Saint John's University, in cooperation with the Avon Hills Initiative (AHI), the Stearns Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and the Minnesota Land Trust (MLT), is conducting a competitive bidding process to fund conservation easements on private lands within the Avon Hills. Funding is restricted to lands within the Avon Hills, including parts of Albany, Avon, Brockway, Collegeville, Farming, LeSauk, Rockville, St. Joseph, St. Wendell, and Wakefield townships. View a map of the eligible area.
$1.11 million is available for this project for landowner payments. Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state's air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.
We are using the MN Multi-faceted Approach to Prioritizing Land Easements (MMAPLE) which combines both the environmental benefits of the land with the landowner's bid for payment. This method balances the environmental benefits with the economic costs of acquiring a conservation easement. Landowners individually determine the outcome by the level of their bids.
All bids are non-binding and landowners are encouraged to participate to help us gauge the interest in case additional funding is made available in the future. Landowners are not legally committed to a conservation easement by participating in the bidding process until they agree and sign the final easement documents.
Each landowner will have their land scored based on a set of established environmental factors. This score takes into account the size of the parcel, ecological features, historical or cultural features, protection of water quality, natural resource management, and more. The bid worksheet uses published data to determine your Environmental Benefit Score. Staff from Saint John's will assist in the mapping needed to score your land.
In the second step of the process, the landowner may offer a bid for the amount of compensation they would like to receive for placing their land in a conservation easement. The bid is in the format of dollars per acre (e.g. $500/acre, $1,000/acre, $1/acre, etc.).
The final rating of the applications is based on the ratio of the Environmental Benefits Score compared to the cost per acre. Landowners that have a high environmental score and a low cost per acre will have a higher Conservation Value Rating, thus giving them higher priority to receive compensation for their easement.
Easements will be funded in order of highest Conservation Value Rating to lowest. After the highest rated bid is funded, the bids with the next highest ratings will be funded in order until the available funds are expended. All bids accepted for easements in this round of funding will be completed and payments made when the easement is completed, but no later than June 30, 2019.
Conservation easements are a tool by which landowners voluntarily limit the use and development of their property in order to permanently preserve its natural features. Restrictions set out in each easement will preserve the open space, habitat, water quality, and natural resources. But the easement allows landowners to retain all their other rights such as hunting, working the forests and fields, and the ability to post their land. The restrictions are designed to permanently follow the deed, thus protecting the property in perpetuity.
Conservation easements provide a public benefit by helping to protect the high-quality natural habitats, water quality, and the scenic integrity of a local landscape. The Avon Hills has native plant communities of tamarack swamp, oak forest, and maple-basswood forest that provide nearly unaltered habitat and significant ecological value. More easement information is available from the MN Land Trust.