SNA Nature Notes - Fall 2019

minnesota department of natural resources

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area


Showy lady's-slipper

Fall 2019

First Segment of the Journey


Third in a 50th anniversary story series highlighting the past supervisors of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.

Bob Djupstrom (SNA Program Supervisor 1981-2006)


My relationship with the Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) Program started in 1977, not as the Supervisor but as an advisor, collaborator, and advocate for the existing SNA Program. At the time I was working as the Supervisor of Long-Range Planning in the Office of Planning in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).


It was about that time that a new DNR Commissioner, Bill Nye, was appointed by then Governor Perpich. Commissioner Nye came from Ohio, where as DNR Commissioner he had established a “Natural Heritage Program.” He was approached by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to establish a similar program here, with the purpose of collecting and managing information about plant communities and nongame animals. This information could then be used to propose new scientific and natural areas.


On the basis of my ecological background and interests, I was asked if I would like to be the DNR liaison to the Heritage Program being considered. I quickly accepted. TNC would put up half the funding if the DNR would put up the balance. Not having excess funds available to initiate and implement such a Program, the DNR turned to the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources or LCMR (now the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources or LCCMR) for consideration.


In that capacity, I worked closely with Mark Heitlinger of TNC, as well as Jerry Jensen, the SNA Supervisor at the time, to develop a proposal for LCMR. As Mark and I bounced around ideas, we also collaborated with the SNA Program. The new Heritage Program was to be a TNC program, housed in DNR but separate from the SNA Program, with myself as the go-between.

Bob Djupstrom standing in Lake Superior

Former Scientific and Natural Areas supervisor, Bob Djupstrom on the shore of Lake Superior at Cascade State Park. Photo courtesy of Bob Djupstrom.


LCMR was initially skeptical. They questioned what the State of Minnesota would get in return for funding a non-state, non-profit program.


It needs to be noted that at this time the LCMR had been expressing serious concerns about acquiring new lands as SNAs. They perceived a lack of quality control when it came to considering what qualified as an SNA.  Up until this point in time, lands nominated to be pursued for SNA acquisition were generated by recommendations from the Commissioner’s Advisory Committee (CAC) on SNAs. It was comprised of scientific members of the academic community in Minnesota as well as individuals interested and knowledgeable about natural areas.


To help allay these concerns, the LCMR proposal was to have the new Heritage Program do a biological assessment and inventory of some thirty plus existing and proposed SNAs, to determine if they qualified. LCMR accepted the proposal and provided the matching funds. The TNC “Heritage” Program was now to be funded for 18-months.


The next DNR step was to hire a Heritage Program Coordinator. We were fortunate to already have a highly qualified candidate, Barbara Coffin, a plant ecologist working in the DNR. She was hired and in turn hired the Heritage Program staff and they were off!


As the 18-month project deadline was approaching, DNR needed to find funds to keep the Heritage Program going. TNC was no longer able to provide funding. Again, working within DNR, a decision was made to take 50% of the current SNA Program budget to continue the program and to make the Heritage Program Coordinator a classified DNR employee.


Not long after this move, Jerry Jensen, the SNA Supervisor at the time, left the DNR. The SNA Program was still in the Division of Parks and the new Heritage Program was permanently assigned to the Section of Wildlife.  Given the vacancy in the SNA Program, the Program was moved to Wildlife as well, to ensure seamless coordination and collaboration. The SNA Program however, was unable to consider hiring a new supervisor due to insufficient funds. The position sat vacant, as I recall, for nine months. Near the end of those nine months, I approached Roger Holmes, then Section Chief of Wildlife, to let him know I was interested in the Supervisor’s position. Roger was very supportive and assisted in my doing a lateral, downgrading to the SNA position.  


I began the start of my 25-year tenure in the SNA Program in 1981. As I recall, there was not much in the budget at that time, no management staff and no general fund money to do much of anything. The SNA Program did however, share one quarter of an LCMR funded position to write management plans for existing SNAs. The balance of the position was charged with writing plans for state parks. LCMR was underwriting the costs to develop management plans for all units of the outdoor recreation system under DNR’s administration.

To be continued...


“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.”

Charles Dickens – The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby


Sometimes Succession is Not so Easy


Fifth in a 50th anniversary story series highlighting natural features preserved on Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.

Alaina Berger, Minnesota Biological Survey


Succession – Have you ever said to yourself that this place seems different from when you were a child? You remember that large old gnarly oak tree with its spreading canopy, and now that it has been gone awhile after the big windstorm, a huge thicket of shrubs has taken its place. This change is called succession and can be seen by keen observers as the changes in presence and relative abundance of plant species over time. In last Spring’s 2019 Nature Notes, the ways that plants and other organisms evolve over long periods of time to emerge as a Native Plant Community (NPC) is described. Successional change within NPCs is studied by ecologists by examining data such as historic pollen and tree survey data and plant survey work conducted by the Minnesota Biological Survey. Through painstaking analysis, a model of how plant communities function given various types of natural disturbance is developed. Nothing is static even though we may experience natural places like a snapshot in time.

Left: small pine tree. Right: growing young pine tree.

Left: Capped jack pine seedling at La Salle Lake SNA. Capping is meant to reduce deer browsing. Photo by Tyler Janke. Right: Jack pine regeneration at Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall.


Climate change and human impacts – Landscape change due to human influence and climate change significantly alter succession.  Wildfires are now largely controlled and development of land creates novel site conditions, often favoring invasive species. The frequency of this change has been increasing and putting plant communities on unique trajectories. The Scientific and Natural Areas Program protects unique and intact plant communities in the face of these threats. It is important to set aside the land that support Native Plant Communities and to maintain the processes that shape the communities. Sustaining the functional integrity of the Native Plant Communities within Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) depends on understanding the successional processes at play as well as the composition and structure of the communities.


Complex interactions  – It is tempting to see succession as a single, closed loop that endlessly cycles. Realistically many interacting factors cause the successional path of a plant community to diverge. The scale and intensity of disturbances can leave legacy features that influence the future composition of a community. At a small scale, it is likely that local site conditions will filter out plants that will not succeed based on moisture and nutrients available. In some cases the plants themselves change the site, creating shade or dropping leaf litter to build soil nutrients. Species adapted to fire use a pulse of nutrients and thrive in open conditions. Wildfire can be catastrophic– reaching the tree canopy and opening large areas. When wildfires remain at the ground layer, only subcanopy vegetation is impacted. Wildfire on both levels tends to burn the surface of the soil and duff layers, releasing nutrients and creating mineral seedbeds for light loving species. In contrast, wind events leave the ground vegetation intact. Factors driving succession are complex but often organized by:  site condition as influenced by topography and past disturbances, species availability either through seed or established seedlings, and species competitiveness at acquiring light, moisture, nutrients, and resisting animal herbivory.

Firefighter in front of prescribed burn in a small forest.

Prescribed burns mimic wildfire conditions needed by fire dependent plant communities. Photo by John Gregor. ©ColdSnap Photography.


Challenges to sustaining ecosystem processes – In our modern time of fire suppression, maintaining processes typical for fire dependent SNAs can be challenging when the momentum of the plant community is towards shade loving and fire resistant species. For example, in the La Salle Lake Scientific and Natural Area, a windstorm in 2012 blew down mature jack pine within this Central Rich Dry Pine Woodland Community. The mature successional stage representing this community is very rare on the landscape as surface fires needed to maintain seedbed and light conditions are no longer occurring on a regular interval. In this community, surface fires occurred on about a 30-year rotation, keeping quaking aspen, and shrub species from forming dense colonies, thus maintaining an open woodland canopy. These open woodlands historically supported prairie grasses such as big and little bluestem that coexisted with jack pine, the dominant fire tolerant tree. The windstorm of 2012 favored hazel and aspen making it difficult for the woodland to reset to an early successional stage. Work to reintroduce young jack pine as a dominant tree means recreating the open seedbed conditions that fire once created.  

Blown down pine trees

Blow down area at La Salle Lake SNA, east of LaSalle Creek. Photo by Kelly Randall.


What we can do to keep succeeding – There is never time to take a break when protecting natural features with exceptional scientific or educational value. Natural disturbance based techniques that consider the frequency and intensity of historic natural disturbance were used at La Salle Lake SNA. They were designed to mimic conditions created by wildfire—removing dead trees, opening the canopy while leaving remaining mature trees to serve as seed sources. In addition, planting seedlings was deemed necessary to encourage the successful regeneration of jack pine. Removing invasives and encroaching shrubs will be critical to reducing competition and mimics the burning of undergrowth. If these techniques are successful, the functional processes will be intact and the native plant community will thrive.


Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA map showing location

Site Highlight: Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA


Tyler Janke, SNA Region 1 Specialist


The Badoura Jack Pine Woodland Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) is located in north-central Minnesota, approximately 20 miles southeast of Park Rapids.  This 908 acre SNA was acquired in 2014 and is open to the public for nature observation, education and research activities.  Additionally, hunting, trapping and berry picking are allowed at the site.   


This SNA supports one of the largest remaining blocks of native jack pine woodland in the region.  Although once widespread and common, jack pine woodlands in this area have precipitously declined over the past few decades as a result of clearing for agriculture and timber harvest followed by conversion to pine plantations.  Today, jack pine woodlands larger than 40 acres are considered uncommon, and stands larger than 100 acres are considered rare. 


The Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA consists of about 390 acres of mature jack pine – yarrow woodland (approx. 60 years old), 440 acres of young jack pine woodland, and roughly 80 acres of red pine plantation.  This native plant community (classified as FDc23a) is listed as critically imperiled in Minnesota, and globally rare. The jack pine woodlands in this region are unique, characterized by a race of jack pine with “open cones” and ground layer vegetation comprised of a mix of prairie and northern forest species.  Generally, jack pine cones are tightly sealed with resin until heat from fires opens the “serotinous” cones and releases the seeds.  However, the jack pine trees found in this SNA have adapted to more frequent, but less intense fires, and will often open their cones to release seeds on hot summer days.  This composition appears to be a legacy of patterns of vegetation present several thousand years ago when prairie covered a substantial part of north-central Minnesota.  It’s not uncommon to see species more typical of prairies, like hoary puccoon, rough blazing star and prairie phlox growing side by side with northern forest plants such as low bush blueberry, stemless lady’s slipper and tessellated rattlesnake plantain.  Additionally, several populations of Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii), a state special concern species, occur at the site. 

Pine trees against a sunset

Mature jack pines at Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall.


Prior to DNR purchase as an SNA, the land was owned by the Potlatch Corporation and managed for commercial timber production.  The young woodland areas were stands logged between 2007 and 2012.  Although recently harvested, their native ground layer vegetation remains intact, and jack pine is successfully re-establishing.  The mature woodland areas on the site today date to 1959, when an intense wildfire burned nearly all of what became the SNA.  The 1959 fire killed the majority of woodland on the site, but also provided optimum conditions for jack pine seeds to germinate and seedlings to grow.  This reliance on fire for maintenance and self-renewal showcases how the woodlands at the SNA are fire-dependent systems. 


Management of the site today is largely focused on:

  • Maintaining the species composition and structure of the jack pine woodlands.
  • Supporting stable populations of rare species and other species in conservation need (SGCN).
  • Supporting research and learning opportunities related to the ecological management of jack pine dominated communities.
  • SNA managers are also actively working on prescribed fire plans with the goal of reintroducing low intensity surface fire to the site.

SNA Events


Seasons change yet again! There are still plenty of opportunities on the SNA Events Calendar to get out and enjoy some wonderful fall colors. There are volunteering events for National Public Lands Day, seed collections, educational events, hikes and more. Here is a quick highlight of some of the events coming up, check the website for a more complete list.

DNR Naturalist leading a hike


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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 recent reports.

Orange lilies

Prairie lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) at Kasota Prairie SNA. Photo courtesy of Denise Friesen and Steve Gahm.

  • On June 30th, site stewards Denise Friesen and Steve Gahm visited Kasota Prairie SNA and enjoyed the summer blooms. In a note to the site managers, they said “The Prairie thanks you for the burns and other work! We were at the prairie this past weekend and were amazed at the amount of prairie lilies. I counted about 30 blooms and buds. One plant had 5 blooms on it.”
  • Site steward George Minerich has seen many visitors enjoying Iona’s Beach SNA on the North Shore of Lake Superior this summer. On July 22nd, he noticed that some visitors were picking up trash they found on beach. The beach was very busy on August 31st, with around 37 visitors, including many families and 6 kayaks on the big lake.
  • Gina Cherny, the new site steward of King’s and Queen’s Bluff SNA, led the first of her monthly interpretive hikes at the SNA on August 10th. Nine people attended the hike out to King’s Bluff to enjoy native wildflowers, bluff prairies, and spectacular views of Queens Bluff and the river valley beyond.
  • On September 8th, 16 students from the North Dakota State University Natural Resources Management Club surveyed transects along the newest addition at Felton Prairie SNA, the Dakota Skipper unit. The club became the official site stewards of the Dakota Skipper unit this summer, and are working with SNA staff to do an invasive species mapping project using reporting tools such as iNaturalist and EDDMapS.

Thanks for all the work you do, SNA stewards!

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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).