SNA Nature Notes - Special Issue!

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Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area


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SPECIAL ISSUE: November 2019

Meet the New SNA Program Supervisor!


SNA Web and Social Media Specialist, David Minor, and SNA Outreach Coordinator, Kelly Randall, sat down with Molly Roske, the new Scientific and Natural Areas Program supervisor, to learn more about her and the future of the Program.

David Minor, SNA Web and Social Media Specialist


It is the 50th anniversary of Scientific and Natural Areas. We have shared some stories from the past supervisors of the program. Now, we welcome a new SNA Supervisor.


“I feel very fortunate supporting the team that does the work of taking care of these areas,” said Molly Roske, the new Scientific and Natural Areas Supervisor. “I think we have an incredible staff in our program. Everyone is knowledgeable, professional and seems to be a really good communicator. I think that will carry us far.”


 When asked what interests her about the Scientific and Natural Areas Program, she responded with a smile, “What is not interesting about the SNA Program?”


“They are kind of these hidden gems. I was in a meeting the other day where they were referred to as the ‘crowning jewels of Minnesota lands.’ I think that is really true.”


“I think that we have a long way to go before most Minnesotans know that we have this here,” she continued. “It’s important that Minnesotans start hearing about them, because otherwise what would happen to these lands in another hundred years?”


Roske first discovered SNAs by stumbling across them on a map. While planning a trip, she came across Wisconsin’s natural areas, she then checked to see if Minnesota had any areas like this. “I just thought ‘Oh, what’s that? That sounds cool’ and then realized that I had been to a number of them and not even realized it.”


Molly Roske in the forest

Molly Roske, the Scientific and Natural Areas Supervisor, at a volunteer event pulling buckthorn at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Photo by David Minor.


Roske remembered visiting sites in the Collegeville area where she grew up. “I definitely remember having been to Partch Woods SNA, and thinking later, ‘Why didn’t we use those more when I was a student?’ We went out into the Saint John’s Arboretum a lot, but never went out to an SNA as a class, which I think is a missed opportunity.”


Roske graduated from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in central Minnesota with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in Spanish. She then served for three years with the Peace Corps in Guatemala. “I was working with an indigenous mayor’s council and a small nature preserve and environmental education center (Sendero Ecológico El Aprisco) that was within a 21,000 hectare communal forest. That was a really cool experience, working with these Maya K’iche’ folks that still have a really strong land stewardship ethic. Just culturally and in terms of the Maya cosmovision, care of nature around them is of the utmost importance. That was very formative for me.”


Back in the U.S., Roske earned a Master’s degree in Forest Ecology from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She did her work in Panama on riparian (riverbank area) forest buffers, studying the effects of forestation and deforestation on river health. She worked for a time at UMN’s Cloquet Forestry Center, then at Colorado State University in Fort Collins working on adaptive silviculture for climate change. While there, Roske received a call from a conservation nonprofit in Ecuador she had volunteered with, Fundación Cordillera Tropical. They asked her to apply to be the executive director. She got the job and served in that position for over two years working on conservation in the Andes at the headwaters of the Amazon, until returning to Minnesota to begin her role with the Scientific and Natural Areas Program in August 2019. “It was time to come back to Minnesota.”


“I think I come into my role as a support for the SNA Program with a focus on effective protection, on biodiversity, on what we are going to do to further conservation in the face of climate change pressures.”


“There have been U.N. reports on the biodiversity crisis going on right now in our world,” Roske said. “It’s not just that climate change is an ever growing threat. It’s that all these other factors are happening at the same time, and they’re influencing each other. We are losing biodiversity at the greatest rate ever observed on the planet. That doesn’t just matter in places like the Amazon or Andes. That matters in places like Minnesota. I feel like we have a tremendous leg-up on the rest of the world because we already have protections in place, like the Scientific and Natural Area designation, the highest class of protection in the state. I think that is very important. I also think it is important for Minnesotans to wake up and realize, when the U.N. comes out with a report saying we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, they aren’t just talking about the Amazon, the Congo, Indonesia. They are talking about everywhere.”


Roske indicated wanting to build more partnerships in managing natural areas. She mentioned one partnership in particular that she would like to foster more. “I really would like to more directly involve tribal groups,” Roske said. “We work with the Biological Survey to identify areas of biodiversity significance and look for gaps of what is not protected.” She noted that right now, the gaps include areas not protected by a government agency or a partner organization. “We don’t really factor in other kinds of protection. For instance, land under the ownership and management of tribal governments.”


Roske looking out across Lake Superior

“It’s important for us to feel what it feels like to be on these lands. Because until and unless we do so, how can we truly and adequately advocate for them?” Molly Roske, Scientific and Natural Areas supervisor, at Sugarloaf Point SNA. Photo by David Minor.


 “We as a Program take our goal seriously, making decisions about what lands to protect and how best to protect them. We don’t make those decisions lightly. It’s our job to build trust with folks in Minnesota that might have different ideas about how to protect things. We have a bunch of bright minds on this problem, and I feel confident the Program will continue to do a tremendous job protecting these lands.”

The First SNA Program Supervisor


SNA Web and Social Media Specialist, David Minor, and SNA Outreach Coordinator, Kelly Randall, sat down with Gerald (Jerry) Jensen, the first Scientific and Natural Areas Program supervisor (1972 – 1980), to learn more about the beginning of the Program.

David Minor, SNA Web and Social Media Specialist


The State Legislature authorized Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) in 1969, and for the first few years, there was no program or staff. The first supervisor and program foundations came in 1972 when Jerry Jensen started half time as the SNA Program Supervisor, and the other half on starting an interpretive program for State Parks. At the time, the SNA Program was in the Division of Parks and Recreation (now the Division of Parks and Trails).


“The benefits I think were great. It was a fun thing to do if you were a botanist or ecologist, I mean you drool over some of those sites,” Jensen recalled about his time starting up the SNA Program.


He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1960, and earned his Master’s degree in plant ecology and biology from South Dakota State University in 1968, where he was the research forester. He spent some time as a forester for Custer State Park in South Dakota, at the Hennepin County Park Reserve District as a naturalist, and supervised a nature center before starting his position with the Department of Natural Resources. “I came in to the position pretty well prepared with my background in forestry, botany, plant ecology, and interpretive services. So, I fell right into the position.”


Jerry Jensen in front of a tree

Former SNA supervisor, Jerry Jensen, on a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin in the fall of 2019. Photo by David Minor.


“Things were basically just getting started. I had temporary funding for the interpretive services, a pilot program, to put that together at the beginning. That had to succeed to keep the interpretive program going. And the SNA Program was starting from scratch, so there was a lot of work to be done there to get it going,” said Jensen. While there was a lot that needed to be done, he was thankful for those already hard at work on the SNA Program. “Well, I had help. They had established before I got there a Commissioner’s Advisory Committee, made of professionals … some botanists, and some civic people,” he said. The Commissioner’s Advisory Committee was instrumental in getting the 1969 legislation passed as well as forming definitions and concepts for how the program would operate. “They were a good bunch of people.”


The first step for Jensen and the SNA Program was to work with the Commissioner’s Advisory Committee and come up with rules and regulations for the sites in the program, as well as hold meetings for public comment, and find funding for the Program. The funding came from the cigarette tax, which provided money earmarked for special projects.


Jensen also spoke about what it was like to designate the first SNAs. Many of the potential sites for designation were already protected. “They didn’t have to be bought, they just had to be looked at and then designated in cooperation with those other management groups,” he said. “We didn’t really need to hurry on those, because they were already protected. But, the Wildlife Section wanted us to save a heron rookery on Rush Lake. So we did that right away.” Rush Lake Island, the first Scientific and Natural Area, was designated on August 8th, 1974. He also worked with the Nature Conservancy to help them protect several of their sites, and hired a seasonal crew to inventory designated sites.


“I had regional naturalists, as staff,” Jensen said, “so I went to the legislature after the interpretive program pilot program was over, and said I needed money to put on a regional person. That’s where the help came in. That regional person would do some SNA work as well as interpretive work. So I had regional help.” The first SNA staff besides Jerry Jensen were a few park naturalists, and seasonal staff hired to manage and inventory sites.


He said he felt the SNA Program is important for a few reasons. “You have a reservoir of native plant material that can be researched … scientifically or just because they are nice to look at, and it’s going to be there protected and managed. Now, the key is being managed,” he said. “The thing is, managing natural areas is probably more difficult and takes more work … It’s difficult to manage a piece of forest that you want to keep natural.”


Jensen on the Mississippi River

Jerry Jensen as the SNA Program Supervisor in 1979 on the Mississippi River in Wright County. Photo MNDNR.


The Interpretive Program grew, and the Scientific and Natural Areas Program grew, so the dual position was eventually split into two full-time positions. “I had the choice to go with interpretive or go with SNA, and I went with SNA. We moved it into the Division of Wildlife. And we moved the Heritage Program there and the Nongame (Program). So they all kind of worked together.” After 8 years as the SNA supervisor, Jensen moved to a supervisor position in the Division of Forestry in 1980, where he worked on private land management, county land management, and urban forestry.


Jensen made sure to point out that he was not alone in working on Scientific and Natural Areas. “When it started out, it was really a community thing. It wasn’t just the DNR that was going to do it. It was born out of the love for that kind of stuff by the professionals that were interested in the community.” He said there was a lot of support from people and organizations like the University of Minnesota, the Bell Museum, the Nature Conservancy, state legislators (he said some senators came up with their own nominations for sites), Wally Dayton, Art Hawkins, John Moyle, Henry Hansen, Walter Breckenridge, and all those who served on the Commissioner’s Advisory Committee. “I had lots of support.”


Now, Jensen lives in a log cabin with his wife in the Black Hills of South Dakota. “I’m just kind of relaxing. I had to learn how to play golf when I retired.” They have lived there for about twenty years and he said they get to travel a lot. “I go botanizing all over where we go. That’s a good hobby.”


As for advice on the future of the SNA Program, he said, “what you need to do is have all those good resource people working on it. That’s what I would hope would happen, rather than just be something special off by itself. You need everybody’s help.” He continued, “You’ve got these resources to manage and do a good job with them. And find those that are yet to be discovered.”


“It’s nice to reminisce a little bit. I don’t do that very often.”


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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).