According to internal documents, the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources and the Director of the (DNR) Division of Ecological & Water Resources in May 2012 directed the SNA Program to implement programmatic changes to the long standing legislative purposes and use of Scientific and Natural Areas.
Sources have stated that the primary factor that initiated this effort was the “threat” by the Outdoor Heritage Council (OHC) to withhold all funding to SNA if the program didn’t open more if not all SNAs to all hunting, trapping and fishing. Although legislation pertaining to the use of Outdoor Heritage Funds does limit new acquisitions to lands that are open to hunting, the use of OH funding for habitat enhancement is permitted on any land irrespective of whether or not hunting is permitted. (See LSOHC Amendment below)
The DNR Commissioner through the Director of the Division Ecological & Water Resources directed the SNA Program to implement a process to allow additional public recreational uses of SNAs.
The intention of this effort for most SNAs, is to open them to as many public uses as possible, starting with all hunting (hunting, trapping and fishing). Some forms of hunting include placing traps or bait, as in bear hunting, which could lead to disturbance of the area by digging or depositing foreign material on the site, like buckets of old donuts or frosting and dragging logs and other heavy debris over the bait to preclude raccoons and other scavengers from eating the bait before bears discover it. Hunting disturbs animals that are integral elements of the ecological communities protected on SNAs.
By legislation, the SNA Program was established first and foremost to protect and perpetuate natural native communities, and secondarily to promote public use, education and research opportunities- and only if these activities can be done without disturbance to the natural communities.
This DNR effort currently underway has no biological basis and is contrary to Minnesota Statute and Rules which state up front that the SNAs are ‘established to protect and perpetuate in an undisturbed state those natural features, etc…’ and secondly that they ’shall be administered to preserve, perpetuate and protect from unnatural influences…’, and finally that ‘physical development shall be limited to the facilities absolutely necessary for protection, research, and educational projects…and…for interpretive services.’ (See the actual statute wording and reference below) Historically, the SNA Program has held public hearings to open a specific SNAs to hunting based on biological reasons e.g. deer depredation. The effort currently underway, though contemplating site specific hearings, is intended to hold hearings on every SNA, with the goal of opening as many SNAs as possible to hunting and other recreational uses e.g. trails. Unfortunately, individual hearings do not let the public know that the entire purpose and uses of the entire system of SNAs is being changed.
DNR has not discussed this programmatic SNA system change with legislative committees nor vetted this effort through partner organizations and agencies (e.g. non-profits who work on SNA such as Great River Greening and Friends of the Mississippi River; Trust for Public Lands and the Minnesota Land Trust who work closely with SNA to protect suitable lands). Even other DNR Divisions such as Fish and Wildlife & Parks and Trails; or even other programs within Ecological & Water Resources such as the County Biological Survey (the CBS ecologists are responsible for identifying most of the areas that become SNAs) were not made aware of this change in DNR policy until October 2012.
It is hoped that individual members of the Minnesota Native Plant Society will contact their legislators with these concerns as the effort that has been implemented will gut the purpose of SNAs statewide.