December 2006





In the agricultural areas of the state, farm field runoff can cause water quality problems in the local streams and rivers. What are landowners doing to address their runoff and soil erosion problems?

Good land stewards are implementing a wide range of soil and water conservation measures on their private lands to reduce runoff and soil erosion. These measures can include reduced (or no) tillage, crop residue management, buffer strips of permanent grasses/trees along water courses, installation of grassed waterways and diversions, strip cropping, rotational grazing of their livestock, and enrolling marginal lands into conservation retirement programs such as the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Landowners can receive technical assistance, and in many cases cost-sharing, by contacting their local Soil and Water Conservation District office or by contacting the local DNR private lands specialist in their area. Winter is a good time for interested landowners to plan conservation tactics on their property.

Wayne Edgerton, DNR Agriculture Policy coordinator


There are three main ecosystems - biomes - in Minnesota. These biomes are prairies, deciduous forests and coniferous forests. Is there any reason for concern that any or all of these could disappear and be replaced by another type of ecosystem?

Since Minnesota entered the modern geologic epoch, some 10,000 years ago, we have always had native vegetation that fits within the broad concepts of prairie grassland, deciduous forest, and coniferous forest biomes. Continental climate creates the pattern of biomes on the land. Thus, climate change is the most likely threat to our biomes. Minnesota has undergone significant climatic change over the millennia, including a very warm period that matches or exceeds the predicted global warming, and yet there is evidence that all three biomes persisted somewhere in the state. It is highly unlikely that any of the other North American biomes - tundra, mountain forest, rain forest, or desert - will ever form here. It is more likely that a biome will be lost to human engineered landscapes. The safest prediction is that Minnesotans will continue to live on the land, use natural resources, and influence the functioning of biomes. The formidable task is to live in a way that conserves as many of the species as possible and maintains as best possible their ability to function as ecosystems.

John Almendinger, DNR Ecological classification system coordinator


With our unusual winter, what sort of precautions should people take when venturing out onto the frozen lakes and rivers to fish or do other forms of recreation?

Ice is never 100 percent safe, even during the coldest winter, so it is always a good idea to check ice conditions by calling a local bait shop or resort before heading out. It is also a good idea to bring along a friend, rope, ice picks, a cell phone and wear a lifejacket. It is never a good idea for anglers or anyone to rely on the calendar to determine whether or not a frozen lake is safe, especially this year. In years past, ice may have been passable by Dec. 20, but with the constant temperature swings, from mild to freezing, the thickness and safety of ice on a lake or river is a concern for either walking or driving. The following ice thickness is recommended for these intended uses: a minimum of four inches of new, clear ice for foot traffic; five inches for ATVs and snowmobiles; and a minimum of eight to 12 inches for cars or small trucks. Local resorts and bait shops can often provide information about ice thickness and point out dangerous areas.

Tim Smalley, DNR Boat & Water safety specialist


Where does the balsam fir boughs used to make holiday wreaths and garland come from?

The specialty forest products industry uses many of the natural resources found in Minnesota's forests, such as pinecones, mosses and birch twigs, to make everything from decorative items to medicinal and herbal products. One of the most important specialty products is the balsam bough. Approximately 4,000 tons of boughs are harvested annually from Minnesota forests, and each ton makes roughly 400 wreaths. However, the number of holiday wreaths and garland made per ton varies depending on the size of each item. Most of the boughs used by Minnesota's special forest products industry are harvested from public and private lands across the northern part of the state. Itasca, St. Louis, Aitkin and Cass counties support more than half of the total bough harvest in Minnesota. The state's balsam bough industry has annual retail sales topping $20 million.

Keith Jacobson, DNR Forest Utilization & Marketing Program coordinator


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