat. Map / Crow Wing County

If the Conservation Partners Legacy Grant is awarded, The National Loon Center will purchase the property from the Fifty Lakes Loon Conservancy, and the land is eventually expected to be in public ownership.

“Of course we know loons are pretty important to us here in Crow Wing County,” Hammer told the county board via Microsoft Teams. “It’s one of the reasons why people love to come here. They love to listen to the loons and anything we can do to support, help continue having loons in our area and not degrading their habitat and actually preserving their habitat should be a plus for everyone in the community and the state.”

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Hammer said the property in question is marginal and probably shouldn’t be developed in any case, but particularly given its proximity to nesting loons. In an email to Commissioner Doug Houge, who represents Fifty Lakes, Hammer said the project would be a first of its kind in Minnesota and probably the country.

Depending on who ends up owning the land, County Administrator Tim Houle noted it could mean a partial loss in property tax revenue for the parcels. Typically when property is owned by the state, for example, counties receive a payment in lieu of taxes that can represent a percentage of the taxes they would have received if in private ownership.

In a 4-1 decision, the county board agreed to provide a letter of support to include in the organizations’ grant application. Commissioner Paul Koering was the lone opposition vote. Hammer noted State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, was also in the process of writing a letter of support, and the city of Fifty Lakes would be considering a resolution to support the project as well.

Loons in danger

Minnesota has more loons than any other state except for Alaska, counting approximately 12,000, according to the DNR. The common loon is the state bird of Minnesota.

The DNR monitors loon populations with the help of volunteers to improve understanding of what loons need to maintain a strong, healthy presence in the state. The Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program is a long-term project of the Nongame Wildlife Program. Hundreds of volunteers collect information about common loon numbers on more than 600 lakes. These lakes are distributed among six regions, one of which is Crow Wing and Aitkin counties.

“Loons are good indicators of water quality because they need clean, clear water to catch food; sensitive to disturbance and lakeshore development; indicators of the effect of contaminants like mercury and lead in the environment; and enjoyable for Minnesotans to watch!” the DNR stated.

Climate change is another threat to the common loon and its presence in Minnesota. The bird is listed as “climate endangered” by the National Audubon Society.

“By 2080, this great icon of the north is forecast to lose 56 percent of its current summer range and 75 percent of its current winter range, according to Audubon’s climate model,” the National Audubon Society states. “ … While the bird may be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing world, it looks all but certain that Minnesota will lose its iconic loons in summer by the end of the century.”

Loon facts

  • The bones of most birds are hollow and light, but loons have solid bones.

  • The extra weight helps them dive as deep as 250 feet to search for food. They can stay underwater for up to five minutes.

  • Because their bodies are heavy relative to their wing size, loons need a 100- to 600-foot “runway” to take off from a lake.

  • Loons can fly more than 75 miles per hour.

  • The red in the loon's eye helps it to see underwater.

  • Scientists think loons can live for 30 years or more.

Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.



CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.