SNA Nature Notes - Summer 2017

minnesota department of natural resources

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area


Showy lady's-slipper

Summer 2017

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area Program Survey 2017 Results

By Peggy Booth, SNA Program Supervisor

Over 160 people completed the questionnaire about the SNA program sent out in March. Here's a summary of those results.

Nearly everyone (95%) responded that the Program's highest priorities were to "protect natural features of statewide significance" and to "provide habitat for rare species." But, opinions about the priority to "provide places for nature-based recreation (including hunting and fishing where appropriate)" received the most mixed responses (38% very low-low priority and 31% high-very high priority).

When asked to rate the importance of 10 types of work we do, it seems that everyone thinks each area of work has priority. The highest rated were natural resource management (85% high-highest importance) and SNA acquisition (78% high-highest importance). Yet, little of the work we do was rated as a low priority. The lowest rated priorities were Prairie Tax Exemption (17% rated it low-lowest priority, yet 45% rated it high-highest priority) and Natural Area Registry (12% rated it low-lowest priority, yet 40% rated it high-highest priority)

People were asked whether we should be doing more or less of some kinds of activities and how we do our work. The kinds of activities with highest ratings were "ecological monitoring of land lands we administer" (72% do more-do much more) and "acquire or designate more SNAs and NPBs" [native prairie bank] (55% do more-do much more). Regarding how we work, people think we should do more partnerships. For example, "partnership with other conservation organizations" (71% do more-do much more),"working cooperatively with other divisions" (63% do more-do much more), and "using volunteers (such as site stewards)" (55% do more-do much more). Interestingly, the way people identified themselves in the survey correlated with their response to this (see charts below): 

  • partners in doing SNA program work rated highest "partnership projects with other conservation organizations" (100% do more-do much more),
  • volunteers for the SNA program rated highest "using volunteers" (78% do more-do much more), and
  • DNR staff rated highest "collaborating with other EWR [Division of Ecological and Water Resources] programs" (78% do more-do much more).

All the thoughtful responses to the open-ended questions were greatly appreciated. These will be used in the SNA program's strategic direction work in coming months. Here's a few examples of what you hope the system of natural areas will be in 50 years:

  • I hope the system of natural areas will be more connected, strengthening public education and awareness, providing habitat corridors, and protecting ecosystems that are here now. …In 50 years, it would be awesome to see more volunteers from all kinds of backgrounds, whether living in the country or living in a city, join in expanding and connecting these natural areas.
  • My biggest hope is that the SNA program is designed and managed to withstand the transient nature of political administrations and priorities. Having a long term vision for the management of these important places that insures that these environments persist is vital. If I were to be here in 50 years I would hope to see a healthy, functioning ecosystem that I would still recognize as the ecosystem that was protected in the first place.
  • I hope areas have been managed and protected carefully, and that other areas with rare species are protected as SNAs as they become available. More contiguous sites, including WMAs and State Parks, could be managed collectively and afford more protection for rare species.
  • I hope that every SNA will be protected, managed to nurture their special attributes, and anyone can learn why each one is special and what to see if you go there.
  • I hope there will be even more natural areas protected and monitored, as well as healthy and stable current sites. I hope there will be more opportunities for citizen science and community outreach where appropriate, and strong regulation of activities on particularly sensitive sites.
  • In 50 years, I hope these areas will be the gems of the MN natural resources system. But to me, they already are. First and foremost, I think the priority should be to preserve unique ecological areas, even if it sometimes means keeping people out of them (Pennington Bog, etc.) I think the current level of public outreach is about right. The lack of trails and amenities keeps them from being overrun, but they still attract the people who value what they are, and will volunteer to preserve them.
  • I hope that more of Minnesota's public is more knowledgeable about SNAs, and that visits to SNAs are significantly greater than they are now. I hope that work has been done to make SNAs resilient to climate change to the extent possible. I hope that the vegetation of SNAs are maintained in good condition. I hope that ways to protect certain SNAs that are important for insect diversity (e.g. prairie obligate butterflies) from pesticide drift are identified and implemented.
  • I hope they will be living laboratories of resilience that can demonstrate the effectiveness of our conservation strategies, and reservoirs of biodiversity for restoration, which hopefully there will have been a major cultural shift recognizing the importance of sustaining healthy functioning ecosystems and a sustained effort to reverse climate change.
  • In 50 years our system of natural areas will be: A coherent network of interlocking corridors and landscapes. Providing meaningful protection for rare and endangered plants and animals. Providing continuously updated data on changes in ecological health. Be part of a system to mitigate climate change impacts on animals and plants. Celebrated by the citizens of Minnesota and the envy of others states.

Site stewards Jim Smentana and Steve Poole

Opening the Door to Lost Valley Prairie SNA

By Shelby Bauer, SNA Web and Social Media Specialist

Lost Valley Prairie, a Natural Area on the southeast edge of the Twin Cities, protects seven bedrock outcrops. Their thin and rocky soils have protected them from development, allowing native plant communities to persist for thousands of years. Watching over this special place are Jim Smetana and Steve Poole (Jim is on the left, Steve on the right in the adjacent photo).

Jim and Steve have served as volunteer site stewards to Lost Valley Prairie for over twenty years. Jim having been a volunteer for over 25 years was joined by Steve in 2008. Collectively, they have removed acres of invasive species, tripled the species list and brought together a dedicated team of volunteers; effectively shaping the legacy of Lost Valley Prairie.

What makes Jim and Steve's stewardship of Lost Valley Prairie so successful are the ways they experience and share the prairie. Jim is more visual; connecting to the prairie through a more traditional way of understanding. Upon discovering an unknown species, Jim likes to view it in the context of the prairie; ten feet back, then three and directly above. In this way Jim creates a visual field guide of the prairie. In contrast Steve takes more of a scientific approach, connecting through the identification and naming of plants. Steve enjoys walking the prairie in search of new additions to the species list.

You can observe the strength derived from their combined ways of experiencing and sharing as you tour Lost Valley Prairie with the two men. Jim paints stories of the prairie's past as Steve interjects with supportive terminology. In this way they connect to a broader audience.

When asked to reflect on their time at Lost Valley Prairie and their hopes for the future both Jim and Steve spoke of volunteer efforts. They explained how they measure volunteer efforts in terms of a doorway sized plot of prairie. A volunteer, in an hour of work, "can easily improve the health of the prairie by one doorway; and pretty soon you have opened the door to the whole prairie." 

SNA Events

Summer is here, so take some time to get out and explore an SNA. Come along on one of these fun and educational hikes! A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar. Check back frequently as new events are added, including a number in the planning stages for the North Shore of Lake Superior!


Summer prairie sunset at Bluestem Prairie SNA
Summer prairie sunset at Bluestem Prairie SNA.

Prairie wildflowers at Verlyn Marth Memorial Prairie

Site Highlight: Verlyn Marth Memorial Prairie SNA

John F. Kennedy one said "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try." 

Verlyn Marth was a person who did try, and he did make a difference! A local known for his botany skills, he bought the land that would become the SNA after seeing the area being plowed. 

Over several years he documented his work to restore and enhance the remaining prairie here. He concluded preserving a native prairie was much more effective than trying to restore one.

The site, though small, is worth a visit. Look here to find spring-time blooming prairie smoke and heart-leaved alexanders (as seen in the adjacent photo). Or stop by in the fall to enjoy prairie grasses such as little bluestem, Indian grass and side-oats grama. 

Verlyn Marth Memorial Prairie SNA is a lasting legacy thanks to the power of one person's drive to make a difference. 

Notes from Site Stewards

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

  • On March 31, Stephanie Gandrud picked up some trash and noted wildlife as she became more familiar with River Warren Outcrops SNA. She started stewardship of this relatively new SNA in January.
  • On an April 29 visit, site steward Jerry Zimny worked on repairing tears in the nylon exclosures to keep deer, porcupine and other animals from disturbing rare hemlock trees at Hemlock Ravine SNA.

High water along Mississippi River at Clear Lake SNA
High water along Mississippi River at Clear Lake SNA.

  • Clear Lake SNA site steward Arne Myrabo noted the Mississippi River was running pretty high, as seen in the adjacent photo he took. On this May 25 visit, he also noted dragonflies and damselflies were starting to "pop".
  • And, we wish Don Goodell the best as he retires as steward at Butterwort Cliffs SNA. Thanks Don, for 10 years of stewardship at this beautiful site along Lake Superior's North Shore.


Thanks for all the work you do for SNAs stewards!

Nature Notes is the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas quarterly 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 directly 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).