For over 40 years, the Nongame Wildlife Program has worked to protect and preserve Minnesota’s wildlife. We have saved over 5,500 acres of habitat and helped restore countless wildlife populations. We've had many successful initiatives in our 40+ year history, from revitalizing the trumpeter swan population to preserving crucial wildlife habitats like the Boltuck-Rice Forever Wild Scientific and Natural Area. Every day, our staff works to continue this legacy.
One of nature’s most proficient anglers, ospreys were originally found throughout Minnesota. But they disappeared from the Twin Cities area after World War II due to habitat loss, human persecution, and other factors. In 1984, the Nongame Wildlife Program, Three Rivers Park District, and other conservation partners worked together to restore Minnesota’s osprey population. Nest platforms were built to promote nesting in the Twin Cities area and more than 100 osprey chicks were bred in captivity and released into the wild. This restoration work was a resounding success: 2013 surveys estimated the population in Minnesota was more than 1,100 osprey with trends for a steady or increasing population. Osprey were removed from the state list of Special Concern Species in 1996 and removed from the Species of Greatest Conservation Need list in 2015.
Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world, but for several decades you couldn’t find one anywhere in Minnesota. During the 1950s and 1960s the state’s population of peregrine falcons was wiped out due to overuse of pesticides. In 1982, the Nongame Wildlife Program, Raptor Center, Nature Conservancy, Bell Museum, and private propagators throughout the nation began restoration efforts to bring peregrines back to the Midwest.
The trumpeter swan’s graceful figure and distinctive call may be a common sight now, but at one point there were only 69 swans in the lower 48 states. By 1930, America’s trumpeter swan population was almost extinct. But thanks to initiatives by the Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Hennepin County Park Reserve District (now Three Rivers Park District), and many other organizations and agencies, Minnesota is now home to more than 30,000 swans!
By restoring habitats and carefully breeding and releasing swans, we’ve helped make it possible for current and future generations of Minnesotans to enjoy the sight and sounds of this beautiful bird. But our work isn’t done! You can help us preserve Minnesota’s trumpeter swans by reporting sightings, learning how to identify the species, and more.
Minnesota’s bluebird population declined dramatically during the 1930s-1960s due to loss of habitat and competition from other cavity-nesting birds, like starlings and house sparrows. The Nongame Wildlife Program partnered with the Bluebird Recovery Program of the Minneapolis Chapter of National Audubon to sponsor workshops, publish education materials, and promote the placement of bluebird houses to bring back this songbird.
Restoration efforts paid off and Minnesota now has one of the most successful bluebird recoveries in the nation. 2019 reports show that there were more than 10,000 fledged bluebirds!
Once pushed to the brink of extinction, the recovery of the bald eagle population continues to amaze both casual birdwatchers and professional biologists. Wanton killing, habitat loss, and the use of pesticides all dramatically reduced the bald eagle population in America to a point where they were listed as an endangered species.
Thanks to the work of the Nongame Wildlife Program, the Raptor Center, and many other individuals and agencies, the bald eagle has not only survived, but thrived. By passing laws against lead shot for all waterfowl hunting in Minnesota, preparing individual nest management plans for bald eagles, and conducting surveys, we have helped to dramatically increase the bald eagle population. In 1980, there were only 181 active nesting territories in Minnesota, but in 2019 it was estimated that there are more than 1,600 nesting pairs!
River otters were historically found throughout Minnesota, however their popularity in the fur trade market led to their extirpation from the entire drainage of the Minnesota River. By the late 1800s, there were almost no river otters from the South Dakota border to Mankato. Inspired by restoration work in Colorado and West Virginia, former Nongame Wildlife Supervisor Carrol Henderson went to work developing a plan to bring river otters back to southwestern Minnesota.
The program offered to pay selected trappers $150 for every otter they captured. Donations from the Willmar Sports Club, the Saint Paul Audubon Society, and the Minnesota State Archery Association helped fund this catch and release strategy. From 1980-1982, we released 22 otters into the wild, marking their return to the Minnesota River for the first time in almost 100 years. Thanks to aerial surveys and citizen sightings, we know that this restoration work continues to be a success. In 2017, Minnesota’s river otter population was estimated to be around 18,000 otters.
In Minnesota, 28 of our 51 native mussel species are listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern, three species have been extirpated, and at least three more species are in imminent danger of extirpation. Commercial harvest, dams, and pollution have all played a part this decline. Mussels are a crucial part of Minnesota’s river health, so the DNR created the Center for Aquatic Mollusk Programs (CAMP) in order to bring back Minnesota’s mussels.
CAMP is currently propagating 10 different species of threatened and endangered mussels in their lab. Recently the lab "gave birth" to more than 14,000 federally endangered snuffbox mussels. These mussels will continue to grow in the lab over the summer, then they'll be placed in containers to overwinter in the river. Eventually, these mussels will be released in the Mississippi River near St. Paul.
CAMP has also identified the host fishes for the federally endangered spectaclecase (cumberlandia monodonta), a major milestone in the species’ conservation and restoration. Minnesota and Iowa are working together to conserve this species and study its propagation techniques. These studies are paying off and 140 have been successfully reared since 2017.
Humans need shelter and food to survive and wildlife are no different! That’s why the Nongame Wildlife Program has protected more than 3,000 acres of important wildlife habitat as part of our efforts to preserve and restore Minnesota’s native wildlife species. A few examples include:
Shelly Island Wildlife Management
Shelley Island was preserved by a cooperative effort between the Minnesota Wildlife Heritage Foundation, the DNR, and the island owner. This large island in Cotton Lake in Becker County provides excellent habitat for a wide variety of songbirds, gulls, loons, bald eagles, terns, and a great blue heron colony.
Bass Brook Wildlife Management Area
Bass Brook WMA in Itasca County is an area of rich and diverse wildlife use. The shoreline has extensive beds of wild rice and is heavily used by waterfowl and furbearers. This site is also noteworthy for the presence of yellow-throated vireo (at the northern limit of its range), the declining scarlet tanager, Virginia and sora rails, and nesting great blue herons.
Whitefish Lake Shoreline Conservation Easement
Nestled on Whitefish Lake in Crow Wing County, this undeveloped property protected by a conservation easement provides important habitat for several wildlife species, including bald eagles, neotropical migrant songbirds, great blue herons, waterfowl, shorebirds, and a variety of other nongame species. It also includes an extensive forest of relatively undisturbed pine and maple-basswood.
Wig Wildlife Management Area
Wig WMA in Kandiyohi County is a wooded island with the largest mixed species nesting colony of wading birds in Minnesota. Species nesting here include great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, great egrets and double-crested cormorants. In addition, cattle egrets and snowy egrets have been seen in the rookery.
Dr. Johan Hvoslef Wildlife Management Area
Dr. Johan Hvoslef WMA in Fillmore County is a haven to nongame animals. This WMA is named in honor of Dr. Johan Hvoslef, a country doctor who worked in Lanesboro at the turn of the century. The land has a large meadow, numerous wildflowers, hardwood forest, bluffs and a good trout stream. It is visited by rare birds such as the Louisiana waterthrush, and also has a large spring that feeds into the Root River. The area is managed for all wildlife species, with particular emphasis on nongame birds.