DNR wrapping up Minnesota's first biological 'census'

Hundreds of scientists have spent three decades cataloging the state's biological diversity

Hannah Texler, plant survey supervisor at the Minnesota DNR.
Hannah Texler, plant survey supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, helps monitor the effects of grazing on prairie wetlands at the Chippewa Prairie Nature Conservancy Preserve.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

As Earth Day marks its 50th year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is putting the finishing touches on the state’s first comprehensive survey of this corner of the earth.

Hundreds of scientists have spent more than three decades scouring the state, county by county, for rare and common plants and animals, as well as intact ecosystems that represent the land as it once was.

“And what we've found is a mix of not so good news and good news,” said Hannah Texler, a plant ecologist with the DNR who has been working on the study since the 1990s.

For Texler, the good includes her discovery of a plant that hadn’t been seen in the state since 1903. She and her colleagues found 30 plant and animal species in the state that were previously unknown.

Two people search for aquatic plants at a wetland.
Hannah Texler (left) searches for rare aquatic plants, with Lynden Gerdes (right), at a remote small wetland in northeast Minnesota where they found the endangered aquatic plant, Potamogeton confervoides.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

“There is a lot of biodiversity still intact in our state,” Texler said. “For example, we have 6 million acres of peat lands in the northern part of the state that are largely undisturbed and provide important habitat for all sorts of plants and animals, as well as carbon sequestration to help with climate change. And in other parts of the state, we still have some terrific areas of prairies, forests and wetlands.”

The bad news: In the last 150 years, the state has lost 50 percent of its wetlands, 40 percent of its forests and 98 percent of its prairies, Texler said.

“So that just underscores the importance of those areas we do have left,” she said. “It's incumbent on us to make sure that we're taking actions to make sure that those persist into the future.”

Hannah Texler documents the rare plant Floerkea proserpinacoides.
Hannah Texler documents the rare plant Floerkea proserpinacoides (false mermaid) in the Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Texler said that work begins by appreciating what we have, even under a stay-at-home-order.

I encourage others to carefully get out, at least in their yards and neighborhoods, and enjoy the natural world,” she said. “Take solace and comfort from the fact that it's still there, still moving along, and spring is happening.”

The DNR is compiling its final reports for the study, but much of the data is already available in maps, books and guides on its website.

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