SNA Nature Notes - Spring 2017

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Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas

Nature Notes


Spring 2017

Please take this survey

By Peggy Booth, SNA Program Supervisor

Photo of site stewards collecting seed

Are you interested in influencing the future of Minnesota’s natural areas? Now is the time to share your ideas by taking the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area Program Survey 2017.  Please complete the survey by Wednesday, March 29th. It will take 10-20 minutes to complete depending on how many ideas you share.

We’ll compile the results in the coming weeks. Then we'll use what we learn from you to help develop recommendations on the strategic direction of the program. Look for the results in coming issues of Nature Notes and on Facebook.

As you may know the Scientific and Natural Area Program involves a lot more than our invaluable state natural areas. We do prairie stewardship work, including acquiring and managing Native Prairie Bank conservation easements. We provide incentives to keep prairie through Prairie Tax Exemption.  We have a voluntary Natural Area Registry. Many types of work are needed to protect and manage our lands. This survey asks about the full range of our work. You may want to reference this diagram of the scope of SNA Program work as you complete the survey.

Thanks very much. We greatly appreciate your time in doing the survey and sharing what’s important to you.



Bee-watching across Minnesota

Photo of site stewards collecting seed

By Crystal Boyd, DNR Bee Researcher

Are you eager to feel gentle spring breezes, smell earthy moist soil, and hear warbling morning birdsongs?

I love the changes that we experience as Minnesota transitions from winter to spring. I’m also looking forward to a more unusual change: seeing the first native bee of the season.

As an entomologist with the Minnesota Biological Survey, I’ve been working to update the Minnesota State Species List of Bees. The first state species list was published in 1919, but its records were very incomplete. The author, Frederic Washburn, reported only 66 bee species in Minnesota. Now, almost a century later, my updated state species list is posted on the DNR’s pollinator webpage. Minnesota has at least 418 species of native bees!

The Scientific and Natural Areas program has been critical for supporting my research. My crew and I visited 36 sites every three weeks over the past two years, many of which were SNAs. To put it simply, the best habitats remaining in each county are often protected as SNAs.

For example, my search for high-quality habitat has lead me and my crew to SNAs in almost all corners of the state. In northwestern Minnesota, we conducted research in a clearing that was recently made to provide elk habitat for Two Rivers Aspen Parklands SNA (Roseau County). In western Minnesota, we searched for bees and flushed a duck off its nest at Clinton Prairie SNA (Big Stone County). In southern Minnesota, we swung nets almost along the Iowa border at tiny Osmundson Prairie SNA (Faribault County). These places each provided unique and beautiful habitats where we could study bees.

This summer, my research will expand to the Eastern Broadleaf Forest. Preliminary visits have already included SNAs, such as St. Croix Savanna SNA (Washington County). This site features grasslands and woodlands, which provided a perfect backdrop for this video from the Minnesota Lottery about my bee research.

One of our most interesting finds was at Sedan Brook Prairie SNA (Stearns County). In 2015, we found an oil-collecting bee from the genus Macropis. This bee has a restricted diet that specializes on flowers of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata), which were present at the SNA. Female bees in the genus Macropis collect oils from these flowers to combine with pollen as food for their young. Photo above shows Crytal Boyd at Sedan Brook Prairie.

On the other hand, bumble bees (Bombus sp.) have a more generalized diet. They will collect pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flowers. It was especially fascinating to watch large female bumble bees pushing their long tongues into flowers of white wild indigo (Baptisia alba) at Oronoco Prairie SNA.

I want to thank the SNA program for providing such treasured places to conduct bee research. I’d also like to thank SNA supporters and volunteers who continue to protect these amazing places. Thank you—and I hope we meet in the field this spring.

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).



What makes a good SNA site steward?

Photo of site stewards collecting seed

By Kelly Randall, SNA Outreach Coordinator

You may want to reference this document for one of the questions


I received an email a while ago asking what I thought made a good site steward. It made me pause. Currently more than 160 volunteer stewards assist SNA staff with monitoring and management tasks on natural areas statewide. We have a wide variety SNAs with varying needs and stewards with a wide variety of interests.

So what do we expect of a steward? There are two minimum expectations. One is regular quarterly observations (monthly for some sites). More frequent observations may occur in the growing season or as requested, such as before and after a prescribed burn. Regular observations range from phenology (studying seasonal natural phenomena, especially plant and animal life cycles), management work, documenting invasive species, inspecting parking areas, signs and fencing, or noting problems or natural disturbances. The second half of the equation is reporting observations to SNA staff. This is done through a downloadable/printable form.

We also expect a new steward to complete basic online training for field work. Modules focus on safety topics such as sun protection, poisonous and hazardous plants, and tick-borne illness. Further training is recommended or required for specific tasks. Occasional opportunities occur for natural resource training and informal gatherings too. For example, a group of stewards is shown collecting seed at Lost Valley Prairie SNA in the above photo.

A steward’s interests dictate the level of involvement beyond a site’s basic needs. Some stewards are currently involved in these management tasks:


  • Collecting/planting seed for site restorations.
  • Controlling invasive species (this may require training to apply pesticides).
  • Clearing brush or trees (this requires brush saw and/or chainsaw training).
  • Monitoring rare plants.
  • Removing trash or cleaning up dumps.
  • Installing/repairing boundary, interpretive and entrance signs.
  • Taking photos or videos for use in outreach efforts and other needs.
  • Hosting or assisting with volunteer stewardship projects or educational events.


The goal is stewards will become highly familiar with their site and its management needs. Communications with SNA staff is important in learning about the site and its needs. Staff try to meet on site with stewards when possible, but the position requires a steward be fairly independent.  On rare occasions, multiple stewards have been enrolled where there is a need. Capacity for more stewards is very limited.

So my answer? Good stewards are those that are able to match up their interests with the needs at a particular site. I think we are lucky to have many stewards who have found that niche.



SNA Events

Photo of Swedes Forest outcrops and oaks.

Spring is a great time to get out and enjoy the wildflowers, birds and rhythms of life in a natural setting. Come along on one of these fun and educational hikes! A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar.

Ready to dive in deeper? If so, mark Saturday, June 17 on your calendar for a BioBlitz at Swedes Forest SNA! It promises to be a fun day identifying plant and animals among the rock outcrops (see adjacent photo) at this site in the Minnesota River valley. Keep an eye on event details as they are finalized.



Sugarloaf Point SNA

Sugarloaf Cove-Stories in Stones


Wolsfeld Woods SNA

Spring Warbler Walk


Des Moines River SNA

Prairie Wildflower Walk


Lutsen SNA

Fern Finding Hike




Site Highlight: Iona's Beach SNA

By Keri Kent, Northeast Region SNA Naturalist and AmberBeth VanNingen, Northeast Region SNA Specialist

Photo of ice covered shrubs at Iona's Beach SNA

Located halfway between the grand waterfalls of Gooseberry Falls State Park and the history of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, sits a small site with wonders all its own.

Iona’s Beach SNA is an 11-acre natural area 16 miles northeast of Two Harbors. This SNA is one of a handful of sites designated primarily for its unique geologic features. Here, pink rhyolite and felsite rock make up nearly the entirety of a shingled cobble beach. The rhyolite originates from the long shore cliff just north of the SNA, and a granite headland to the south generally stops the progression. Iona’s Beach celebrates the interface between Lake Superior and the land. The rhyolite shingles are rounded and tossed upon the beach by wave action. The stones falling back down the beach ridge create musical tones unique to Iona’s Beach.

As freezing temperatures hold on through late winter, look for interesting ice formations along the shore (see adjacent photo!). After the arrival of spring, colorful wildflowers such as harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) and common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) can be found among the cliffs. Beach pea (Lathyrus maritimus) will bloom in a long line along the backside of the beach. Popular activities at the SNA include bird and wildlife watching, hiking, photography, swimming (no lifeguard on duty), and fishing from shore. The Gitchi-Gami State Trail runs along the western edge of the site.

Iona’s Beach SNA is located 3.1 miles north of Gooseberry Falls State Park on MN Hwy 61. Park in the Twin Points water access to the east (lakeside). Follow the signs and hike north on a short trail into site. The nearest facilities are at the Twin Points water access site. Note that this parking lot is not plowed. Iona’s Beach was named after Iona Lind, owner of the Twin Points Resort that was formerly on the site of the current parking lot.


Notes from Site Stewards

Photo of large tree damaged at Uncas Dunes SNA

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

  • Lutsen SNA site steward Elger Lorenzsonn, on a January 2 visit, noted the interpretive sign on west end is aging and in need of replacement. We are happy to report a newly redesigned sign, including a map of the site, is nearing completion and will be sent out for fabrication in the next few months.
  • We welcome a new steward at Mound Prairie SNA, Joseph Alexander. On March 4 Joseph explored the north unit of the site where the largest "mound" is and removed garbage.
  • On March 7 a powerful storm went through Uncas Dunes SNA. Site steward Brett Whaley toured the damage afterward and sent some photos (see adjacent photo) of the aftermath. On another note, Brett will be hosting a volunteer stewardship project June 10 from 10AM to 2PM to remove invasive species. You should join him!

One more thing. If you haven't seen it yet you gotta tune into this wonderful story told by Iron Springs Bog SNA site steward Angela Shogren. Lakeland Public Television produced this video as part of their Common Ground series. In it Angela talks about her photography, the importance of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas, and the role of a site steward.

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).