BENSON, Minnesota – June 30, 2021 – More than 80 residents, conservation supporters and project partners dedicated a rejuvenated Lake Hassel in Swift County on June 26.
The event celebrated a $1 million conservation enhancement to the 706-acre shallow lake, which has already resulted in cleaner water and increased wildlife use. Ducks Unlimited (DU) and other partners worked together to complete the project. This wetland habitat improvement project is a major accomplishment through Ducks Unlimited’s Living Lakes Initiative, launched in 2004 to improve shallow lakes and wetlands in Minnesota and Iowa.
Lake Hassel is a state designated wildlife management lake that once hosted many waterfowl, particularly diving ducks such as canvasbacks. However, conditions deteriorated over time due to high water levels, watershed changes and undesirable fish.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) originally enhanced the lake by installing an electric fish barrier and applying a fish toxicant to rid the water of invasive carp several decades ago. These earlier attempts to manage Lake Hassel proved unsuccessful as the electric fish barrier often failed.
Ducks Unlimited partnered with the Minnesota DNR to rebuild the electric fish barrier and install new water-level management infrastructure in 2018. An intentional drawdown of water levels in 2019 resulted in a successful fish winterkill in early 2020 and the lake refilled quickly. The DNR again has the lake drawn down to build on the benefits from last year’s success.
The project was complicated and required working with local landowners, such as Arlon Lee, who spoke at the dedication.
“This lake has been here a long time and it’s too valuable just to let it go and not be usable,” Lee said. “Bringing it back to life is something local residents can be proud of.”
The new water-control infrastructure gives the Minnesota DNR the tools to conduct temporary drawdowns not just to remove unwanted fish, but to consolidate bottom sediments and nutrients and allow aquatic plants to germinate and thrive. This newly enhanced shallow lake will provide clear water with abundant aquatic plants and invertebrates to migratory and breeding waterfowl. It also improves local water quality by filtering impurities in rainwater runoff from neighboring agriculture fields.
“Since we have completed this project, the bird use has skyrocketed,” said John Lindstrom, DU biologist in Minnesota. “The area is used not only by waterfowl, but hundreds of swans and other wildlife that rely on clean wetlands.”
This project was funded by a 2014 state appropriation from Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to Ducks Unlimited as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, a federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, the Chester Lee Farm, Grant and Hege Herfindahl, Hassel View Acres and DU members, supporters, and Living Lakes Initiative Major Sponsors.