The Cedar Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) grew in size by 46 acres in May 2021 with the purchase and conveyance of the Skylar Tuthill Trust property by the Northern Waters Land Trust (NWLT) to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 100 acre WMA is located in Farm Island Township, Aitkin County, on Cedar Lake.
The recent addition to the WMA includes 1,650 feet of lake frontage along Cedar Lake. The uplands are a mix of open fields, conifer plantation, and hardwood forest. The shoreline and emergent vegetation greatly benefit fish populations. The open fields will be replanted to a mixed hardwood/conifer forest with accesses and several small openings. This restoration will benefit forest wildlife species and provide additional recreational opportunities for hunters and wildlife watchers.
Nearly 1,500 acres in size with 30 miles of shoreline, Cedar Lake is categorized as an “outstanding” lake of biological significance by the DNR. Cedar Lake supports sensitive, cold-water species such as tullibee (cisco) which are susceptible to habitat degradation in the watershed and warming temperatures. Tullibee are a preferred forage fish of walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and lake trout. They require cold, well-oxygenated waters, a condition most common in deep water lakes with healthy watersheds. The watershed for the Lake is approximately 20,570 acres of which 42% is now protected.
(Images courtesy of Bob Karls)
A lake’s ecosystem and water quality have a high probability of being maintained if 75% of its watershed is undisturbed. State reports 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 tullibee populations in the face of shoreland development and a changing climate. And sustaining a strong angling heritage revolves largely around protecting fisheries habitat.
There are 68 cold water lakes that are considered “refuge lakes” for tullibee in Minnesota and 38 of these are found in the Aitkin, Cass, Crow-Wing, and Hubbard counties. These north central Minnesota lakes attract people nationwide for their natural states, beauty, fishing, and other outdoor recreational opportunities.
The NWLT Clean Water Critical Habitat Program was established 2011 to protect high priority tullibee/cisco lakes and their watersheds in the north central “lakes country” (i.e., Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard) using grants from the State of Minnesota for conservation easements and fee title acquisition. NWLT partners with public agencies, such as Counties and the State of Minnesota, and private organizations such as lake associations to identify willing sellers and properties important to the agency land management goals, to secure funding through grants, and to acquire and convey those properties to partner agencies.
NWLT secured Outdoor Heritage Funds through a Lessard – Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) grant in 2018 to acquire the recent addition to Cedar Lake WMA. Cedar Lake Conservancy (CLC) generously provided the required 10% match for the grant. CLC paid for the boundary survey, well removal, clean-up of the site and the remaining match towards the purchase of the property. Bob Karls is a Board member for both the CLC and the NWLT. A strong conservation advocate, Bob presented the project to NWLT in 2017 and worked in the subsequent years to raise the match and complete the work necessary for the conveyance.
The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created in 2008 when Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (Legacy Amendment) to the Minnesota Constitution. These funds ”may be spent only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.” David Miller, Northern Waters Land Trust Board Chair, notes that “The protection of this property was an effort that took nearly three years. The addition of this land to the Cedar Lake WMA demonstrates efforts to preserve land to protect our northern waters. We are grateful to the Tuthill Trust, the Cedar Lake Conservancy, the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Department of Natural Resources, NWLT’s partners, and the State of Minnesota for working together to manage healthy natural resources and support resilient local communities and economies.”
Kathy DonCarlos 5/24/21