Wetlands provide waterfowl haven

By Janet Kubat Willette

SUMMIT TOWNSHIP, Minn. — It’s a cold, windy day, with rain pelting the pickup. Yet the wetland is alive with sound.

Frogs and songbirds provide the chorus, with Canada geese adding their distinctive honk. Mallards rest in the grass, poking from the water, spaced just so, giving the appearance of a duck motel through the lens of the binoculars.

Three years ago this was a potato field, says Noel Frank, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Steele County.


The landowners decided to enroll the land in the federal Wetlands Reserve Program, a voluntary program that allows landowners to convert farmland into wetlands. Their land was given priority since it’s in the Prairie Pothole Region and is part of the Mississippi River flyway, where 40 percent of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds pass in spring and fall.

Steele County has placed a priority on enrolling land into the program, which came into being in the 1996 farm bill. At first, the paperwork seemed burdensome, Frank said, but now it’s one of his favorite programs.

All the land enrolled in WRP has a permanent easement. Landowners give up the right to build on or farm it, although they continue to own, control access and pay taxes on it.

The Straight River Marsh Project area, which stretches over nine miles in Summit and Blooming Prairie townships in southern Steele County, is one of three areas in Minnesota targeted for special attention and funding through WRP. There are about 30 easements in the area, ranging from 33 acres to 200 acres. Landowners outside the targeted area are scored, then compete for funding on a statewide basis.

Once the easement is paid for and the paperwork signed, it usually takes one to two years to establish a wetland.

Any crop on the ground must be harvested, and a complete engineering plan is done to determine what’s feasible to restore. Everything is reviewed with landowners. Earthwork is completed, including upland planting of about 60 grass species.

"This project is perfect for a county like this because it provides some balance," Frank said. Steele County is intensely farmed and home to about four lakes.

To maintain the restored wetlands, prescribed burns, mowing and dike repair are ongoing.


Birds not seen in the county for decades have returned. Some fly through on their way to other destinations, but others stop and nest. Once scarce, sandhill cranes now nest in the county.

Frank encourages landowners to post their converted wetlands for no hunting.

"I’ve been out here when the sky almost turns dark" from the number of birds, he said.

What To Read Next
Caitlin and Jason Keck’s two-year term on the American Farm Bureau Federation committee begins next month.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission met on Jan. 5, 2023, to consider the application for Summit Carbon Solutions.
Qualified Minnesota farmers will receive dollar-for-dollar matching money to purchase farmland.