Scientific and Natural Areas Program

Scientific and Natural Areas

Find a Natural Area

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas Program
Land Protection

Aerial shot of Red Lake Peatland SNA

The Scientific and Natural Area Program protects land through techniques including acquisition, lease or donation of Scientific and Natural Areas, conservation easements, registry agreements with other units of government, and assistance with tax incentives.

Scientific and Natural Areas protect natural features of exceptional scientific or educational value (MS 86A.05, Subd. 5). The priority is to perpetuate the state's ecological and geological diversity with particular emphasis on sustaining native plant communities and rare features. They are established by DNR Commissioner's designation orders. State law and policies provide a very high level of protection for Scientific and Natural Areas.

Site Selection

Criteria for selection of potential Scientific and Natural Areas include:

Data Collection and Analysis

Site selection begins with data collection and analysis by the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS). MBS gathers information on sensitive natural habitats and rare plant and animal species. This information is compiled in an ecological evaluation used to recommend areas for protection.

The Scientific and Natural Area Program further analyzes data gathered by the Survey and weighs it against constraints including land value and adjacent development. The results determine potential Natural Areas to pursue in an overall conservation system. You can learn more about this in the program's Strategic Land Protection Plan.


Protection of Scientific and Natural Areas is achieved through acquisition, donations, leases, or if already owned by the state, through designation. Landowners of qualifying sites may be contacted by the Program to determine their interest in protecting ecological diversity on their land. Only those sites that meet the highest criteria are considered for protection, and they are only acquired as a Natural Area with the cooperation of a willing landowner.

Protection proceeds somewhat differently in each case.


Other land protection options such as registry agreements, easements, and certifications are available through the Scientific and Natural Area Program:

Prairie protection for landowners

Protection of Minnesota's remaining native prairie receives particular attention by the Scientific and Natural Area Program, since so little remains. Most remaining parcels are privately owned, so tools for prairie protection by landowners are critical to their survival.