SNA Nature Notes - Fall 2016

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas header

Fall 2016

Meet Larissa Mottl

Photo of Larissa Mottl

By Kristi Loobeek

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources divides the state into four regions. The Central Region, encompasses the middle of the state and includes counties on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border along the Mississippi River. Larissa Mottl is the Scientific and Natural Area Coordinator for this large swath of the state. The position includes planning and implementing habitat restoration and enhancement for the 52 natural areas in the region as well as Native Prairie Bank conservation easements.

Hailing from the prairie pothole area of the state, Larissa grew up in Morris, Minnesota. She explained, "I went to college at the University of Minnesota, Morris for a  bachelor’s degree, in Biology and Chemistry, and then on to graduate school at Iowa State University in Ames, for a master’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology." Larissa started her professional career at Grinnell College in central Iowa as their biological field station manager and Center for Prairie Studies outreach coordinator. She worked at Grinnell for 12 years before moving to back to Minnesota four years ago when she started her current position.

Larissa's journey into the environmental field was not by accident. "My family has always fostered my interests in our environment. Family vacations were centered on visiting significant natural areas in Minnesota or National Parks."

Combining this passion with her specialized education, Larissa says she sees her position "as a translator–I scale down and I scale up." She elaborated, "For example, I translate and scale down the mission and goals of our program to specific actions we can implement on the landscape and through programs and communications for the public. I scale up project-specific details like supplies, equipment, staffing, budget and project timing and partnerships into larger grant proposals."

Photo of Larissa Mottl addressing volunteer group

One of Larissa's favorite work memories so far has been implementing her first large-scale woody removal project at Oronoco Prairie SNA. "The project involved removing trees and shrubs on about 12 acres, and exposing exceptional prairie remnants and several rare plant species to long overdue sun and wind. Now, 3 years later, I see blue-eyed grass, valerian, and native prairie grasses where there was once a canopy of trees and understory of buckthorn!"

Larissa concluded by saying, "It's an honor and a privilege to be a part of a program that protects and manages some of the most exceptional natural and geological resources in Minnesota. It’s also an honor to work with colleagues and volunteers who are so passionate and knowledgeable about our natural resources."

And we are glad to have Larissa's talents working to preserve, restore and enhance Minnesota's natural areas (adjacent photo shows Larissa, in blaze orange, addressing volunteers readying to sow prairie seed at Grey Cloud Dunes SNA).



SNA Events

Photo of volunteers collecting seed

As the days shorten and cool, consider one of the following fun stewardship projects this fall. A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar.

Want to know more about improving habitat and wildlife on your own land? Join SNA staff and other sponsors at the St. Croix Lodge in St. Croix State Park to find practical information for improving savanna and brushland. Includes a tour of a savanna and a short presentation on nearby Kettle River SNA. Event is this Saturday, September 24 from 8 AM to noon. Contact: Anna Hess at or 218-302-3243.



Grey Cloud Dunes SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Seed Collection and Invasive Removal


Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Seed Collection


Wolsfeld Woods SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Buckthorn Pull




Site Highlight: Pine Creek Peatland SNA

Aerial photo of Pine Creek Peatland SNA

Of the current 164 Scientific and Natural Areas spread across Minnesota, what is the most remote site? A likely candidate would be Pine Creek Peatland. Hugging the state's northern border with Manitoba, Canada, it is a long way from large cities and extensive development. It is also preserves a challenging landscape to explore with an abundance of water and mosquitos in summer, snow and bitter cold in winter. Snowshoes are likely the best means for traveling here. Remote indeed!

Contenders for the title of most remote Natural Area must include the other 17 peatland Scientific and Natural Areas designated by state statute in 1991. All contain patterned peatland features. These peatlands are characterized by poor drainage and the presence of peat (an accumulation of partially decomposed organic matter found in water-saturated landscapes).

Minnesota's peatlands are exceptional in that, through millennia, they have developed distinct patterns over large areas. In the United States patterned peatlands are only found in Minnesota, Maine, Alaska, and to a very limited extent, Michigan, Wisconsin and New York.

Pine Creek Peatland's patterned features include large water tracks and spring fen channels. These features extend north into a much larger peatland in Canada and can be seen in the adjacent aerial photo of Pine Creek Peatland (in the foreground) and far into Canada, above white boundary line. Spring fen channels are only seen in a few sites statewide, including nearby Sprague Creek Peatland. The site is also known to contain a number of rare plants and animals.

There is much yet to be learned about these peatland sites. They offer a one-of-a-kind opportunity to visit some of the most interesting and remote landscapes in Minnesota. If you ever truly want to get away from it all, Pine Creek Peatland may be worth your consideration.



Notes from Site Stewards

Photo of e-Bird web page showing Hastings Hotspot species checklists

Site stewards monitor SNAs across Minnesota. Their observations provide valuable information to the SNA Program. Here are some interesting notes from reports:

  • Throughout the summer Alex Franzen, site steward at Hastings Sand Coulee SNA, has been working on bird checklists via e-Bird. You can check his progress at the Hastings hotspot.
  • Along with wildflower observations on June 6th Site Steward Robert Merrill replaced aging boundary signs at Shooting Star Prairie SNA.
  • Site steward Norma Malinowski visited Kawishiwi Pines SNA on July 31st. She noted numerous trees down or damaged from a storm that had swept the area on July 21st.

Thanks for all the work you do for SNAs stewards!



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).