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Representative Gutknecht and U.S. Senator Dayton Praised for Helping to Expand Protection of Northern Tallgrass Prairie; U.S. Congress Appropriates $470,000 to Protect the Northern Tallgrass Prairie.

MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- The Nature Conservancy applauds the passage of legislation that will protect some of Minnesota and Iowa's last remaining tallgrass prairie. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received $470,000 in federal funding (i.e., Land and Water Conservation Act funds) to acquire lands for its Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota and Iowa.

The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1999, extends from Northern Iowa through West Central Minnesota. The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge is managed out of Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in Odessa, Minnesota.

The bill, which was signed into law on November 10, 2003, contains $470,000 earmarked for conservation easements to ensure that privately held lands which contain some of Minnesota's last remaining tallgrass prairie will not be developed.

"In these times of tight budgets, I appreciate that Congress recognized the importance of the Tallgrass Prairie Refuge," said Gutknecht. "Conserving our natural heritage is one of the most important things we can do for future generations."

"I am extremely pleased that the Northern Tallgrass Prairie Wildlife Refuge will receive much needed funds to help protect this vital ecosystem," said Dayton. "As one of America's greatest environmental assets, we must do everything we can to preserve this pristine area for generations to come."

The Nature Conservancy commends Congressman Gutknecht and Senator Dayton for their support of prairie conservation. "This is a terrific investment in natural resources for all Minnesotans," said Ron Nargang, The Nature Conservancy's Minnesota State Director. "Less than one-tenth of one percent of tallgrass prairie remains in our state, and it is essential that we take positive steps like this to ensure the survival of our tallgrass prairie and the species that thrive in this ecosystem." The Nature Conservancy works in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assist landowners in finding ways to protect their land.

"The value of the northern tallgrass prairie to Iowans and Minnesotans can be measured by the scores of non-government partners and private landowners who are committed to conserving and restoring this valuable, yet vanishing resource," said Robyn Thorson, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. "The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be a member of this dedicated team."

The northern tallgrass prairie ecosystem provides habitat for over 40 percent of Minnesota's 287 state-listed rare plant and animal species. Ten federally listed species are presently known to occur within the project area for the refuge. These species include the Western prairie fringed orchid, Piping Plover, and Topeka Shiner.

Once a native prairie is plowed it is lost forever. Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge will permanently protect approximately 77,000 acres of native prairie using fee title and easement acquisitions in the two States over the next 25 years.

The remaining tallgrass prairie habitats in Minnesota and Iowa are threatened by lack of fire, intensive grazing systems, gravel mining, conversion to agricultural row crops and invasion of exotic plant species. Through easement and fee title acquisitions from willing sellers, Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge will permanently protect approximately 25% of some of the best remaining remnant prairie habitats in the two States. All native prairie lands that are acquired for the Refuge will be enhanced through management practices such as prescribed burning, managed grazing, and inter-planting or seeding of native plant species. Native prairie habitats will be restored within buffer land areas that are acquired for the refuge, where northern tallgrass prairie has been eliminated by farming or other practices.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading international, nonprofit organization that preserves plants, animals and natural communities representing the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 15 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 100 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit us on the Web at nature.org.

The Minnesota Chapter has 23,000 members and manages 56 preserves totaling over 70,000 acres. Since the Chapter began in 1958, with the aid of volunteers it has been involved in the protection of over 400,000 acres in the state, including native prairies, wetlands and woodland communities.

CONTACT: Ann Mulholland of The Nature Conservancy, +1-612-331-0759, amulholland@tnc.org

Web site: http://www.nature.org/
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