It’s known as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” and Minnesota now has a strategic road map for looking after its vast waterways. Addressing the fish-rich tapestry of lakes, rivers and streams, the state’s Department of Natural Resources recently launched a new fisheries habitat plan aimed at maintaining the abundance.

Dirk Peterson, who heads up the Minnesota DNR, said that while the state has done well with stocking and regulation, the new plan will place a long overdue emphasis on habitat protection and restoration. Complementing attention to aquatic habitat, the DNR will also focus its effort on the broader picture of watershed dynamics – ensuring clean water flows into those lakes, rivers and streams.

“When you lift a fish out of the water, that fish is a reflection of all that happens on the land,” Peterson said. “If we want to maintain great fishing, we need to focus more effort at the landscape and watershed scale.”

Previously, funding limitations prevented such efforts, but 2008 brought the passage of a state constitutional amendment dedicating a portion of a sales tax hike to outdoors recreation and clean water initiatives. An increase in fishing license fees – approved by the Legislature last year – also is helping to put more focus on fisheries habitat work.

“We’ve always talked about habitat, but there rarely was adequate funding to really attack it at the appropriate scale,” said Pete Jacobson, a DNR fisheries research supervisor and one of the plan’s authors. “The constitutional amendment changes that, and we need to take advantage of it. The amendment is a mandate from the people for us to take fish habitat conservation seriously. This plan helps us do that.”