The Kabekona Lake Aquatic Management Area (AMA) is now 41 acres in size, with the addition of 13 acres in mid-November 2018.

With this addition, approximately 67 percent of the lake watershed is now protected through public ownership and a variety of permanent private conservation easements.

Achieving this level of protection will help this deep, cold-water lake withstand the impacts of a changing climate and development within the upland area, which drains into the lake.

Kabekona Lake is a high-priority refuge lake for tullibee (cisco), a fish species at high risk and requiring cold, well-oxygenated waters.

The Northern Waters Land Trust (NWLT, formerly Leech Lake Area Watershed Foundation) was awarded an Outdoor Heritage Fund Conservation Partners Legacy Grant in 2016 to purchase five lots from RHE Holdings/Van Ellig on the Hubbard County lake.

This grant required a 10 percent match. The Kabekona Lake Foundation generously provided $30,000 of this match, with NWLT providing the remaining.

The property was conveyed to the State of Minnesota to be managed as part of the existing AMA.

Kabekona Lake is 2,433 acres and 133 feet deep. It is important to protect because it is predicted that it can be a refuge for tullibee if 75 percent of the land draining into the lake can be protected from land conversion.

Tullibee are an important forage fish for walleye, northern pike, muskellunge and lake trout. A highly temperature-sensitive, cold-water fish, tullibee need well-oxygenated waters – a condition most common in lakes with deep water and healthy surrounding watersheds. Tullibee is a “canary in the coal mine,” signaling three major threats to Minnesota’s sport fishery and clean water: degraded watershed health, unsustainable shoreline development and climate warming.

Natural, undisturbed land cover and well-managed shorelines offer the best chance for tullibee and other fish populations to survive these threats.

However, land protection isn’t the only approach for preserving these unique lakes. For more information on the lake, see https://www.hubbardcolamn.org/uploads/3/4/5/6/34563649/kabekona_report.pdf.

This latest acquisition protects approximately 768 feet of shoreline with submerged and emergent vegetation that provides potential spawning habitat for northern pike, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, sunfish, or crappies.

It will also protect approximately 5 acres of riparian wooded swamp. These provide potential habitat for mammals, like deer, bear and raccoon; aquatic furbearers, like mink, muskrat, beaver and otter; various amphibians; shorebirds, like great blue heron and kingfisher; raptors, like bald eagle and osprey, and waterfowl, like loons and migratory waterfowl.

Kabekona Lake Foundation was established in 1994 by the Kabekona Lake Association and has been involved in the acquisition of several properties which are now managed as AMA and Scientific Natural Areas.

The lake association has actively worked with lakeshore owners to keep shorelines natural; eliminate fertilizers, runoff and erosion, and maintain septic systems on a regular basis through their member rebate program.

Luther Nervig observes that “Kabekona Lake residents are conservation-minded and realize that the protection of the lake, now and for the future, is all of our responsibilities. Our many conservation projects could not have been completed without the support and assistance of many partners.”

There are 68 cold water lakes that are considered “refuge lakes” for tullibee in Minnesota – and 38 of these are found in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing and Hubbard counties. These lakes attract people nationwide for their natural states, beauty, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities.

Doug Kingsley, DNR Park Rapids Fisheries Supervisor, said, “It is important to focus our initial protection efforts on these refuge lakes to try to maintain tullibee in Minnesota in the face of increasing threats.”

The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created in 2008 when Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. These funds “may be spent only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.”

NWLT board chair Tim Bremicker notes that “The protection of this property is a significant contribution to efforts to protect our northern waters for clean water, healthy habitat and resilient communities and economies. We are grateful to Van Ellig, the Kabekona Lake Foundation, the Conservation Partners Legacy Program, our many partners and the State of Minnesota for recognizing the importance of healthy natural resources and local communities.”

For more information, contact Kingsley at 732-4153 or Kathy DonCarlos, NWLT, at 218-547-4510.

Kathy DonCarlos is land conservation coordinator for the Northern Waters Land Trust in Walker.