Despite a collectively small footprint on the state's landscape, Minnesota's state parks and trails provide a large space for many of the rarest plant and animal species in Minnesota. Because of this, protecting rare species and restoring rare species habitat is one of the resource management program's most important priorities. Since 2018, the division has initiated more than 80 projects that specifically benefit rare species.
- Preserving and expanding Minnesota's bison conservation herd
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies bison as Near-Threatened and Critically Depleted due to the small number that are managed to preserve the species in the public interest. (Fewer than 32,000 animals in North America.)
Existing threats include:
- Genetic manipulation of commercial herds for marketable traits;
- Habitat loss;
- Cattle gene introgression; and
- Small population effects.
The Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd (MBCH) was established in 2012 and currently consists of four partners: the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Zoo, Dakota County Parks and Olmsted County Parks, with bison at five locations.
The current population of the MBCH is 156 bison virtually free of cattle genes. A primary goal of the MBCH is to reach a sustaining population of at least 500 animals to ensure the herd's long-term genetic viability.
Additional goals include:
- Improving prairie quality through bison reintroductions;
- Providing opportunities for individuals to learn about bison, prairies and peoples; and
- Incorporating other entities such as federal and tribal governments and private conservation organizations.
Read more about it: "Bona fide Bison" (2013 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article about the Minneopa State Park herd)
The bison herd at Minneopa State Park.
A bison wallow at Blue Mounds State Park.
A young bison calf with its mother.
- Dakota Skipper reintroduction efforts
As recently as the early 2000s, Dakota Skippers could be found in Minnesota state parks including as Glacial Lakes, Lake Bronson, Buffalo River and Big Stone Lake. Dozens were counted along transects at Glacial Lakes in 2001.
However, between then and about 2010, for reasons not yet fully understood, essentially all of the state's Dakota Skippers disappeared. Due to this precipitous decline across much of its range, the Dakota Skipper was listed as federally threatened in 2014.
Minnesota statutes direct state parks to reintroduce species that were once present but are now missing, so in late 2019, with the assistance of funding from LCCMR, state parks partnered with the Minnesota Zoo to initiate a project to prepare habitat for a reintroduction of Dakota Skippers in summer 2023.
A male Dakota Skipper about to be released into the prairie.
Prairie flowers create an ideal habitat for skippers.