A state scientific and natural area shall be established to protect and perpetuate in an undisturbed natural state those natural features which possess exceptional scientific or educational value. —Minnesota Statute 86A.05, subdivision 5(a)
The year was 1969. The Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon and a human set foot on its desolate surface. Woodstock, the music festival, attracted an estimated 500,000 revelers to a small village in New York State. Sesame Street debuted on the newly established PBS television network. And, in Minnesota on May 16, legislation passed (Minnesota Statute 84.033) creating what would become the foundation of a program designed to preserve the best examples of the state’s natural features and rare species.
Fast forward and 2019 marks the Scientific and Natural Areas Program 50th anniversary. A lot has changed over these 50 years but the vision for Scientific and Natural Areas remains as true today as it was then: “A state scientific and natural area shall be established to protect and perpetuate in an undisturbed natural state those natural features which possess exceptional scientific or educational value.”
The Program has expanded focus and now includes activities that preserve both public and private lands. Milestones in public and private lands work include:
Scientific and Natural Areas
The first Scientific and Natural Area, Rush Lake Island, was acquired in 1974 to preserve a heron rookery. Scientific and Natural Areas are exceptional places where native plants and animals flourish; where rare species are protected; and where we can know, and study, Minnesota's fascinating natural features.
Native Prairie Tax Exemption
In 1980, an incentive for private landowners to preserve their prairie was added to the Program. Native Prairie Tax Exemption allows for removing taxes from eligible lands with native prairie.
Natural Areas Registry
Natural Areas Registry recognizes public land at all levels containing exceptional natural features. Since 1982 the Scientific and Natural Area Program has developed agreements with land managers for ecological management of these areas.
Native Prairie Bank
In 1987, Native Prairie Bank conservation easements on private lands were added to the Scientific and Natural Area Program toolbox.
Today and into the future
As of January 2019, there were 168 Scientific and Natural Areas protecting over 192,000 acres and 141 Native Prairie Bank easements protecting over 12,800 acres, forming the backbone of protected areas in the Program. Numerous Native Prairie Tax Exemptions and nearly 50 Natural Area Registries provide incentives to protect almost 20,000 acres. These sites represent a diverse set of natural habitats across the state.
Looking forward the Program’s primary goal is ensuring that Minnesota's natural heritage is not lost from any ecological region of the state.
Preserving Natural Features
A key principle of the SNA Program, as noted in statute, is preserving natural features for scientific study and public understanding. Select thumbnails below to find out more about these natural features.
Check out this history timeline showing significant milestones for the Scientific and Natural Areas Program over the last 50 years.