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Leech Lake recognized as on of ten ‘Waters to Watch’

The National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHP) has designated Leech Lake watershed as one of the nationally recognized 10 “Waters to Watch,” for 2013, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“The Leech Lake watershed is a large watershed of 750,000 acres that includes Leech Lake and 272 other lakes,” said Katie Haws, the DNR’s Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership (MGLP) coordinator.

The DNR partners with other natural resource agencies and non-governmental agencies, with common goals of improving fish habitats in lakes of seven Midwest states. This partnership, called Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership, is one of 18 fish habitat partnerships recognized and supported by the National Fish Habitat Partnership.

The MGLP nominated the Leech Lake watershed to the list, a collection of water bodies and watershed systems that will likely benefit from conservation efforts to protect, restore or enhance their current condition.

The lakes and streams in the Leech Lake watershed contain healthy populations of walleye, northern pike, muskie, bluegill and many other game and nongame species, yet there are challenges to the health and water quality in the region, Hawes noted. Challenges include projected population growth around area lakes, invasive species issues and declining water quality in some lakes.

Two projects funded by the NFHP and the MGLP are addressing some of the Leech Lake watershed challenges.

The first project, “Protecting Sensitive Shorelands in North Central Minnesota,” was funded in 2010 as a $20,000 pilot project. The project acquired two perpetual conservation easements on private land in the Leech Lake watershed on shorelands identified as sensitive habitats by the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation.

The foundation received an additional $300,000 for the project from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. As a result, an additional seven parcels (more than 1 mile) of shoreland were put under conservation easements, the majority of which were located in the Leech Lake watershed. The land remains in private ownership and on the tax rolls, yet is protected from adverse habitat actions such as land clearing and development.

The second project, funded by the MGLP and the NFHP in 2012, is a cooperative effort with the Chippewa National Forest and Leech Lake Band to improve the natural hydrology and connectivity in Portage Creek/Portage Lake in the Leech Lake watershed. A dam/culvert removal/replacement project on this waterway will reconnect 3 miles of stream channel and 107,000 acres of lakes (Portage Lake will now be connected with Leech Lake).