Sites are set aside as SNAs because of their natural attributes and rare resources, which warrant protection for their inherent values and as places for scientific and educational use. Protection guards against developments such as trails, campgrounds, picnic sites, logging, mineral exploration and development, cultivation, and other uses of land, public or private, that interfere with the preservation of its natural features.
Data Collection and Analysis
Systematic site selection begins with data collection and analysis to ensure appropriate priorities are assigned to deserving sites. In view of the urgent need for an accurate, systematic inventory of its natural resources, the State of Minnesota initiated the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS). The MBS gathers information on sensitive natural habitats and rare plant and animal species, building upon data from previous surveys as appropriate.
The survey proceeds on a county-by-county basis in a three-step method:
- Identify all potential natural habitat by interpreting aerial photography and satellite imagery.
- Evaluate natural areas to determine which have experienced human alteration.
- Conduct an intensive ground survey of sites selected as high-quality natural areas, documenting the occurrence and condition of rare plants, animals, and natural communities.
The MBS, begun in 1987, has completed its survey of 35 counties and has 16 more in process. Since 1987, over 9,800 new locations of rare features have been recorded. Our understanding of plant communities has also increased, along with knowledge of the status and distribution of the state's native plants and animals.
All data are stored with the Minnesota Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program. This is the only statewide, comprehensive collection of data on rare natural features. The information is used to guide:
- Land purchases--such as SNAs--for which protection is the primary objective
- Land conservation programs, such as the Minnesota DNR's Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Native Prairie Bank Program
- Environmental impact reviews used in planning development projects, such as housing, highways, and utility corridors
- Research and public information on rare species.
Once prospective sites have been identified, an extensive evaluation process follows to ensure consideration of a wide range of issues. Prospective land parcels are further evaluated by the SNA Program for feasibility of site management, jeopardy, and other factors. In turn, priority candidate sites are reviewed by the Commissioner' Advisory Committee, which provides oversight and guidance for the selection, management, and research uses of SNAs. This 15-member committee consists of scientists, educators, and lay persons who are knowledgeable and dedicated to natural area protection.
Protection of high priority sites is achieved through acquisitions, gifts, conservation easements, or if already owned by the state, through dedication. Landowners of qualifying sites are contacted by the SNA Program to determine their interest in gifting or selling their land.
Protection proceeds somewhat differently in each case.
- Dedication of public lands. The existing public land base may provide as many as 20 percent of all new SNAs. Most of these would be in the northern part of the state, which has the majority of DNR-administered land. Interagency land exchanges also occur between public bodies.
- Land purchases. Purchase of a land parcel requires a willing seller and an appropriate budget--two factors that vary independently.
- Private gifting. Gifting by a variety of methods is a significant means of acquisition: land in some cases is gifted outright by individuals.
- Legislation of 1986 under the DNR's Reinvest in Minnesota Program contains a Critical Habitat Matching Account provision, which provides state funds to match each dollar or dollar value of land donated. Many new SNAs have resulted from this provision?Wood-Rill, Glynn Prairie, Chamberlain Woods, Osmundson Prairie, McGregor Marsh, and others.
- Private, non-profit organizations have gifted or assisted in the acquisition of many SNA sites. The Nature Conservancy has been the largest giftor under this provision. Sites now owned wholly or in part by The Nature Conservancy are so identified in the individual site descriptions that make up the rest of this Guide. SNA status provides them with the strongest legal protection possible in this state.
- Native Prairie Bank Program. This program promotes acquisition of conservation easements to protect native prairie, such as the Joseph Tauer Prairie near Hanska. The easement also permits SNA dedication, if the landowner is willing. Check out the program online.