Restoring the Character of Swedes Forest SNA
By Brad Bolduan, SNA Program Management Specialist
Over the past 100 years trees and shrubs have become more abundant in prairies of the Minnesota River valley. The two dominant species invading many areas are Eastern red cedar and non-native common buckthorn. Swedes Forest SNA has experienced vast expansion of both these species, and is one location where the SNA Program is working to reverse that trend. Swedes Forest SNA is a rocky 207 acre site about 15 miles southwest of Granite Falls that is home to an uncommon lizard called the common five-lined skink, and to several rare plants.
Native plant species adapted to prairie, rock outcrop, and savanna environments have been slowly dying out as the shade from woody invaders has increased. Open habitats needed by reptiles, butterflies, and other animals have slowly disappeared as well. Study of the common five-lined skink will begin this year to monitor population trends. The goal is restoration to a condition that more closely matches pre-European settlement as inferred from historic aerial photos. Accelerated cutting has begun at SNAs in the area, including the progress at Swedes Forest as follows:
In 2011 -2012 buckthorn was removed from the understory on about 60 acres in the northwest portion of the SNA.
In 2012-2013 work continued on buckthorn control, and removal of the red cedar canopy began with the clearing of 12 acres on the west side of the SNA. Photo above shows cutting and adjacent photo shows vegetation beginning to recover in this area.
In 2013-2014 efforts included clearing buckthorn and small red cedar from 18 acres of rock outcrop at the south end of the SNA.
In 2014-2015 about 8 acres of large red cedar were removed adjacent to the 2013-2014 effort.
Plans are being implemented for further removal of 60-80 acres of red cedar over the next two years.
The work has just begun with the initial removal. Buckthorn stump sprouts and new seedlings can grow vigorously and will take continued control measures. Areas that were dense with red cedar and buckthorn may come back with burdock and thistle. By using prescribed burns, as well as chemical and mechanical controls, the non-native thistles and buckthorn can be kept in check. These newly opened areas will recover at their own pace while staff continues to push back the cedar and buckthorn from other parts of the SNA. Seeding with native prairie grasses and wildflowers will be required in the most significantly impacted areas.
Efforts of this scale would not be possible without funding provided from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Special Event Goes On
Despite a warm week having made plans difficult to confirm until the last minute, a special event at Burntside Islands SNA went off without a hitch this past weekend (March 14th). The day dawned cloudy and cool, but still above average for this time of year. A planned snowshoe hike out to the islands was scuttled, but walking on the slushy, snow-covered ice worked out. The group was led by the Ely Field Naturalists who provided details about the area geology and hydrology as well as area plants and animals. A highlight after the hike was a tour of Listening Point, the private retreat of beloved local author Sigurd Olson, now run by the Listening Point Foundation.
The event was hosted by the Trust for Public Land, DNR SNA Program, Listening Point Foundation, Ely Field Naturalists, and the Burntside Lake Association to spotlight the addition of Gaul (Hayes) Islands to the SNA. The Trust for Public Land played a key role in the recent acquisition. In December of 2014 the 4.5 acre Gusty Island was sold to The Trust for the possible future addition to the SNA.
Time to get out and soak up all the sights and sounds spring has to offer. Enjoy some hands on activities, or just revel in the beauty of the first of the spring wildflowers on an enjoyable hike. A full list is available on the SNA Events Calendar.
Lost Valley Prairie SNA
Volunteer Project: Clear Brush
Wolsfeld Woods SNA
Spring Wildflower Walk
Grey Cloud Dunes SNA
Site Tour and Volunteer Project to Remove Trash
Site Highlight: Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA
We are excited to officially welcome the newest addition to the list of Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas! Designated in early November, Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA is located in the southeastern corner of Hubbard County. This site is host to one of the largest remaining stands of mature jack pine woodlands in Minnesota.
The rapid disappearance of jack pine woodlands since the early 2000s, especially larger tracts, has been a growing concern and prompted the preservation of this site. The SNA was not entirely spared from clear cutting as roughly half the acreage of the 887 acre site was harvested prior to SNA designation. Despite this, what is left is in excellent condition and large enough to sustain itself into the future. Especially encouraging is the intact ground layer of native wildflowers and grasses which have responded favorably, and even thrive in the cut-over areas. Jack pine seedlings have already begun to grow in these openings and over the long-term jack pine woodland should regenerate throughout the site.
Future management strategies for the Badoura Jack Pine Woodland will likely include the re-introduction of fire to the jack pine stands. Surveys for reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds would be useful as well. A reptile survey would be particularly important to determine if Blanding's turtles, a rare species, are present, since the new SNA seems to have habitat to support them.
Notes from Site Stewards
Site stewards continue to monitor SNAs across Minnesota. Their observations provide invaluable information to the SNA Program. Here are some interesting notes from reports:
New Year's Day 2015 rang in quietly at Chamberlain Woods SNA when site steward Todd Nelson did a complete tour of the site. The only thing out of place that Todd had to take care of was a little trash in the parking lot.
Snowshoes were the transportation of choice for observations in December and January by the Gitar family of site stewards (Richard, wife Lori, daughter Cheryl and son Cory) at Hovland Woods SNA. On their January 25th visit Richard and Cheryl trekked into this large site via the Superior Hiking Trail, which skirts the southeastern boundary of the site. The tracks they made were the only ones they observed.
In order to learn more about the plant life of Uncas Dunes SNA site steward Brett Whaley called upon a knowledgeable friend to join him on a winter field visit on January 25th. They found a few interesting species such bearberry and beach-heather. Brett is also a talented photographer; see the bur oak photo above that he took at Uncas Dunes.
Thanks for all the work you do for SNAs stewards!