Traveling around Minnesota, you've probably noticed some of our state's wildlife restoration successes. Big, bold creatures such as bison, wolves, trumpeter swans, and bald eagles command our attention, and how could they not? We are drawn in by their redemptive stories—back from the brink!—and by their forceful presence.
Not all rebounding species, though, are charismatic megafauna, the name sometimes given to creatures with this sort of animal magnetism. Some are more humble creatures whose recovery stories are subtler and more difficult for us, with our human limitations, to perceive.
For example, a quiet but momentous recovery is underway in Minnesota rivers. Lake sturgeon, once nearly fished out of existence in this state, are returning in ever greater numbers to waterways where they historically roamed. These smooth-skinned, cartilaginous fish, which combine a sharklike countenance with a docile demeanor, are the subject of a restoration process that takes monumental time and effort, according to Michael Kallok's story "A Whopper of a Recovery".
A female sturgeon can live to an age of 150 years, and males can live to 90. Females don't even reach sexual maturity until age 25. When a fisheries biologist releases lake sturgeon fingerlings, raised from hatchery stock, into a Minnesota river, it's with an awareness that many of the fish may outlive the human being. It's humbling in one sense yet inspirational in another: Putting a young sturgeon into the water is akin to planting an oak tree.
DNR regional fisheries manager Henry Drewes told Kallok that sturgeon recovery is measured not in years but in careers. These prehistoric fish have been brought back into their native waters, river mile by river mile, by people who realize that some types of conservation take longer than others, and that on nature's scale, human years are just one way to measure time and progress.
A key reason that sturgeon have been able to return to Minnesota rivers is the removal of dams that blocked or impeded their passage. In "River Revivals" DNR river scientist Luther Aadland shows how many species benefit when we take out aging, obsolete, and often dangerous dams and restore natural functions to rivers.
No two projects are exactly alike, but over time specialists like Aadland have learned principles and techniques that often come into play, and they are continually innovating and refining ways to repair the damage done by dams to river ecosystems.
When the heavy equipment tears out the dam, the real work has only begun. Constructing new rapids or fishways, dealing with stored-up sediment that may be contaminated, and integrating the project with local roadways and bridges are just some of the challenges that scientists, engineers, and other hardworking people deal with in dam removal projects. The next time you see a free-flowing river where a dam used to be, tip your hat to them.
Pollinators are one class of creatures that have attracted attention disproportionate to their size—for good reason. Threatened by habitat loss and pesticide use, bees, butterflies, and their pollen-transporting ilk have gotten public attention and help in recent years. Megan Benage's Field Note describes an innovative strategy, guided by DNR expertise, that involves planting pollinator-friendly prairie plants on sites that produce solar power. By filling in the spaces under and around the solar panels, solar producers also become pollen producers, with benefits for humans and wildlife alike. This, too, is restoration, with nature experts and industry working hand in hand to provide pollinator habitat.
If we can collectively recognize and appreciate the benefits of small insects with stingers, perhaps some of that bee charm will rub off even on wasps, which DNR pollinator coordinator Crystal Boyd reminds us have their role in nature's grand scheme as well. This issue's cover wasp, known to many as the bald-faced hornet, has a commanding presence that can rival some megafauna for emotional impact. Small but mighty, it reminds us that not all power derives from size and charisma.
Keith Goetzman, acting editor