Goats get the job done to improve habitat

Steep limestone bluffs towering over Trout Brook provide a scenic skyline for Dakota County’s Miesville Ravine Park Reserve. Yet those cliffs pose a challenge for land managers: How can workers safely remove woody invasive species like buckthorn that grow on the steep slopes?

The solution? Send in the goats.

Using conservation grant money awarded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, land managers bring in goats with an appetite for buckthorn and its berries. The four-legged lawnmowers had no problem chowing down the invasive shrubs, a task that would have proven difficult for humans and their equipment.

Beyond the work of the contracted hooved helpers, the overall project also had human workers removing invasive species and converting old farm fields into prairies in 94 acres of the park’s bluffland. That work kept invasive species at a minimum and promoted the growth of native grasses.

Funding for the project came from the DNR’s Conservation Partners Legacy (CPL) grant program, a little known grant program made possible by the Outdoor Heritage Fund. In its 12th year, CPL grants help fund habitat restoration, enhancement and protection throughout Minnesota.

“This is one fun example of a project funded by the grant program,” said Kathy Varble, CPL grants coordinator. “Across Minnesota, these grants support great work for fish and wildlife habitat, pollinators and other species, and have other benefits like cleaner water and more resilient ecosystems.”

During the most recent grant application cycle which closed Jan. 27, the DNR received 41 applications amounting to $4.25 million in requests.

The DNR encourages conservation groups and others interested in a project grant to plan now for the next application cycle, which opens on Aug. 1, with about $4.1 million available for these applications.

The program provides grants ranging from $5,000 to $400,000 to conservation nonprofit organizations and government entities to help fund a variety of habitat projects.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommended the grant program, which was approved by the Minnesota Legislature and has been in place since 2009. Funding comes from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008.

That constitutional amendment increased the sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent and requires that one-third of those additional sales tax dollars be spent to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish and wildlife. A portion of those Outdoor Heritage Fund dollars funds CPL grants.

More information on the program’s grant cycles, a complete list of the most-recent grant applications and history of projects funded are available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/cpl.