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:

  • Diversity and quality of native plant communities (including under-protected habitats)
  • Occurrence or habitat for rare species
  • Parcel size
  • Location and connectivity to other protected lands
  • Potential for long-term management and enhancement
  • Factors such as threat of development, mining, conversion to cropland or donation

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.

  • Land acquisition: Purchasing parcels requires a willing seller and an appropriate budget—two factors that vary independently.
  • Donations: Gifts of land have been significant to Natural Area acquisition from both non-profit organizations and individuals.
  • Leasing: The Nature Conservancy has, on a number of its properties, leased the land as a Scientific and Natural Area to provide those parcels with an extra degree of protection.
  • Designation of public lands: The existing public land base may provide as many as 20 percent of all new Natural Areas.


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

  • Natural Area Registry: agreements between the Program and other units of government designed to protect sites with exceptional natural features (native plant communities/rare resources) and guide management of these lands.
  • Native Prairie Bank: conservation easements between willing landowners and the Program. These agreements are used to manage and protect native prairie on private lands.
  • Native Prairie Tax Exemption: is a certification of lands with native prairie that allow landowners to remove those acres from property taxes.

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.

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