The grassland ecosystems in Martin County, Minnesota are more frequently converted to non-prairie uses more than any other county in the Midwest, often lost for development or agricultural uses. But these abundant, grassy landscapes face immense opportunity for restoration and have been a top priority for protection in Minnesota.

“You could fall out of a plane and land on a restorable wetland in Martin County. Figuring out which ones are most important to restore and protect is the key.”

—Emilee Nelson, Minnesota Associate State Director at The Conservation Fund


The Martin County conservation partnership has added thousands of acres to the county’s state wildlife management areas—no small feat in an area of southern Minnesota dominated by agriculture. In fact, less than two percent of Martin County is protected, publicly accessible land. With a goal to continue expanding wildlife management areas across the county, the partnership will create additional protected habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation generates $16.7 billion annually in consumer spending in Minnesota, directly contributing about 140,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Wildlife such as mallards, Blandings turtles and bobolinks are being monitored as part of a long-range Minnesota Department of Natural Resources project on many of the properties protected. Photo credit (left to right): Ed Post, Joshua Mayer, Peter Swaine


Nearly 20 partners—from government agencies to local hunting clubs—have made it their mission to protect remaining grasslands and wetlands for public access in Martin County. Since no one does partnership better than The Conservation Fund, we were well equipped to help lead this effort.

In 2016, the Martin County conservation partners convened to identify acquisition and restoration sites that would be the most strategic for conservation. Projects with the highest return on investment are often the most significant for wildlife, and the most affordable. Partners’ goals ranged from game and non-game wildlife habitat, to native prairie restoration seed harvesting, to flood mitigation. Our targeted approach and diverse partnerships resulted in a unique protect-restore-donate conservation process:

  • Identify restorable wetland and grassland sites that are a priority for conservation
  • Garner support from local officials and landowners
  • Acquire the land for future protection
  • Restore the protected properties by planting native grasslands and restoring wetlands
  • Donate the land to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for inclusion in public wildlife management areas

The partnership was honored with the Outdoor News’ 2020 Outdoor Leaders Award. Local donors and grant funds are critical to ongoing conservation in Martin County. The Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund, among others, have been essential supporters of this effort.

An overview of wildlife management area priorities that the Martin County conservation partnership has identified and is working to conserve. Click here to view full map.