FROM THE DNR: Leech Lake is “Water to Watch”

Leech Lake watershed designated one 
of nationally recognized 10 ‘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 lakes and rivers in this watershed are some of the most beautiful in the country. This is why the Leech Lake watershed was selected as one of the 10 “Waters to Watch.”

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 2013 list represents a snapshot of voluntary habitat conservation efforts in progress. These and other locally driven conservation projects are funded by the NFHP and implemented by regional fish habitat partnerships throughout the country.

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.

“Because of these partnerships and the additional funding made available, the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation has been able to pursue innovative approaches to conservation strategies,” said Paula West, the foundation’s executive director. “More than 10 miles of sensitive shorelands will be protected by 2014.”

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).

The project is scheduled to be completed this fall, benefiting walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass and yellow perch and enhancing recreational and tribal subsistence opportunities. The project cost is projected to be $127,500, with $10,000 funded by the NFHP.

An additional $1 million grant to fund conservation easements in a larger area of north-central Minnesota was obtained from Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund, created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008.

For more information on the Fish Habitat Partnership, visit

For more information on the Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership, visit

For more information on the Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation, visit



Q: What is the purpose of native aquatic plants along a shoreline?

A: Aquatic plants are essential components of most freshwater ecosystems. Many of Minnesota’s most sought-after fish species depend heavily on aquatic vegetation for food, protection from predators and reproduction. In addition to fish, many wildlife species depend on aquatic plants for food and nesting sites. Aquatic plants not eaten by waterfowl support many insects and other aquatic invertebrates that serve as important food sources for migratory birds and their young. Emergent aquatic vegetation also provides nesting cover for a variety of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. The reproductive success of ducks nesting near lakes, for example, is closely tied to the availability of aquatic plants. Beyond providing food and shelter for fish and wildlife, aquatic vegetation maintains water clarity, prevents suspension of bottom sediments and limits shoreline erosion by moderating the effects of wave and ice erosion. A healthy native plant community also prevents non-native invasive aquatic plants from establishing. In short, many of the things we enjoy most about lakes are directly linked to aquatic vegetation.

– Steve Enger, DNR aquatic plant management program coordinator

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