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The Fate of the Minnesota Ball Cactus



Big Stone WildLife Refuge The ball cactus (Escobaria vivipara) is one of Minnesota's rarest plant species. They only occur within a 2-3 square mile area in the west central part of the state in the Minnesota River valley. The ball cactus is associated with granite outcrops that were exposed during the melting of the last glaciation. As glacial Lake Agassiz broke to the south, it formed the glacial River Warren, which scoured the valley and exposed some of the oldest rock in the world.

Also found in the granite outcrops south of Ortonville, Minnesota are 8 other rare plant species, including Wolf's Spikerush (Eleocharis wolfii), Hairy Water Clover (Marsilea vestita), Blackfoot Quillwort (Isoetes melanopoda), Three-Stamened Waterwort (Elatine triandra), Mudwort (Limosella aquatica), Larger Water-Starwort (Callitriche heterophylla), Water Hyssop (Bacopa rotundifolia) and Small White Lady's Slipper orchid (Cypripedium candidum).

Some of Minnesota's ball cactus population is protected by the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge which is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. However, approximately 130 plants are in private ownership and are in danger of being mined by a proposed granite quarry that is currently working its way through the permitting process. The Strata Corporation, headquartered in Grand Forks, ND, is proposing to quarry 95 acres in 3 separate phases. The mine areas will be 300' deep and the total aggregate mined will exceed 30 million cubic yards. To uncover that granite, 1 million cubic yards of native prairie will need to be moved out of the way. The granite will leave the mine on an overland conveyor belt that will load the aggregate into rail cars.

Big Stone WildLife Refuge     Big Stone WildLife Refuge
Escobaria vivipara at Big Stone Refuge near Ortonville, MN

The original plans called for destroying over 3,500 ball cactus and 14,000 specimens from the other 8 rare plants found on site. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would not permit that amount of destruction of rare plants, so a rare plant protection area was established to save the most diverse plant habitat on the property. The plans called for gifting the area to the adjacent Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge. However, the refuge has declined the gift due to the amount of dust generated nearby without a buffer, the odd shape which makes management nearly impossible, and the severed mineral rights. Presently, no agency or non-profit organization has stepped forward to take on the management nightmare, in essence stripping the idea of protection from the area.

During the planning process for the Big Stone County comprehensive plan, the citizens stated that they valued and wished to preserve unique natural resources and wanted to keep natural areas functionally intact. While the citizens in the area were kept in the dark during the planning process of the quarry that has been ongoing since 2006, they have recently risen up to challenge the proposal. The nonprofit organization CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) has been instrumental in providing advice and organizing the citizens against the proposed quarry. The township, at the request of the local citizens, has since passed an interim ordinance that places a moratorium on the project for 1 year.

What is the great economic return for destroying such an impressive view, destroying so many rare plants, making airborne a tremendous amount of silica, draining wetlands and dewatering homeowner's wells, and losing the ranching family that has grazed the native prairie for many decades? The county aggregate tax on the granite mined will be about $20,000 per year. That amounts to 1/4 of 1% of Big Stone County's revenue for one year. In fact, the neighboring homeowners pay that amount each year in property taxes.

If you would like to voice your concerns to the county commissioners, please visit the Big Stone County website to find contact information for the commissioners who will be voting on the conditional use permit before May 21, 2012. To donate funds to defray the legal costs, please visit the CURE website at http://curemnriver.org to donate to their campaign to stop Strata outcrop mining.

Author: Shawn May
Detroit Lakes, MN

(Photos: Daiv Freeman)
Index of Articles
Introductory and Naming
     Wherefore Art Thou Cactaceae?
     How to Write a Scientific Name Correctly
     Cacti & Succulent Identification
     Cereus Peruvianus -The Least and Best Known Cactus
     More About Cereus Peruvianus

Cultivation and How-To
     The Sun Burned Cacti
     Grafting on Pereskiopsis
     Making Your Own Cactus Soil
     Growing NON-Hardy Cacti in Cold Climates
     Tools of the Trade
     Growing Cactus with Artificial Light
     Making a Hypertufa Planter
     Cactus Flowers - Fake or Real?
     How-To-NOT Build a Cactus Terrarium
     Raising Cactus From Seed
     Growing Cacti in Terracotta

Conservation
     Is Cultivation Conservation?
     Interview: Cactus Conservation in Paraguay with Alex Arzberger
     The Fate of the Minnesota Ball Cactus

Variety
     A Cactus Odyssey in Arizona
     Mangrove Cactus
     Have a Cup of Cactus
     Opuntia as an Invasive Species in Australia
     The Creating of "Springtime Succulence"
     Making Botanical Illustrations
     Adapt or Perish
     Chasing the Wild Epis
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