Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas Program
Research and Education

Plant survey in the Red Lake Peatland SNA.

Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) are unique places for research and education. These Natural Areas are open to all Minnesotans, but research and certain special uses require a permit.

The Scientific and Natural Areas Program encourages research and educational pursuits to advance the knowledge of natural systems.

Education yields benefits for both students and educators, as well as Scientific and Natural Areas. Students can gain new skills and experiences while producing important scientific data. SNAs are excellent for exploring native plant communities, learning about native species, and examining how natural systems function.

Example: Education at Blanket Flower Prairie SNA

The Natural Resource Management (NRM) Club at North Dakota State University (NDSU) is an excellent example of the benefits of education on an SNA.  Jack Norland, Associate Professor of Natural Resources at NDSU uses Blanket Flower Prairie SNA to train and educate his students. The club surveys Hill's thistle (Cirsium pumilum var. hillii), monitoring the rare plant yearly.

The data and observations gathered by Jack's students and the NRM Club provide data for SNA staff to manage this Natural Area.

Research conducted in a Scientific and Natural Area contributes to a wealth of data on natural systems. This information supports the understanding and protection of Minnesota's natural heritage.

Example: Research on Native Prairie SNAs and Prairie Remnants

Ian Lane, a University of Minnesota (UMN) Ph.D. candidate with the UMN Bee Lab researches different landscapes affecting the ability of wild bees to colonize new habitats. Scientific and Natural Areas are essential to Ian's study as the SNAs provide an important refuge for wild bees that rely on prairies. Ian use SNAs as a reference to understand if these prairie bees will navigate the surrounding environment and colonize reconstructed and restored prairies created for them.

Ian's study involves an inventory of bees present at surveyed SNAs. The presence of a rare bee population on an SNA can affect the way the SNA Program manages a Natural Area; that can inform managers to alter the method and timing of prescribed burns.

Who can apply to conduct research?

Permits to conduct research are required and new proposals are welcomed year round.
Researchers, including university professors and independent scientists, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, are strongly encouraged to apply. All researchers must submit a completed research application.

Applications must include and describe:

  • Experience in research area
  • Reason for selecting study area or selected Natural Area
  • Research hypothesis, targeted natural community and species
  • Objectives, design, methods, and procedure
  • Field work schedule
  • Collection of any resources and methods of collection
  • Impacts and effects on Natural Areas and management
  • Equipment to be used
  • Project documentation and presentation of results

A special use permit may be required for non-research related uses in Scientific and Natural Areas. These uses may include, but are not limited to, large groups, classes or organized activities, some management practices or entrance into sanctuaries, and drone or trail camera use.

Reporting results is required for all SNA research and special use permits.

The Scientific and Natural Areas Program issues, on average, 70 research permits each year. Interested researchers and educators may request information on past research by emailing the Program at [email protected].

SNA Research Priorities

The Program gives priority to research that will not harm existing species and habitats. However, all research proposals receive careful consideration.

SNA research priorities include:
  • Site-specific, baseline information
  • Prescribed burn effects on other management and conservation
  • Native plant community restoration and reconstruction
  • Control of invasive species, or understanding invasive spread
  • Rare species monitoring and management
  • Effects of management practices (including prescribed fire, woody plant management, invasive plant control efforts, etc.)
  • Climate change implications for management and restoration
  • Examples of site-specific priorities:

Research Methodology

The Scientific and Natural Areas Program encourages researchers and educators to consider standardized methodologies in their work on Scientific and Natural Areas.

Standard Methodologies and Resources