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The tree removal is required to restore the city’s property back to pre-settlement conditions when fire was able to control the invasive species, and avoid landscape stagnation and resulting loss of fire-dependent plant, animal, and insect diversity. Removing the trees will allow the native seed bank to thrive and bring back threatened and endangered species as well as increase the wildlife diversity in the area. Much of the Anoka County landscape that was once treeless or sparsely treed is now wooded, and with that, much of the native biological diversity has been lost. That biodiversity can return at the restored to the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary. To do this, most of the trees must be removed and prescribed fire must be reintroduced to this wildlife sanctuary.
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Wetlands are defined as areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support (and that under normal circumstances do support) a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary meets the definition of a wetland because the soils are hydric, the plant species are hydrophytic and the area is saturated within 12 inches of the soil surface for more than 14 consecutive days during the growing season. (Definition provided by the Minnesota Wetland Conservation Plan).
A wetland delineation was completed by Critical Connections Ecological Services (CCES) for the entire 510 acre Blaine Wetland Sanctuary in the summer of 2014. This document is available from the engineering department at Blaine City Hall. The wetland delineation identified in the field areas of uplands and wetlands within the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary using wetland delineation pin flagging, and was recorded with sub-meter accuracy global positioning systems (GPS) equipment. This wetland delineation was reviewed and approved by local, state, and federal agencies. The 2014 wetland delineation determined that within the southern 220 acres of the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary, 75.5 acres are upland and 114.5 acres are wetland.
The proposed restoration plan proposes to restore the native vegetation of these wetlands and uplands to a higher quality condition; however, the acres of wetland and upland are not expected to change. Therefore, success of the proposed restoration plan will be assessed based on the response of native vegetation to proposed restoration tasks, and will not be assessed with regard to changes in hydrology or the addition of wetlands acres to the proposed project area. The restoration that has occurred in the northern sections of the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary has showed many early signs of success.
The properties along 109th Avenue and Lexington Avenue that are being developed are private properties. If a property owner provides plans that meet the requirements of the city and watershed district, the city cannot deny the project. Any wetland impacts are reviewed by the Rice Creek Watershed District, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Anoka Conservation District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine if the project meets the permitting requirements.
The city property is not eligible for a housing or commercial development property because it is defined as open space. The only way this property could be changed is through a majority vote by the residents of Blaine to allow it to be developed. Furthermore, this property would be difficult and cost-prohibitive to develop for residential or commercial uses because the majority of the site has been delineated as wetlands. Other privately owned property in the area could be developed by those land owners. Those private developments would need to go through the Blaine development process and could result in changes to the landscape between 109th Avenue NE and the current developments to the north.
City staff and the project consultants reviewed the comments and questions received during the open house on October 24, 2019 and the online comment period. Those comments and questions have been considered and incorporated when feasible as the team worked on adjustments and modifications to the draft plans. The final plan will be presented to the Natural Resources Conservation Board and the Blaine City Council for discussion and their consideration for approval. All city board, commission, and council meetings are open to the public.
The resident birds will be displaced during the tree removal but doing the work in the winter will decrease the numbers of birds needing to find new homes. The restoration will provide much needed habitat for several other bird species of open grasslands and wet meadows to move in. There is an abundance of forest edge habitat in the area for the winter birds to move to.
The trees will be cut down and disposed of responsibly at the discretion of the contractor, in order to contain costs of the contract. Disposal is often at a composting facility, re-use facility, or used as woody biomass for energy.
There is not an exact number, but trees shown on the extent of the restoration plan are planned to be removed. Healthy oak trees will be left, as they are fire resistant and part of the natural system that is being restored.
The plan calls for every stump bigger than four inches in diameter to be removed. The stumps will be ground as part of the contract with the contractor. Depending on weather conditions it could take up to two years for all stumps to be removed.
The buckthorn plants will be flush cut at the stem within two inches of soil surface with a brush cutter or chainsaw. The disposal will be the responsibility of the contractor.
The method is effective if it is used in conjunction with herbicide application and controlled burns as well as inter-seeding with desirable native plants.
The site will continue to be managed through controlled burns and if need be, herbicide treatments. If needed, volunteer events will be held to re-cut the buckthorn regrowth.
The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary restoration webpage contains maps showing the extent of the invasive species. The primary invasive species that are of concern within the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary are: common buckthorn, glossy buckthorn, reed canary grass, and giant reed. Secondarily, native tree species that have invaded the wetlands within the past 70 years following fire suppression include: green ash, box elder, red maple, quaking aspen, cottonwood, and paper birch.
Unfortunately, the grant funds are not allowed to be used on private land or for education. The city will be working with Rice Creek Watershed District and the Anoka Conservation District to try to find some optional opportunities for private homeowners to manage buckthorn on their property. Once that plan is put together, the city will be asking for input from residents who are interested in removing buckthorn.
The city will be required to continue the management of the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary after the initial restoration. The northern portions of the site are wetland banks requiring management into perpetuity. Because of grant funds paying for the restoration in the southern portion, the city is required to continue managing the site into the future. The city has allocated funds to keep its property restored. Several methods will be used to prevent the regrowth of buckthorn on the city’s property such as prescribed burns, herbicide treatments, and possibly conservation grazing.
Over application of any lawn chemical can result in runoff that carries toxic levels of chemicals or excessive nutrients into lakes, streams and groundwater. Some lawn chemicals threaten native flowers and grasses by harming beneficial insects that safely control weeds and unwanted insects.
The depths of private wells in this area and the clay in the soil will provide a layer of protection from chemicals for well water users.
The restoration plan will call for as little herbicide use as possible. It will be used to spot treat areas that are not responding to the mechanical mowing, raking, and burning. A licensed applicator will be hired to do the work and will be informed of the concerns residents have. Species likely needing some chemical treatment include: common buckthorn, glossy buckthorn, reed canary grass, and giant reed.
Other options besides herbicides will be evaluated at for treatment of the buckthorn and reed canary grass. One option that has been working in other parts of the state is the use of conservation grazing by livestock (such as goats), as well as frequent mechanical control (winter mowing and raking) coupled with frequent controlled burns.
The restoration is intended to remove invasive, non-native, dead, and diseased trees and woody vegetation from the city’s property. If a buffer zone is left, the city will still want to remove the invasive, dead, and diseased trees and woody vegetation to help stop the spread of the disease. Furthermore, prescribed fire breaks will be established within the property line or buffer zone and therefore prescribe fire cannot be used within a potential buffer zone to control invasive species over the long term. Residents can plant trees on their property to provide a buffer. Many of the private properties that border the southern Blaine Wetland Sanctuary property (220 acres) have existing wooded conditions within their rear lots.
There have been several studies conducted on the effect open space preservation has on property values. Many of the studies have shown that preserving open space land increases property values by up to 20 percent when the property is adjacent to a passive-use park.
Parks and Trails Council of MinnesotaImpact of Open Space on Property Values
The reason the city is having independent third party surveyors out to mark property lines is to make sure the contractor does not impact private property. If there is a problem, the city will work with the contractor and the homeowner to come to a resolution.
It has been decided not do the restoration work on the small strip of city property south of the 117th Lane cul-de-sac due to access issues. The maps on the city’s southern portion restoration webpage show the extent of the restoration.
Currently, the city does not have funds or completed plans for a trail/path. The future plan is to construct a trail/path utilizing known trail heads and upland areas where feasible. The neighborhood will be invited to comment on the proposed plans and consideration will be taken to try and avoid trails in the back of properties.
The feedback has been mixed. Some residents are very happy with the boardwalk and the abundance of wildlife and the change in vegetation from invasives to natives. Other residents have commented that the increased educational opportunities for children and adults are a great addition to the community. Some residents have voiced concern and disappointment with the removal of the trees and the changes to the landscape.
Removing the trees will actually decrease the chance of fire from lightning strikes or other natural causes. Many of the trees are dead and or diseased, making them potential fire hazards. The mowing and raking process that will be used for dead grass removal will reduce the fuel load. The first prescribed fires will have the most fuel from herbaceous plants (grasses, sedges, wildflowers) that have accumulated over decades, and subsequent fires will have less fuel accumulated over the time in between prescribed fires.
The contractor hired to perform the controlled burns must hold liability insurance to protect home owners or potential damage to city or private properties. The fire contractor is also required to work with the Blaine Fire Marshall to obtain all necessary permits prior to burning.
Weather permitting, controlled burns will be performed annually. The entire site may not be burned each year, it may only be areas that are under-performing.
The grant funding is for restoration on an acreage amount.