SNA Nature Notes - Spring 2021

minnesota department of natural resources

Nature Notes


Showy Lady's Slipper

Spring 2021

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Nature Notes is the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas quarterly newsletter. Here's what's in store this issue!


A Partnership in Conservation

David Minor, SNA Communications Outreach Specialist

The Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) Program partners with several organizations and programs to help protect Minnesota’s wild places. One of those organizations is Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI). This organization has a long-standing relationship with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In fact, it was once part of the DNR before it spun off into a non-profit organization. While the Conservation Corps is no longer housed within the Department, they still have a close relationship and work together on many projects.

One of the primary ways this partnership takes shape is through CCMI field crews. Crews of young adults work with resource managers throughout the DNR (and other organizations) on projects like trail maintenance, prescribed burning, construction, and invasive species management. These crews have helped regional SNA managers with important tasks all across Minnesota, from installing boundary signs on island sites in northern Minnesota to prescribed burning on prairie sites in southern Minnesota.

It has been a few years since some regions of Minnesota have had CCMI field crews working on Scientific and Natural Areas though. That is going to change this year.


Man in fire clothing igniting grass.

A Conservation Corps crew leader on a prescribed burn at a Native Prairie Bank easement in the 2011 burn season. The "MCC" on the helmet stands for "Minnesota Conservation Corps" the former name for the organization.


“I am really excited about the amount of SNA project work that Central Field crews have with SNA for 2021. We have gone a few seasons without having many SNA projects,” said Dorian Hasselmann, the Central District Manager with Conservation Corps, “It was great that we were able to reconnect last fall and we now have many weeks of field crew time on our calendars starting in the spring, and stretching into early fall.”

Brad Bolduan, the SNA Regional Specialist in the southern region has contracted with Conservation Corps for several years. “Conservation Corps has been very helpful over the years,” he said, “we have four SNA staff caring for the SNAs and Prairie Banks in the southern region, supplementing that with a CCM crew doubles the number of people available on those days.” This year will be the first time Bolduan has had a CCMI crew in the past couple of years.

CCMI crews are contracted for a set period of time, not for specific projects. Bolduan said he likes working with CCMI crews for the flexibility. When there is a crew on, they can tackle problems quickly when they arise. “If you see wild parsnip that needs to be pulled or it will go to seed in a week, you need to get someone out there quickly,” he said.

“I do hope they have some fun along the way and learn a few things,” Bolduan added.

In fact, Corps members do get some benefits out of the deal. Twenty percent of Conservation Corps member’s time is spent on environmental education, technical skills, and job-readiness training. In addition to the on-the-job training, Corps members get an education award that they can spend on further education after they complete their service term.

Another important part of this partnership is the Individual Placements Program. This program helps young college graduates get early career experience through temporary positions, kind of like an internship. There are usually a dozen or so of these individual placements each year, placed throughout the DNR and other organizations. They work on things like planning, ecological monitoring, and outreach. “The Conservation Corps AmeriCorps Individual Placement program is a great opportunity to be placed directly [in] nonprofit and government agencies focused on energy, natural resource management, and community outreach,” said Brian Hubbard, the Individual Placement Program manager.

Hubbard also noted the work of the program to prepare more young adults, people of color, and women for leadership roles in the environmental field. “By doing this important work we hope to engage young adults as leaders to help shape our institutions. We work to respond to future workforce needs and nurture efforts to increase equity and inclusion,” he said.

Group in a snowy field.

Kelly Randall, the SNA Outreach Coordinator, leading a tour at St. Croix Savanna SNA for CCMI Individual Placement members placed within the DNR in early 2020. Photo by David Minor.


The Scientific and Natural Areas Program usually has two Individual Placements each year; a Volunteer Outreach Specialist (meet Alex Miller in this highlight), and a Communications Outreach Specialist (that’s me right now).

“These two positions are critical to fulfilling SNA Program outreach goals,” said Kelly Randall, the Scientific and Natural Areas Outreach Coordinator. He said these placements have had critical roles in multiple projects, like the complete audit and overhaul of the SNA webpages in 2016, the quick pivot to online and self-guided Bioblitz events in 2020, and several other projects that “would not have been possible without individual placements.” 

The Scientific and Natural Areas Program utilizes CCMI field crews and Individual Placements, but Conservation Corps has other programs as well. These include the Youth Outdoors, Summer Youth Corps, and Increasing Diversity in Environmental Careers (IDEC) programs.

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Meet the New Volunteer Outreach Specialist


Portrait of a young man.

Alex Miller joined the Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) team in mid-January 2021 as the volunteer outreach specialist. He is one of the two Conservation Corps Individual Placements that are placed within the program each year (read a Partnership in Conservation for more on this). He helps coordinate events, the extensive volunteer network of SNA site stewards, as well as other outreach initiatives.

Why do you do this work?

I do this work to build community around environmental stewardship. I appreciate the work that the SNA Program does throughout the state both in conservation and in outreach. SNAs provide so much value for human health – recreation, clean air and water, education, and camaraderie. I’m interested in how environmentalism and conservation connect to community engagement, and this is an excellent opportunity for exploring those connections. CCMI (Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa) and the SNA program do a great job of prioritizing education and personal development throughout the service term.

What is your favorite way to spend time outdoors?

I have a lot of outdoor pastimes, but my new favorite is grouse hunting. I tried it for the first time this past fall and was hooked! It’s like hiking with the potential to get a meal out of it. Maybe this year I’ll get my first grouse!

What is your favorite native Minnesota plant or animal?

Long-nose gar. Growing up, I used to watch them in the river at night. Street lamps would attract insects, which would attract minnows, which would attract gar. Seeing the food chain in action was a great way to spend some time on a summer night.

What is your favorite SNA?

King’s and Queen’s Bluff. I remember riding with my dad from Winona to La Crosse and always marveling at how steep Queen’s Bluff is! King’s Bluff is a very cool place to explore with some fantastic scenery. It’s a great SNA for seeing the unique topography and ecology of the Driftless Area.


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Connect with Other Prairie Landowners


Are you a prairie landowner looking for a way to connect with other prairie landowners, discuss management ideas and ask questions? Check out the Minnesota Prairie Landowner Network and join the discussion!

Screenshot of Facebook Group.

Location in Minnesota

Site Highlight: Hythecker Prairie


Kelly Randall, SNA outreach coordinator

Is it winter or is it spring? March in Minnesota can be tricky to decipher, especially being in the heart of the continent where weather systems come at us from nearly all directions.


Composite of a winter/spring prairie

Wintery snowdrifts (left) and spring-like sunshine (right) at Hythecker Prairie SNA. Photos by Kelly Randall.


Alternatively floating on top, then falling through a foot of snow becomes a stroll through irregular white patches only a few inches deep. A few steps touch the prairie itself. Winter or spring?

A long stretch of relative quiet, with an occasional slow whoosh of a passing car or whine of a jet overhead, is punctuated by the heart stopping flush of a ring-necked pheasant. You should expect that flying drama on a nice day on the prairie! Then, is that what you think you hear? Yes, off in the distance a red-winged blackbird has chosen to return to Hythecker Prairie with its musical serenade. Spring or winter?

The big bluestem, Indian grass, and cordgrass barely move in the calm wind, and are mere shells of their former living selves. Further exploration of the SNA’s wildflowers peeking through the snow reveal purple prairie clover, Virginia mountain mint, gray-headed coneflower, swamp milkweed, and several artfully withered compass plants. No trace of life aboveground. Yet the buds of some willows mere steps away have already popped open revealing their fuzzy silver catkins. Winter or spring?


Several Prairie Plants in winter

Left to right: compass plant, Virginia mountain mint, prairie cordgrass, big bluestem, willow catkins. Photos by Kelly Randall.


March is a season of expectation. It’s hard not to have expectation on a calm and sunny 43 °F day in early March when the winter jacket is left in the car, but the stocking cap stays on.  Spring or winter? Maybe just shrug? On the other hand, you could start calling it “win-ing”. What comes after winter but before spring? Winning.


Melting snow on the prairie

Hythecker Prairie SNA winning. Photo by Kelly Randall.


A few facts about Hythecker Prairie SNA

  • Prescribed burns to enhance the prairie's health have been a regular part of management at Hythecker Prairie since the 1980s.
  • Beginning in 1987 areas of the SNA that had been farmed were planted with native seed from site’s prairie remnants.
  • The SNA hosts a variety of plants (wildflowersgrassestrees) and animals.
  • Since 2010 invasive species, primarily birds' foot trefoil and wild parsnip have become a growing concern. Do your part to help prevent the spread of invasive species.


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SNA Virtual Hike Videos

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.

  • Site steward Jake Stacken has visited Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA multiple times this season to perform invasive species and brush removal at the site. On March 3rd, he and a friend spent the day removing buckthorn and honeysuckle and identified some dormant prairie plant species. He noted, “Lots of light getting through now but more work remains to be done”.
  • New stewards, Ellen Feldman and Ron Brockman, made their first visit to Wood-Rill SNA on March 7th and reported observations including site use and conditions. Ron, an “avid amateur nature photographer” and Ellen, who has a strong interest in birding, are excited to keep exploring the SNA.
  • Marsha Kurka, the site steward for Boot Lake SNA, has had some great experiences and beautiful days out on-site during her visits. On January 13th, she noted, “I saw two adult bald eagles sitting in the tree that has a nest. So beautiful. They flew away as I got closer.  Almost always, they have called out when I've been around, but they were totally silent this time.  I also saw chickadees, crows and a downy woodpecker. There were lots of animal trails/tracks, 3-4 deer beds (I'm assuming), and a large hole dug by an animal under the fence in the largest field close to the lake.”
  • Sheila Maybanks saw all kinds of animal tracks, big and small, during her March 2nd visit to St. Croix Savanna SNA. She logged, “Many tracks in the snow - coyote, turkey, deer, vole and maybe mouse?” She also noted a pair of osprey outside of their nest. She observed some site management—cutting and burning too.
Sun over a snow drifted lake

Looking toward the sun at Boot Lake SNA. Photo by Marsha Kurka


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).