SNA Nature Notes - Spring 2022

minnesota department of natural resources

Nature Notes


Showy Lady's Slipper

Spring 2022

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

A Natural Partnership to Protect Minnesota’s Wild Places

Ashley Rezachek, SNA Communications Outreach Specialist


A shared focus on the conservation of rare plants and animals is what brought the Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas Program (SNA) together with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Whether it’s a delicate plant, uncommon insect or exceptional bird, the two conservation groups have a shared interest in protecting high-quality habitat to ensure the long-term health of many unique species.

This group of professors did the first ever “TNC” prescribed fire at Helen Allison Preserve in Anoka County in the 1960s.

When the Minnesota’s TNC chapter was getting started, a group of college professors, mostly from the University of Minnesota worked to promote land preservation. This group of professors did the first ever “TNC” prescribed fire at Helen Allison Preserve in Anoka County in the 1960s. This site would later be designated as a SNA. Frank Irving is on the left and Alvar Peterson, resident manager of the Cedar Creek Natural History Area, is on the right. Photo by Don Lawrence.

A partnership emerges from a common mission

In 1969, the state legislature created statute and rules to guide designation of land as a Scientific and Natural Area. SNAs are meant to protect and preserve examples of natural features of exceptional scientific and educational value within the state. In its early days, the program needed to build a base of protected land in an effort to further establish itself. With a shared goal of conservation, SNA and TNC teamed up in a win-win partnership by agreeing to lease TNC preserves to the DNR at no cost so that the preserves could be included in the SNA program.

When Brian Winter started at TNC in 1985 the effort to lease many of TNC’s preserves was just wrapping up. Winter, retired Stewardship Program Director for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, worked in stewardship and protection throughout his time at TNC.

Winter recalls TNC leasing 20 or so preserves, equaling thousands of acres of land, across Minnesota to the SNA program to be designated as SNAs for essentially little to no cost to the program. This deal allowed the program to grow its land base, and get further support and funding at the state capital. The agreement helped jumpstart the SNA program, and built credibility because TNC had been actively buying critical lands in the state since the late 1950s. By leasing some of TNC’s best preserves to the SNA program, these areas instantly had protection in state law, an extra layer of security TNC could not provide on its own. SNA designation could help protect an area from development threats, such as power lines.

Pictured is prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) on the SNA.

A large power line project was rerouted around what is now known as Richard M. and Mathilde Rice Elliot SNA due to the SNA designation status. TNC owns the land, but it’s leased to the SNA program. Pictured is prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) on the SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall.

Beyond the partnership in protection, the two groups also worked together to collect biodiversity data. In the '70s, TNC had been collecting biodiversity data, locating where rare species and plant communities were and determining how best to protect these areas. The state was also on a similar track with data collection, according to Doug Shaw, Assistant Chapter Director for TNC’s Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota program.

Working alongside the DNR, TNC helped create the Natural Heritage program in 1979, the Minnesota Biological Survey in 1987, and the Natural Areas Registry within the SNA program which was founded in 1969. The Natural Areas Registry recognizes that many of the state’s finest natural resources occur on public lands that aren’t designated SNAs. Voluntary agreements are made with land managers to protect these areas.

Pictured is spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) on the SNA.

Both parcels of Kellogg-Weaver Dunes SNA were once owned by The Nature Conservancy. In 1982, TNC sold the northern parcel to the DNR, but the TNC owns the southern parcel yet today. Pictured is spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) on the SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall.

The relationship changes through the decades

In the early days of the partnership, management collaboration was strong. In fact, joint burn crews worked in the field together and annual meetings were held to discuss management plans on leased sites. However, as the SNA program gained its footing and became more independent, the partnership evolved.

About 20 to 25 years ago TNC went through a big shift, Winter said. In a nutshell, the organization’s attention changed from putting emphasis on state rare species to globally rare species. This ultimately lead TNC to donate a dozen or so preserves to the SNA program, as these sites no longer fit TNC’s priorities. The exchange still allowed the land to be protected, but was now under SNA ownership. These transfers were scattered across the state.

The SNA was protected for compass plant (pictured), a native prairie plant near the edge of its range in southern Minnesota

Compass Prairie SNA was originally a TNC site, Brian Winter said. It was protected for compass plant (pictured), a native prairie plant near the edge of its range in southern Minnesota. Photo by Kelly Randall.

There are still quite a few preserves owned by TNC that are leased to SNA. The bulk of these are in northwest and west central Minnesota, and are located in what is considered the greater prairie chicken range for Minnesota. TNC tends to focus more energy on the management of these SNAs today.

With 168 established SNAs across the state and more funding, the SNA program pursues and buys land with high-quality habitat itself. Today the relationship between the two groups is more relaxed with cooperation on signage and kiosks installation at shared sites as one example of shared work. There’s also been collaborative monitoring arrangements and data collection. The two organizations analyze data on management effectiveness (e.g, prescribed burns) as well.

TNC has been an ally to the SNA program in its effort to secure funding and provide Re-invest in Minnesota (RIM) credits. TNC also helped initiate and secure funding for the Minnesota Biological Survey and Native Prairie Tax Exemption. The two organizations support each other and their mission to protect biodiversity hotspots.

Oak savanna and sedge meadow on the SNA.

Helen Allison Savanna SNA is owned by TNC and was acquired to protect oak savanna. In 1979, the preserve was designated a Scientific and Natural Area. TNC and SNA have worked collaboratively to collect prescribed burn data to help assess how effective management is at this site. Oak savanna and sedge meadow on the SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall.

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Lost Forty

By Christopher Myers

An older silence lingers in this wood
than settled in surrounding vacant air,
when ax and blade had laid to rest the work
of each ring-tallied year.
Light seeps down in the shade like a resin,
spared dispensation for the crosscut snap
and fall that never cracked these acres’ air,
an error on a map.

Forest of Lost 40 SNA

Old-growth pine trees at Lost 40 SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall

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Avon Hills Forest SNA located on a map of Minnesota

Site Highlight: Avon Hills Forest SNA

Kelly Randall, SNA Outreach Coordinator

Spring wildflowers and ferns under a canopy of native hardwoods beginning to leaf-out at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Photo by ColdSnap Photography

Wildflowers and ferns leaf-out under a canopy of native hardwoods at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Photo by ColdSnap Photography

I think of the spring and fall seasons like the quick-change artists of Minnesota’s forested landscapes. They seem to go by in the blink of an eye yet dazzle us with their striking colors and surprising beauty. The native hardwood forests blanketing the hilly terrain of Avon Hills Forest SNA have that dazzle, and I’d recommend a visit during these fast-paced “shoulder” seasons. In the fall maples, oaks, birch, and basswood delight with their warm oranges, reds, yellows, and browns. Spring wildflowers and birds surprise with their multitude of colors in a variety of shapes and sizes.

When visiting Avon Hills Forest SNA, you may notice it is part of a larger forested landscape. These connected complexes are a key component in preserving biological diversity and sustaining healthy habitats for an array of wildlife. The SNA is at the core of this forested complex and noted for outstanding biodiversity significance. Determined by DNR ecologists, the ranking measures ecological condition and statewide significance of intact native plant communities and wildlife diversity on natural landscapes. Only a small percentage of Minnesota landscapes meet these criteria.

Also of note is that of the 45 SNAs named in a 2009 study, Avon Hills Forest SNA ranked highest for species in greatest conservation need in Minnesota’s Wildlife Action Plan. Many of these species rely on this SNA's expansive, intact forest.

These special characteristics of the site and surrounding area enhance opportunities for wildlife watching, especially migrating songbirds in spring or fall. The site’s bird checklist notes 16 species of warblers and that over 120 bird species were surveyed in just one year. You’ll be sure to see or hear something interesting here.

A large buckthorn surrounded by many small buckthorn seedlings at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Volunteers work to remove the seedlings in the vicinity.

A large buckthorn surrounded by many small buckthorn seedlings at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Volunteers work to remove the seedlings in the vicinity. Photo by David Minor, MN DNR.

To maintain the quality of this site there is need to control invasive species, in particular buckthorn. During a buckthorn pull in fall 2019, SNA staff and volunteers found what looked like the source of a particular infestation one large buckthorn with hundreds of young seedlings packed densely around it. There are only a few of these infestations, and the hope is that targeted removals, such as that done in the fall of 2021, will over time keep this natural area natural.

The colors of fall can be enjoyed while looking up the trunk of a maple tree at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall, MN DNR.

The bright colors of fall can be enjoyed while looking up the trunk of a maple tree at Avon Hills Forest SNA. Photo by Kelly Randall, MN DNR.

If you are looking for somewhere to see a diversity of plants and wildlife in an outstanding forest setting plan a visit to Avon Hills Forest SNA. Even without a visit, it is satisfying to know a rare jewel of Minnesota’s outstanding biodiversity will continue to be protected for generations to come.

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Visit the SNA Facebook page!

Say Hello to the New Volunteer Outreach Specialist!


Tieran Rosefield is the new Volunteer Outreach Specialist, a position created by the MN DNR for Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa Individual Placement members. Her work includes communicating with volunteers and staff within the SNA program and designing, coordinating, and leading SNA events. She joined the SNA crew in January 2022.

Tieran Rosefield


What is the best part about your job?

My favorite part of my job is designing and leading events. I get to delve into topics that I’m interested in, meet tons of new people, and share my love for the earth with others. I am very passionate about environmental education, and specifically in making it accessible, equitable, and enjoyable for everyone, so it feels good to have a part in that. Some events that I am planning or helping to plan include an intro to animal tracking, the Minneapolis-St. Paul City Nature Challenge, and a series of self-guided bioblitzes.

What is your favorite way to spend time outdoors?

Most of my free time is spent outdoors; I just feel better when I’m surrounded by nature. By far, my favorite outdoor activity is observing wildlife. Through my work and studies, I’ve picked up a lot of neat skills such as tracking, using trail cameras, and bird watching. There’s no better feeling than seeing a new species for the first time! I am also an avid hiker; I’m currently going through the MN State Park Hiking Club and I have a goal to visit all MN State Parks by the end of this year. I also enjoy biking, swimming, kayaking, camping, and photography.

What is your favorite native Minnesota plant or animal?

I am a lover of all things on this Earth and it is very difficult for me to choose, but I am partial to wildlife, and mammals in particular. If I had to name a few, I would say gray wolf, common raccoon, monarch, and great gray owl are at the top of my list. Raccoons are notable here, as I’ve worked with them extensively in the past and I love their curiosity and adaptability.

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Join the My MN Outdoor Adventure campaign


Do you like getting outdoors? If so, we’d love to see your pics! We’re especially looking for photos & stories from BIPOC folks who enjoy outdoor activities. #MyMNOutdoorAdventure aims to connect us to the great Minnesota outdoors—and to each other—through our shared stories. There are so many ways to get outside and enjoy nature. Show us how you do it: Share your outdoor story and photos and we’ll feature you on our website and social media channels!

Two people in a kayak

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Notes from Site Stewards


Site stewards monitor, help with management tasks, and even lead events on SNAs across Minnesota. Their observations provide valuable information to the SNA Program. Here are some interesting notes from recent reports.

  • Marsha Kurka has visited Boot Lake SNA several times this season. She is working hard to manage buckthorn populations on the site by cutting and piling it “high and dry.” We want to thank her for a wonderful job repairing a ‘No Snowmobiling’ sign.
  • The stewards of Lost Valley Prairie SNA, Jim Smetana, Steve Poole, and Sara Brokaw are all eager to host monthly nature hikes for the spring and early summer. During their event in January, one of the attendees spotted a golden eagle!
  • At a recent visit to Grey Cloud Dunes SNA, site steward Jeanne Caturia noticed an unleashed dog. Dogs are only allowed on select sites, but this site is not one of them. Remember to review all the rules before visiting an SNA.
  • Scott Fluegel, one of our newest site stewards, visited Joseph A. Tauer Prairie SNA for the first time recently. He says that things are looking good, but he did notice some signs that need to be replaced.
Buckthorn in a pile after being cut at Boot Lake SNA. Photo by Marsha Kurka.

Buckthorn in a pile after being cut at Boot Lake SNA. Photo by Marsha Kurka.

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Share your SNA photos on our flickr group!

SNA Volunteer Stewardship Events on Pause


Due to a statewide policy requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all DNR volunteers, the SNA Program has decided to put a pause on volunteer stewardship events for the foreseeable future. The burden of verifying this information, privacy concerns, and confusion it may cause are beyond the capacity of our Program to manage. For now, invasive species removal, seed collection, trash removal and similar events that need volunteers to work under the direction of DNR will not be planned or scheduled.

The SNA Program will however focus on interpretive and educational programming with events for visitors interested in learning more about SNAs, their special features, or the wildlife and plants found on them. We invite you to attend these upcoming events and keep an eye on the SNA event calendar for future opportunities.

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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).