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Conservation Conversations: Northern Waters Land Trust and MN DNR and Fee Title Acquisition on Pelican Lake

Today we continued our Conservation Conversations with the Northern Waters Land Trust. Annie Knight is the Grants Manager and Conservation Specialist. She brought her guest Marc Bacigalupithe Fisheries Area Supervisor with the MN DNR in Brainerd.

We talked about how people are conserving their land for the future - whether through conservation easements or through fee title acquisition like Shelli and Brad Standbeck did on Pelican Lake in Brainerd.

In January of 2020, the Pelican Lake Aquatic Management Area (AMA),
on the east side of the lake, grew by 24 acres with the addition of the
Dorothy and George McDonald Tract, resulting in 84 acres of permanently
protected land. These 24 acres are undeveloped and will result in the
additional protection of a sensitive, high-quality lake, and enhanced
public recreation opportunities, thanks to Brad and Shelli Stanback,
neighbors to this AMA. When this property went up for sale in 2018, the
Stanback’s volunteered to purchase the land, donate it to Northern
Waters Land Trust, and pay for all administrative costs associated with
the land purchase and conveyance.

Due to this generous donation,Northern Waters Land Trust (NWLT) was able to acquire the property andtransfer it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forcontinued land management. This AMA is open to the public for fishing,non-motorized travel, wildlife observation, hunting, and trapping.

Shelli and Brad Stanback are avid conservationists and philanthropists who currently live in North Carolina. Shelli Stanback and her family are from the Brainerd Lakes area where for generations they traditionally spend many family gatherings at a lake front, surround by nature. Shelli Stanback returns to what she calls “home”while vacationing near Pelican Lake. The Pelican Lake AMA tract is named after Shelli’s grandparents, Dorothy and George McDonald

Shelli’s grandparents along with her mother Mikki McDonald were great influencers in her life and are one of the main reason Shelli became committed to stewarding our naturalenvironment.

The Stanback’s enjoy working with local conservation organizations
and land trusts all over the country. Both Shelli and Brad feel
strongly that conservation is key, especially with the looming
development pressures and effects of climate change. Pelican Lake is a
special place for both Shelli and Brad. They are grateful for the time
they have spent on this beautiful lake and would like to preserve it for
future generations. Shelli emphasized, “Brad and I both hope we can
inspire others to take action. We need a large community of people to
protect the natural areas we hold so dear.”

Northern Waters Land Trust worked alongside the Minnesota Department
of Natural Resources (Mn DNR) to ensure a smooth transfer of this land
to public ownership and permanent protection. Marc Bacigalupi, Brainerd
Area DNR Fisheries Supervisor, was enthusiastic about this project and
expansion of the Pelican Lake AMA. According to Bacigalupi, “Pelican
Lake is a top tier lake, with high water quality in Minnesota. It looks
like it will retain its cold-water habitat needed for cold water cisco,
even under warming scenarios.” Despite limited conservation funding,
protecting Pelican Lake is a high priority for Bacigalupi and the Mn DNR
Fisheries Department. Growing this AMA by 24 acres is another small
step to protecting 75% of the Pelican Lake watershed, which is the
ultimate goal for both the Mn DNR and Northern Waters Land Trust.

A lake’s ecosystem and water quality have a high probability of being
maintained if 75% of its watershed remains in forests or other native
vegetation. State demographic projections indicate this region could
experience significant water quality and fisheries degradation in the
coming decades without direct conservation. Lakes and watersheds with
natural, undisturbed land cover along the shorelines and within their
watersheds will have the best chance to sustain high water quality and
cisco populations in the face of shoreland development and a changing
climate. Sustaining a strong angling heritage revolves largely around
protecting fisheries habitat, which is why the expansion of the Pelican
Lake AMA is so crucial.

This project was unique in nature, because of the Stanback’s
conservation goals and generous donations to NWLT. When NWLT proceeded to donate the land to the Mn DNR, the gift was matched through the Mn DNR Critical Habitat Private Sector Matching Account program. This financial match will be used to acquire additional AMA or Wildlife Management Area (WMA) lands in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, or Hubbard counties. “We are so grateful to Minnesotans who show their deep commitment to conservation through the Critical Habitat Program.” DNR Commissioner, Sarah Strommen, said, “This is another outstanding example of private and public interests coming together to acquire, restore, and enhance important fish and wildlife habitat that benefits

Serving Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin, and Hubbard Counties, NWLT is a
non-profit conservation organization whose mission is: preserve land to
protect water. We are working towards a region that has clean lakes,
rivers, wetlands, and forests that support a diversity of fish and
wildlife. Our specific methods of conservation are through: community
outreach & education, conservation easements, and fee title
acquisitions. David Miller, NWLT Board President, notes that, “It was
inspiring to work alongside the Stanback’s and Mn DNR to expand this
Aquatic Management Area. There are numerous opportunities for people to conserve their land and make an impact in their local area. This is a
prime example of how stewardship, commitment, and care for our natural
world can result in concrete protection on a pristine lake.”

Annie Johnson 7/11/2021

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.