SNA Nature Notes - Spring 2016

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas header

Spring 2016

A family prairie is preserved, collaboration and nature thrive

Photo of Koester family at Prairie Creek WMA dedication

By Craig Koester

Koester Prairie is 460 acres of rolling prairie, oak savanna, and hardwood forest. It is home to a wide variety of native plant species, including prairie grasses, the state and federally threatened prairie bush clover, and prairie crabapple trees. It provides nesting grounds for bobolinks, northern harriers, and the state endangered Henslow's sparrow. Located in Rice County, it is near Prairie Creek, which weaves through Prairie Creek Woods SNA and Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Together, these conservation areas create a conservation corridor with interconnecting habitats.

The area represents a five-generation family commitment to land stewardship. The Koester family has lived in the area since 1865 and purchased this section of prairie in 1940. For many years it had been used for grazing dairy cows, and in the 1940s it was expanded to include more grassland to support beef cattle.

Beginning in 2009, the family explored ways to preserve the grassland and oak savanna permanently. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Carleton College Arboretum staff conducted initial plant surveys and discovered significant remnants of native prairie. That information enabled the family to place a portion of the site in a Native Prairie Bank (conservation easement) in 2011.

At that time restoration efforts began with removal of brush, prescribed burning, and control of invasive species like buckthorn, wild parsnip, and Queen Anne's lace. Funding came from the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2012, the family received a major DNR grant for biomass removal, which helped clear unwanted trees and brush from the oak savanna. Sixty-six truckloads of shredded scrub wood were taken to District Energy for power generation.

Photo of Prairie Creek WMA

The ongoing challenge was finding a way to preserve the entire area, including grassland that provided invaluable bird habitat but was not native prairie. Persistent exploration of options finally led to the Trust for Public Land, who worked with the family and the DNR to create the first unit of the Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area in 2013.

Craig Koester was the family member with primary responsibility for seeing the site developed into what became a WMA and working with restoration efforts. He and a longtime friend David Kuhnau established the Friends of Prairie Creek WMA to coordinate grant applications and volunteer efforts for restoration of the site. Once the WMA was formed, they obtained a Conservation Partners Legacy Grant, which facilitates public-private collaboration of management and restoration work on the WMA. For administration of the grant, they partner with the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, which is active in conservation in the area. They also meet regularly with DNR staff to coordinate the grant-funded work, such as prescribed burning, working with the ongoing volunteer groups who remove wild parsnip and Queen Anne's lace, and collecting native seeds to help restore the site.

Carleton College is another key collaborator in efforts to enhance the educational value of the site. The Friends of Prairie Creek WMA help support an environmental studies class that engages students in research on the site each spring. The college archives collects material related to the history of the site and the restoration efforts there. An extensive website about the WMA has been developed through partnership between Friends of Prairie Creek WMA and Carleton staff.

Inspired by the efforts at Koester prairie, another family donated a 160-acre farm to create the Engeseth-Rinde Unit of Prairie Creek WMA in 2015. Through the ongoing efforts of volunteers, non-profit groups, and the DNR, the WMA continues to flourish and to welcome the public to explore this piece of Minnesota's natural heritage and participate in restoration activities.



Minnesota's besieged bats

Photo of northern long-eared bat

Minnesota's bats are having tough times. They get a bad rap for being disease vectors and frightening people; their erratic flight leads some to believe that bats are attacking them. On top of that, bats are now assaulted by white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that is usually fatal. In late January several hundred bats were found dead near the main entrance to the mine at Lake Vermilion - Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Testing in February 2016 confirmed the disease.

Minnesota has seven bat species. The silver-haired bat is a forest dweller that usually lives near water. It feeds among the trees much like another Minnesota native, the eastern red bat. The hoary bat is also a woodland species. It is the largest Minnesota bat, weighing an ounce or more. All three species are solitary, roost in trees, and migrate south for the winter.

The remaining four bats: the little brown myotis, northern long-eared bat (shown in adjacent photo taken near Ely by USFWS/Jill Utrup), big brown bat, and the tricolored bat (a Minnesota species of special concern) hibernate in Minnesota caves and mines over the winter. These bats have the highest risk for white-nose syndrome and are of most concern to DNR.

The federal government has taken further steps to protect the northern long-eared bat, listing it as a federally threatened species on January 14. This designation is an effort to conserve the northern long-eared bat during sensitive life stages (pup rearing and hibernation). The northern long-eared bat is also a Minnesota species of special concern.

Bats play an important role in ecosystem dynamics by consuming vast numbers of insects, thus helping to regulate their populations. Many of the moths that are major components of their diet are potential defoliators. Their consumption of mosquitoes, another important prey item, needs no further comment. Please do your part to help bats by preventing the spread of white-nose syndrome and not disturbing hibernating bats. You can do even more by building a bat house. If you see sick or dead bats please report them, and make sure to learn more about why bats are important.



SNA Events

Photo of flowering cutleaf toothwort

Time to get out and soak up all the sights and sounds spring has to offer. Enjoy some hands-on activities, or just revel in the beauty of the first wildflowers, such as the cutleaf toothwort in the adjacent photo, as the days begin to warm and lengthen. A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar.



Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Clear Brush


Wolsfeld Woods SNA

Spring Wildflower Walk


Grey Cloud Dunes SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Invasive Removal (Details to come, check back on the SNA events calendar)


Black Lake Bog SNA

Plant, Bird and Insect Survey




Site Highlight: Mille Lacs Moraine SNA

Photo of wood frog

Spring is a great time to venture forth and explore. We'd like to suggest Mille Lacs Moraine SNA as a destination! This site, just west of Lake Mille Lacs in east-central Minnesota is covered with mixed hardwood forests, small lakes, bogs and wet meadows.

In the spring you'll be greeted by a wide variety of wildflowers including: jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) and large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora). Many of these spring ephemerals last only a few short weeks before being shaded out as the hardwood trees fully leaf out.

When you're done looking at what is before your feet, look up. Spring warblers such as the yellow-rumped warbler, Nashville warbler, American redstart, and mourning warbler are likely candidates to be seen through your binoculars. The lakes and wetlands have a variety of water birds such as great blue heron, common golden-eye, wood duck, and maybe even a loon or two.

And if you can't make it in the spring, stop by in the fall when the hardwoods of oak, maple, birch and aspen put on a colorful leaf-show.



Notes from Site Stewards

Site stewards monitor SNAs across Minnesota. Their observations provide invaluable information to the SNA Program. Minnesota winters don't stop stewards from getting out to do observations. Here are some interesting notes from reports in January of this year:

  • On New Year's Day 2016 Matthew Kuby enjoyed a quiet walk through Prairie Coteau SNA. He noted the installation of a new invasive species sign and boot brush that encourages visitors to give invasive species seed the "brush off" by cleaning shoes before entering.
  • As the new site steward for Botany Bog SNA, Kyle McIlwain walked the site to gain familiarity with it on January 23. He noted deer tracks, woodpeckers and a rabbit in his look around.
  • John Valo, Savage Fen SNA site steward, spent time mapping water monitoring wells on January 24.

Thanks for all the work you do for SNAs stewards!



Notes on Nurturing Nature on Private Lands

Photo of burning brush on  Native Prairie Bank site in Traverse County

Tips from natural areas staff on how you can keep native habitats healthy and notes on conservation work we do with private landowners.

  • Early detection of invasive species can help eliminate these pests BEFORE they become a problem. Would you like to help? Learn more and find out how to report them.
  • The burning piles of buckthorn seen in the adjacent photo were cut last fall by Conservation Corps Minnesota crews on a Native Prairie Bank in Traverse County. The buckthorn was cut and piled, and stumps were treated with herbicide. The piles were then allowed to dry until there was enough snow on the ground to safely burn them.



Nature Notes is the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas quarterly e-newsletter (archive online). It seeks to increase interest, understanding and support of natural areas while promoting involvement in the protection of these special places. Contact us at


Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).