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Land protection and restoration

Hennepin County works with landowners to protect and restore habitat so you can preserve what you value and leave a conservation legacy.

Protecting and restoring natural areas provides many benefits. Natural areas help protect and improve air and water quality, provide wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities, and increase property values. They also recharge groundwater, slow stormwater runoff, and help control floods.

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Conservation easements protect natural areas

Conservation easements are one of the most effective tools for permanently protecting natural areas on private property.

A conservation easement is a set of development restrictions that a landowner voluntarily places on their property to permanently protect its natural resources. By selling or donating development rights, the landowner is able to protect thing they value about their land, whether that be the open space, views, rural character, wildlife habitat, mature forest, and more.

Learn more about conservation easements as a land protection tool from our conservation easement partner, the Minnesota Land Trust.

Funding available for land protection and restoration projects

Clean water, land, and legacy amendment logoHennepin County, in partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust, has received more than $4.5 million from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund to acquire conservation easements on the best remaining natural areas in Hennepin County. Funding is also available for habitat restoration projects on protected properties.

Hennepin County will evaluate potential land protection and restoration projects continuously as funds remain. Only properties that are permanently protected are eligible to receive financial assistance for land restoration.

Conservation easement establishment steps and timeline

The entire process of establishing a conservation easement typically takes 1 to 2 years starting from initial conversation and site visit.

To understand the process, see the conservation easement establishment flowchart (PDF) and the description of each step (PDF).

Explore natural resources on your property

The Natural Resources Interactive Map will help you explore natural resources on your property.

In the map, you can select data layers to see existing conservation easements and some land designations including ecologically significant areas and natural resources corridors.

Generally, properties that are the best candidates for protection and restoration are those near other protected property, within or adjacent to one of the land designations, and/or larger properties.

But only you know your property. Let us know what’s special about your property and your goals for its future, and we will connect you to the right resources for protection and restoration.

Contact us to learn more

Complete the interest form to get started

Complete the online land protection interest form, or contact Kristine Maurer at kristine.maurer@hennepin.us or by phone at 612-348-6570 to get started.

Next steps

Next steps after completing the form or contacting Kristine will include:

  • Follow up by program staff within one week.
  • A field visit to meet you, talk about your goals and motivations for your property, and walk the land.
  • Advice about suitability for Hennepin County’s land protection program and potential restoration opportunities (if applicable).
  • Advice and assistance related to any specific natural resource or land related questions you have.

If your property seems like a good fit for our program, we will recommend that you:

  • Seek advice from your legal and tax professionals to see if land protection seems like a good possibility for your property.
  • Request that you submit an application to be formally considered for protection and/or restoration through our program.

Land protection option for agricultural landowners

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is another option for land protection. The program is available to agricultural landowners in Hennepin County to permanently remove certain environmentally sensitive lands from production in order to protect surface water and groundwater.

The program focuses on increasing the width of buffer strips along waterways beyond required buffers, restoring wetlands, increasing floodplain storage, and creating wildlife habitat.

Funding for this program is provided through a partnership between the USDA and the State of Minnesota. Hennepin County conservation staff assist landowners with the application process.

To request assistance, contact Matt Stasica at matt.stasica@hennepin.us or by phone at 612-348-4659.

The following conservations easements have successfully protected ecologically significant natural areas and improved connections among natural areas.

Easement fulfills landowners’ vision of permanent habitat protection

When the Clark's bought a 38-acre parcel of pastureland 25 years ago in western Hennepin County, their goal was to create a home for themselves while restoring the diverse and natural lands that had once thrived on the property. With a conservation easement, their decades of hard work will be protected forever.

The Clark property is part of a larger joint effort between Hennepin County and the Minnesota Land Trust to protect 500 acres of habitat within Hennepin County and restore 250 acres to a more natural state. Natural lands like the Clark property play an important role in filtering surface and groundwater, maintaining wildlife corridors, and creating opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Read the Minnesota Land Trust's story about the Clark easement.

Reforestation project adds to permanently protected habitat

The Slavec property in Independence lies on the edge of the Twin Cities metro, in an area rich with lakes and wetlands. The 13-acre easement was one of the last remaining unprotected parcels in a habitat corridor connecting Lake Rebecca Regional Park to Lake Sarah. Learn more about the protected habitat corridor established between Lake Rebecca and Lake Sarah (PDF).

The easement contains old-growth maple-basswood forest, a tamarack bog, wetlands, and grasslands and provides important habitat to Trumpeter swans and other unique wildlife.

Read the Minnesota Land Trust's story about the Slavec easement.

After the easement was established, a reforestation project planted 1,200 trees on 3.5 acres of former farm field. The reforestation will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering an estimated 3,600 tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years and improve water quality by infiltrating nearly 2.5 million gallons of rainfall annually.

Watch a time lapse of the reforestation (YouTube).

Protecting Hennepin County’s most pristine lake

Little Long Lake in Minnetrista consistently has the best water quality in the metro area. Between existing conservation easements and property owned by the Three Rivers Park District, more than 550 acres of habitat are already permanently protected in this area. These habitats contain high-quality upland forest, ephemeral forest wetlands, wet meadows, marshland, and streams.

Hennepin County and the Minnesota Land Trust have been working with landowners to protect and restore habitats adjacent to Little Long Lake to ensure the lake remains ideal for fishing and swimming forever.

Learn more about efforts to project Hennepin County's most pristine lake (PDF).

Restoring native prairie along the Minnesota River Valley

Hennepin County, the City of Eden Prairie, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been partnering to restore habitat in three zones along the Minnesota River Valley corridor. This work contributes to protecting and restoring some of the last native prairie remnants in Hennepin County.

These habitat areas are home to eight species of special concern. Protecting and restoring these areas creates a larger corridor of protected habitat as they are adjacent to City of Eden Prairie conservation areas and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, creating a larger corridor of protect habitat.

Prairie restoration work underway include cover crops to improve soil health and reseeding with native prairie plants.

Learn more about this project to restore one of the last native prairie remnants in Hennepin County (PDF).

Protecting shoreline and teaching traditional Indigenous practices

A 40-acre conservation easement along the shore of Lake Independence and Pioneer Creek protects maple-basswood forests and oak woodlands. The property owner uses the forest and sugar camp to make syrup and teach traditional practices to Indigenous youth.

This project capitalizes on the strong conservation ethic of the landowner and offers opportunities for meaningful outreach, restoration, and shoreline protection. Learn more about the conservation easement on the shores of Lake Independence (PDF).

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