SNA Nature Notes - Winter 2016

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas header

Winter 2016

From Small Town to Big-Time Biodiversity: Dion Turgeon

Photo of Dion Turgeon with his dog Tika.

By Kristi Loobeek, SNA Web and Social Media Specialist

While every plant is interesting in its own way, it's only when there is variety that uniqueness can be appreciated. Dion Turgeon, SNA Program Wildlife Technician and ruffed grouse tamer (stay tuned for that a bit later), is in the business of making sure there is enough biodiversity to go around.

A Minnesota native, Dion is from the small town of Hallock in the northwestern corner of the state. Growing up, he was an avid hunter and fisherman. He explained, "I spent a majority of my summers down [on the Red River] either in a boat or fishing from the shore. When fall came around I enjoyed spending time hunting waterfowl and ruffed grouse on the many Wildlife Management Areas the area had to offer."

Dion's educational and professional journeys reflect his childhood experiences. "Ever since I was knee-high-to-a-grasshopper I knew I wanted to work outside. […] The idea of getting to work with the animals and ecosystems where I love to play seemed like a no-brainer." He followed this passion for the outdoors to the University of Minnesota, Crookston and got his Bachelor's Degree in Natural Resource Management. He started his career with the DNR at the Karlstad Wildlife Office as a laborer in 2004 and spent four years learning the ropes.

In 2008, Dion moved to the SNA Program as a Crew Leader and Wildlife Technician out of St. Paul. He noted, "It was there that I learned the most about native landscapes and their role in the ecosystem." While he learned a lot in the capital, when an SNA position opened up in Fergus Falls, Dion went back to his roots. "Being from a small town, I jumped at the chance to move to a place a little more rural. I started with SNA in Fergus Falls in the summer of 2008 and have been here since."

Dion's current position includes identifying and implementing management work on many public and private lands. "My position exists to maintain the biodiversity and high quality of the lands we manage." He continued, "Being able to work on these sites where the natural environments are still intact is an amazing feeling. Some days I try to imagine what it would have looked like before we came and settled the land."

One of Dion's favorite parts of his job is prescribing fire. "Keeping fire on the landscape puts a smile on my face. There is nothing better than getting to burn a prairie and watch it come back throughout the summer. The flowers, grasses, insects and animals really respond well."

Another fun perk of the job is interacting with wildlife. He described how last year, while putting up signs at a newly acquired SNA, "About halfway through the day we ran into a very friendly ruffed grouse." He continued, "When it was time for us to leave he flew up and landed on my lap as I sat on the tailgate of the truck drinking some water." The grouse stayed with the workers for a while and then proceeded to jump in the truck with them. "We let him out and as we drove away and he ran alongside the truck for a few hundred yards before he cut off into the woods." Not many people can say they've had a similar experience.

Looking to the future with his position and the SNA program as a whole, Dion admits that there will be some challenges. "One is the ongoing threat of invasive species and the other is the rate that new technology is changing agriculture." But a little strife doesn't daunt him, "Overall I would say there are many struggles we face, but we need to keep doing our best at identifying issues and working together to solve them. The world will be ever-changing we just need to keep up."



Reviving a Jack Pine Woodland

Photo of downed jack pine after July 2, 2012 storm.

By Kelly Randall, SNA Outreach Coordinator

On July 2, 2012, a strong storm with winds reported at 80 miles per hour swept through the mature jack pine woodland at La Salle Lake Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). Nearly all mature jack pine were lost. See adjacent photo.

The question became ‘what to do?’ The SNA was created in part to protect this particular jack pine woodland, classified as FDc24a, a rare native community type. Few old jack pine stands of this type remaining in Minnesota. Should the area be left alone? Should intensive management be considered? What would you do to try to bring back a jack pine woodland?

Photo of jack pine seedling with bud cap.

Resource managers decided to try management techniques that would mimic a natural disturbance that often occurs after a big windstorm—wildfire, to hasten natural jack pine regeneration. The techniques included logging and hand spreading jack pine seed harvested from the downed trees. In the four years following the blowdown numerous new jack pine have been sprouting.

As of 2015, the jack pine regeneration remained within Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Forestry recommendations of between 250 to 500 seedlings per acre. Tellingly though, an evaluation in late April of 2016 showed these tender new trees make for good deer food. Between 50-75% of the jack pine seedlings had browse damage. A follow-up in June revealed a high percentage of browsed seedlings recovered. But, repeated browsing over a number of years could likely result in unacceptable loss of the young pines.

Now a five-year study will continue an adaptive management approach to monitoring jack pine growth and introduce browse protection. Yearly monitoring has already begun. Seedling protection may include bud capping as shown above, tree cages, deer repellent spray or deer exclosures (tall fences to keep deer out).

Photo of DNR staff bud capping jack pine seedlings.

DNR staff implemented the first protection measures in late October of this year. Bud capping was the primary method of seedling protection, as seen in the adjacent photo. It is fast, can be done to a large number of trees and doesn't cost much. About 100 seedlings had tree cages installed to provide additional protection. Caging may be repeated in years to come if bud capping fails to provide enough protection.

Still, no one is certain if the future conditions will favor the return of the jack pine woodland that was once here. What is certain is the windstorm has offered an opportunity for resource managers to test management techniques and monitor the results.



New Web Pages for SNA Sites

Photo of downed jack pine after July 2, 2012 storm.

In the 2016 Summer newsletter we mentioned the significant updates made to some Scientific and Natural Area web pages, including updates to pages about the Scientific and Natural Area Program and the page on things to do and rules.

To complete improvements we recently released new versions of web pages for all SNA sites. That's over 160 web pages! You can get at them from this map or this list.

Changes include interactive photos (captions will come soon), site highlights with specific allowed uses, a larger map with toggle for satellite view and notes on parking with a link to Google maps for getting directions from your location. We encourage you to let us know what you think about these updates!

Keep an eye on these pages in 2017 too. Most site's "about" section will be completely rewritten and edited with a goal of developing compelling stories on what makes each site special.



SNA Events

Photo of brush piles

From explorations under the full moon to enhancing native prairie habitat, there is a natural area worth visiting this winter. Get out on one for a fun events below. A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar.



Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Burn Brush, Invasive Removal


Sugarloaf Point SNA

Under the Moon, Ice and Snow at Sugarloaf


Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Burn Brush, Invasive Removal


Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Volunteer Stewardship Project: Burn Brush, Invasive Removal




Site Highlight: Lake Alexander Woods

By Megan Zeiher, SNA Program Web and Social Media Specialist

Photo of

A favorite Natural Area if you are looking for large expanses of forests and lakes, Lake Alexander Woods offers a premier example the “lake country” of Central Minnesota. The vast variety of habitats within this Natural Area keep visitors wide-eyed and curious.

You’ll find acres of wetlands of all types, from ponds to swamps, thanks to the kettle and knob topography that was formed by melting glacial ice blocks. Upland forests are also abundant. On a visit to this site, you’ll likely travel through the mesic oak and aspen-birch forests. Try to spot red oak, paper birch, big-toothed aspen and quaking aspen. In the understory, ironwood, chokecherry, beaked hazelnut and pagoda dogwood can also be seen. Look for scattered white and red pines, especially those that host bald eagles along the Lake Alexander shoreline. Or keep any eye out for trumpeter swans on the more secluded lakes of the site.

Wildflowers offer the botany enthusiast a treat throughout the growing season. Common wetland wildflowers are abundant such as northern blue flag, marsh marigold and white waterlilies. Springtime in the upland forests bring round-lobed hepatica, large-flowered bellwort, wood anemone and Canada mayflower. The upshot? Get out there to see what you can find in bloom.

Winter brings a new appreciation to Minnesota’s beloved waters and forests. Exploring this Natural Area and others across the state in this season can be a serene and otherworldly experience. Plus, winter is not the off season for birders! Tucking this birding list in your pocket can make for a fun excursion. Bring your snowshoes or skis (and a thermos of something warm) for an authentic Minnesota outing.



Notes from Site Stewards

Photo of the creek and limestone outcrops in Falls Creek SNA

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

  • Angela Anderson has been a site steward with the SNA Program since the fall of 2012. Sites available at the time were far from her home, but she graciously took on stewardship of a site that required a long drive to get to. So, recently when Falls Creek SNA (shown in adjacent photo) needed a new steward Angela gladly transferred to be closer to home. We look forward to seeing reports from her in this new role. And, if anyone in west-central Minnesota is looking for a volunteer opportunity, applications are open for stewardship at Angela's former site, Langhei Prairie SNA.
  • On October 1 Donald Tessmer made his first visit as new steward at Sandpiper Prairie SNA. He checked out parking spots and boundary signs as well as took photos to begin getting familiar with the site. Donald comes with good credentials; he had spent much of the summer working with SNA Naturalist, Andrea Wakely on a monarch larvae monitoring project at Bluestem Prairie SNA.
  • Gary Gustafson is one of only a few stewards with responsibilities at multiple SNAs. On October 6 he checked signs and noted no apparent issues at either Clinton Prairie SNA or Yellow Bank Hills SNA.

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).