By Roz Kohls
DARWIN, MN Michael Diederich of Darwin recently signed a habitat protection easement for 115 acres of his wetlands next to Highway 12, Darwin. The land qualifies for the easement because it has ephemeral ponds that produce food for egg-laying ducks.
Diederich said Jan. 14 he’s seen mallards, geese, teal, wood ducks and even an occasional canvasback duck at the seven to eight little ponds on the property. He remembers hunting there in the area when he was young, and having 150 wood ducks at the site. He wants to keep it “natural,” he said.
Diederich agreed not to drain, burn, level or fill the wetland, but he still retains ownership rights to the property and has the right to trespass on the land, which is just northwest of the city of Darwin, according to Wanda Mausehund from the wetland acquisition office of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
He also will be allowed to cut hay on it after July 15 each year. Diederich is still obligated to pay taxes and control the weeds on the property, she said.
The Meeker County Board of Commissioners certified the easement Jan. 13.
Diederich will receive a one-time payment from the US Department of Interior for the easement.
Not every property qualifies for wetland acquisition. Diederich’s land contains 27 acres of existing wetlands or wetlands that can be restored, she said.
Nick Palaia, a wildlife biologist from Litchfield, analyzed the property for its wetland potential. Palaia said the wildlife service is looking for land that is large and a seasonal wetland, which is important for waterfowl.
The blue-winged teal and mallards in the Darwin area need temporary ponds in the spring. The ponds warm up early and contain invertebrates ducks eat while they are laying eggs, Palaia said.
Many of these temporary or ephemeral ponds are drained for agricultural land. It hurts the duck population when they have no place to go to lay eggs, he added.
Another feature that makes Diederich’s property good habitat for egg-laying ducks is the absence of heavy trees. In grasslands, hawks and owls use the trees for perches and attack the ducks. Also, too many trees around ephemeral ponds serve as habitat for raccoons and skunks, which eat duck eggs, Palaia said.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation also is cooperating. The department has no intention of rerouting Highway 12 so that it changes the profile of Diederich’s property. It also told Palaia it wanted some areas along Highway 12 left “green,” Palaia said.
Palaia added that the wildlife service is buying a perpetual right to protect Diederich’s land. Even if Diederich sells the property, the easement on it goes with the property, he said.
Diederich said the last time the property was tilled was eight years ago.
His family’s sod farm near Litchfield was sold to become a public hunting area, so Diederich has known about the wide variety of habitat protection programs available to landowners for a long time, he said.