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The Scientific and Natural Areas Program preserves Minnesota's natural heritage (ecological and geological diversity maintained for present and future generations) for scientific study and public understanding. This natural heritage consists of:
- native plant and animal communities
- rare species
- places of biodiversity significance
- geological features/formations
- and other natural features/formations such as:
- seasonal wildlife concentrations and vantage points for observing them
- successional processes
- relict flora or fauna
- fossil evidence
- Primary — Ensure that Minnesota's natural heritage is not lost from any ecological region of the state.
- Secondary — Provide compatible nature-based recreation, education and scientific research opportunities.
Program Focus and Activities
The SNA Program preserves both public and private lands.
We work with partners to establish preserves across Minnesota's landscape. Protection of multiple sites in each landscape region is a vital means of capturing the genetic diversity and preventing the loss of communities, species, and features. This strategy observes the wisdom of not putting all of our eggs in one basket.
In the mid-1960s concerned citizens urged Minnesota to become one of the first states to create state owned and managed Natural Areas. In 1965, a 15-member panel of experts in biology and geology called the Commissioner's Natural Heritage Advisory Committee was formed to advise the DNR Commissioner on Natural Areas and to encourage the legislature to establish a program.
State-administered Scientific and Natural Areas were initially authorized by the Minnesota Legislature in 1969 (M.S. 84.033). The first Scientific and Natural Area, Rush Lake Island, was acquired in 1974 to preserve a heron rookery.
In 1980, an incentive for private landowners to preserve their prairie was added to the program. Native Prairie Tax Exemption allows for exempting eligible lands with native prairie from property taxes.
Natural Areas Registry recognizes public land containing exceptional natural features. Since 1982 the Scientific and Natural Area Program has developed agreements with land managers for ecological management of these areas.
In 1987, Native Prairie Bank conservation easements on private lands were added to the Scientific and Natural Area Program tool box (M.S. 84.96).
Today, over 160 Scientific and Natural Areas and 120 Native Prairie Bank easements form the backbone of protected areas in the Program. These sites represent a diverse set of natural habitats across the state.
The Program's two largest sources of funding come through annual competitive grant processes and subsequent legislative approval. Funding sources include:
- Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund (from state lottery proceeds)
- Outdoor Heritage Fund (from state sales tax)
- Other appropriations by the Minnesota Legislative (such as the general fund)
A number of organizations and individuals donate to the program. Of these, the Nature Conservancy has donated the most land. Sizable cash contributions have also been made by partners acquiring land for and with the program. Occasionally, the program receives federal funding.