If you’re reading this, chances are you enjoy the outdoors and you’ve been to one of Minnesota’s 75 state parks and recreation areas for camping, hiking, fishing, or other recreation. However, many of our protected areas serve objectives beyond recreation; these areas include Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) and Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs.) These areas serve unique purposes and we can positively impact them when they call for volunteers.
SNAs comprise areas of high scientific and educational value, from rare plant or animal species to unique features like fossils or vantage points. Because of the unique and delicate phenomena of SNAs, many permit only low-impact activities like birding and wildlife watching. However, specific sites allow a wider range of activities such as boating, berry and mushroom picking and hunting.
The primary purpose of WMAs is to protect lands that are especially suitable for wildlife, and thus are used for wildlife-specific activities like hunting, wildlife watching, fishing, breeding, etc. They remain key to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) wildlife management initiatives. A total of 1.3 million acres in about 1,500 WMAs cover all the ecosystems present in the state, serving not only wildlife but the 550,000 hunters and 1.1 million anglers who rely on game for food.
Because the DNR is actively acquiring land for WMAs, they ask for volunteers to help plant suitable vegetation in these new areas. In April 2021, I volunteered for planting at the Norman T. Dahlman and North Fork WMAs. A friend and I left the Twin Cities at 8 AM with our gardening bags, ready to start our ‘gardening’ season a bit earlier than usual. We arrived at Norman T. Dahlman WMA first and spread out along a driving path and into the prairie to plant dormant bare-root plugs of prairie natives. The DNR employee in charge instructed us to plant the seedlings at higher places in the gently sloping prairie landscape, spacing plugs of the same species no further than 10 steps from each other. We found a higher spot, cleared the tall, fine prairie grasses away, and opened a hole in the rich, dark-chocolate-colored soil with a planting bar, immersing the bare root plugs into the earth. The long, thin straw-colored prairie grasses created a swirl, framing the open soil where each plug was planted. We finished by planting the last remaining plugs at North Fork WMA.
Together the volunteers planted a total of 1,100 bare root plugs (lead plant, prairie alum root, prairie phlox and prairie violet) that weekend. These species, which don’t germinate well from seed, complemented other prairie natives that seeded the year before. The restoration of these areas will improve the habitat where area wildlife such as waterfowl, pheasants, turkeys, doves and upland birds, will nest, shelter and feed. These restored prairie areas in the middle of farm country also provide hunting grounds for humans and natural predators.
Plant biodiversity is a main Master Gardener priority that permeates our horticultural work with the public and quite often our own home gardens. Whether it's an ornamental or a veggie garden, a back deck or acres of land, a variety of species brings aesthetics and fulfills many different ecosystem services. SNAs and WMAs also deserve our support and our time; while beyond the Master Gardener scope, these initiatives uphold the same wildlife and values we intend to promote in our own open spaces, at an even larger scale.
Ramsey County Master Gardener
Writer biography: Tammy Walsky has been a Master Gardener since 2016. She has worked with plants in research, educational and recreational settings.
Edited by Terry L. Smith, Master Gardener Intern