August 2012

The DNR communications team works with agency experts to develop the weekly questions and provide the answers. This feature addresses current DNR issues, interesting topics, or the most frequently asked questions from around Minnesota.

August 6, 2012

Q: Minnesota has a number of scientific and natural areas (SNA). What exactly is an SNA and how does it differ from other publicly owned lands?

A: SNAs are special places where anyone can go to see examples of Minnesota’s native plant communities and rare species habitats. There are currently more than 155 sites scattered throughout Minnesota’s prairie, coniferous and deciduous forest biomes. The program’s mission is to protect and perpetuate, in an undisturbed natural state, those lands and waters embracing natural features of exceptional scientific and educational value.

SNAs are open to the public for hiking, nature photography, bird watching, snowshoeing and other activities that don't disturb the natural conditions. Some SNAs are open to hunting. SNAs are intended to give people the opportunity to experience undisturbed nature. Thus, signage and parking facilities may or may not exist at individual sites. Some sites have interpretive kiosks to help visitors identify key features and processes. SNAs do not provide restroom or other facilities. Maintained trails are the exception. Visitors are encouraged to observe and learn, while protecting the plants, animals, and geological features on the site. To learn more about Minnesota's SNAs, visit:

- Kelly Randall, DNR SNA outreach coordinator


August 13, 2012

Q: The DNR is in the process of determining the abundance of pheasants in the state's pheasant range. How is this number determined?

A: Every year during the first half of August the Minnesota DNR uses roadside surveys to estimate pheasant abundance. These surveys entail counting all pheasants observed while driving each of 152 survey routes – one to four routes per county – in Minnesota’s pheasant range. DNR wildlife and enforcement staff survey these routes in the early mornings on days with clear skies, light winds and heavy dew. Because pheasants are difficult to detect, the annual August roadside surveys do not provide a total census, but rather an index of relative abundance. This information is then used to monitor changes in the pheasant population over time. In 2011, for example, 874 pheasants were counted on 3,800 survey miles. That yielded a population index of 23 pheasants/100 miles. This value was 64 percent lower than the 2010 index. The results of the survey are reported in early September and provide a good forecast of the upcoming pheasant hunting season.

- Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife biologist


August 20, 2012

Q: How do I know if a small fish is a minnow?

A: Not all small fishes are minnows; many are the young of other fish. A number of characteristics serve to separate small fish from true minnows. All minnows have naked heads except during breeding season when mature male develop many hornlike bumps, called tubercles. Some minnows also develop bright colors during breeding season, as suggested by such names as redside dace, redbelly dace, rosyface shiner, red shiner and redfin shiner. A single dorsal fin with fewer than 10 soft rays is characteristic of all native minnows. In carps and goldfish, the dorsal fin has a hard ray and more than 10 soft rays. Minnows lack teeth in their jaws, but have specialized teeth in their throat (pharynx) region. These pharyngeal teeth are useful in identifying the various minnow species.

Minnesota is currently home to 47 different minnow species, according to the Bell Museum of Natural History.

- Roland Sigurdson, DNR MinnAqua Program

August 27, 2012

Q: What is the Walk-In Access program, and how do I get more information about it?

A: The Walk-In Access (WIA) program is relatively new to Minnesota and aims to provide hunting opportunities on private lands that are already enrolled in a conservation program, or contain high quality wildlife cover. Landowners voluntarily enroll their property for one to three years, but can opt out of the program if they chose to. The program currently covers 21 counties in southwestern Minnesota.
For the 2012 hunting season, there are approximately 140 WIA sites, totaling 15,000 acres, enrolled in the program. These sites are open for hunting from Sept. 1, to May 31, 2013. No motorized vehicles are allowed on WIAs. Various navigation tools to these sites are available at, including detailed maps of each field and a downloadable hunting atlas of all of the enrolled sites. A printed version of the hunting atlas is available at DNR area wildlife offices or available from the DNR Information Center.

The program has been funded by a federal grant, and some state funding sources have been secured. A permanent funding source is needed to keep the program going after 2015.

-Marybeth Block, Walk-In Access/Working Lands coordinator


DNR Question of the Week Archive