Monarch butterfly on blazing star in a Minnesota prairie.
Why protect prairie and savanna?
At the time of Public Land Survey (the mid-1800s and early 1900s) more than 18 million acres of prairie and savanna covered Minnesota. A wealth of diverse species, habitats and cultures thrived here—their lives interwoven with the prairie. This vast ecosystem has since been converted to land uses like agriculture, mining, and other development. With its deep, fertile soil and nutritional grasses and wildflowers for grazing, prairie became the basis for an agricultural empire. Today, less than two percent of Minnesota's native prairie remains. Prairie is one of North America's most-endangered ecosystems and is home to many endangered or declining species like western prairie fringed orchid, prairie bush clover, monarch butterflies, rusty patched bumble bees, and bison. The near elimination of native prairies and savannas has inspired many efforts to protect what little remains.
What can you do?
As a steward of land, most landowners find themselves wondering about what the future holds for their property, their investments in it, and their legacy. There are many options to start a conservation legacy.
Tools that can help you plan for the future include, but are not limited to:
- Life estate
- Revocable trust
- Irrevocable trust
- Right of first offer
- Conservation easements
- Deed restrictions
- Fee title sale
Be sure to talk to your tax professional, lawyer and other professionals to design the best plan for your property as early as you can. Early planning provides many benefits. An early consultation can lay out the best personalized plan, even if changes are expected and nothing is formalized until a later date.
Planning ahead and communicating decisions with family members can help avoid future issues. Even if the plan evolves or changes, clear communication allows family members to understand your plan for the land and your desired legacy.
If a conservation legacy is desired, many conservation partners can assist landowners as requested using the tools above. These partners can advise you early in the process so you can explore options.
Conservation easements are popular and widely used tools for long‑term protection of Minnesota prairies. These voluntary, legal agreements limit the use of land to protect its conservation values while leaving the land in private ownership. Conservation easements can be either limited in duration or permanent (perpetual). Landowners may receive compensation or may donate an easement, depending on the program.
In Minnesota, there are several different conservation easement options offered by multiple agencies and non‑profits. Those that apply most to grasslands include:
- Minnesota DNR Native Prairie Bank
- Other Minnesota DNR Easements
- Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) Re-Invest in Minnesota (RIM)
- US Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Easements
- Minnesota Land Trust Conservation Easements
Land Sale or Donation
Another option is the sale or donation of land to a conservation organization. Like conservation easements, there are many different options offered by multiple agencies and non-profits. Those that apply most to grasslands include:
- Scientific and Natural Areas
- Wildlife Management Areas
- DNR Land Acquisition Information
- US Fish and Wildlife Service - Wildlife Refuges
- The Nature Conservancy - Minnesota
- Trust for Public Land
- Minnesota Land Trust
Report Rare Species Sightings
You don't have to own or manage prairie to be helpful! Reporting rare species sightings helps the DNR and other science organizations better understand plants and wildlife, how they are using habitat, and what they need in order to persist. Learn more about Minnesota's rare species on the DNR's Rare Species Guide.