Donation Expands Pelican Lake Aquatic Management Area

(Pelican Lake AMA Dedication Sign)

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 and transfer it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for continued 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 (dedication sign pictured below). 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 natural environment.

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 Minnesotans.”

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