Zebra mussels confirmed in Hand Lake in Cass County; Upper Cormorant Lake in Becker County

Credit to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the source: http://news.dnr.state.mn.us/2019/07/11/zebra-mussels-confirmed-in-hand-lake-in-cass-county-upper-cormorant-lake-in-becker-county/

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has confirmed reports of zebra mussels in Hand Lake in Cass County and Upper Cormorant Lake in Becker County. Two smaller lakes and an unnamed wetland connected to Upper Cormorant Lake will also be listed for zebra mussels.b

A Cass County watercraft inspector found a plant with attached zebra mussels on a boat coming from Hand Lake. Divers then found a 1-inch, adult zebra mussel in Hand Lake. The DNR is conducting further analyses to better determine the distribution of zebra mussels in the lake.

DNR divers conducted a search of Upper Cormorant Lake and found seven adult zebra mussels in four locations. Nelson Lake, Middle Cormorant Lake and an unnamed wetland connected to and downstream of Upper Cormorant Lake will also be listed for zebra mussels. The wetland flows into Big Cormorant Lake, where zebra mussels were confirmed in July of 2015.

Whether or not a lake is listed as infested, Minnesota law requires boaters and anglers to:
  • Clean watercraft and trailers of aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species.
  • Drain all water by removing drain plugs and keeping them out during transport.
  • Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.
Some invasive species are small and difficult to see at the water access. To remove or kill them, take one or more of the following precautions before moving to another waterbody:
  • Spray with high-pressure water.
  • Rinse with very hot water (120 degrees for at least two minutes or 140 degrees for at least 10 seconds).
  • Dry for at least five days.

Zebra mussels can compete with native species for food and habitat, cut the feet of swimmers, reduce the performance of boat motors, and cause expensive damage to water intake pipes.

People should contact an area DNR aquatic invasive species specialist if they think they have found zebra mussels or any other invasive species that has not already been confirmed in a lake.

More information is available at mndnr.gov/ais.

Once-threatened peregrines flying high across Minnesota

Original article written by Euan Kerr at MPR News: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/07/11/peregrines-make-a-remarkable-comeback-in-minnesota

Two adult peregrine falcons pestered climbers Mark Mussell and Cody Benz as they prepared to rappel down the cliff at Shovel Point, near the birds’ nest in Tettegouche State Park. The birds flew by screeching, putting on high-speed aerobatic displays just feet from the climbers’ heads.

It was a remarkable sight, considering the peregrine was wiped out in Minnesota in 1964, a victim of widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II.

“In less than 20 years’ time they went from endangered to fully recovered,” said Jackie Fallon, vice chair of field operations for the Midwest Peregrine Society. “And there is no other endangered species program worldwide that has had that amount of success in such a short time period.”

Staff and volunteers at Tettegouche State Park, on Lake Superior’s north shore, just wrapped up their peregrine banding program.

That’s what Mussell and Benz were doing cliffside, temporarily kidnapping a pair of chicks to take them up top to Fallon who would attach bands that would allow them to be tracked over time.

Tettegouche’s interpretive naturalist Kurt Mead enjoys meeting each new batch of peregrine chicks. “It gives me goosebumps every time,” he said. “It does not get old.”

Last year Tettegouche celebrated the 30th anniversary of its first wild peregrine nesting post-recovery. This year there are two peregrine pairs nesting in the park, and possibly three, although Mead said no one had actually located that nest.

Peregrine falcons are the fastest moving living things on the planet. While hunting they can dive at 150 mph.

But they weren’t equipped to deal with DDT, which made its way up the food chain from bugs eaten by small birds, then to the falcons and eagles that consumed the smaller prey.

“It was a wonderful pesticide which did what it was supposed to,” Fallon said. But, “the eggshells became so thin that just the adult birds sitting on the eggs would cause the shells to crack and therefore the birds weren’t able to replace themselves.”

“So by the 1960s peregrines were completely extirpated east of the Mississippi,” she said.

The government banned DDT in 1972, and the next year peregrines made the endangered species list. In 1982 efforts began to reintroduce the peregrine on cliffs along the Mississippi.

In time organizers began releasing birds elsewhere around the state. They included downtown Minneapolis and St Paul, and on the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, all places where Fallon says the tall buildings mimicked cliff habitat.

“And then in 1987 we had our very first successful wild peregrine fledge off of City Center or Multifoods,” Fallon said.

That bird was banded as a chick and named Maude. She headed north to Canada and helped establish a new peregrine colony there.

Releases in northern Minnesota established birds here at Tettegouche, as well as at some iron ore pits in the area.

This is a busy time of year for Fallon, moving between nesting sites around the state, to count and band as many chicks as possible. She estimates between 120 to 135 baby peregrines have been produced this season.

The two newly banded chicks at Tettegouche should be flying off the cliffs and skimming the pristine waters of Lake Superior by the end of this month.

One of the climbers who rappelled down the cliff wore a GoPro video camera on his helmet. During the climb, the camera fell off and into Lake Superior. (See the end of the video to watch the plunge!)

“As soon as his head emerged above the ledge, I noticed the GoPro was gone,” wrote the camera’s owner, photographer Derek Montgomery in an email to MPR News. “Nervously I told myself ‘Don’t worry. He just put it in a bag on his side.’ But then when I approached him after he was topside, he went to retrieve the GoPro and when it wasn’t there the look on his face told me all I needed to know.”

Montgomery immediately thought to ask Christian Dalbec for help. Dalbec is a well-known underwater photographer, and Montgomery saw news reports that he had just reunited a couple with a camera and photos they lost off the Two Harbors breakwater three years ago.

Montgomery sent Dalbec a Facebook message and received a quick response: He would try to find the camera.

“So I went home hopeful it would be found, but not too confident because the lake is big and a GoPro is really tiny,” Montgomery said.

The next day, Dalbec took a boat to the area below the cliff where it was lost. He was able to find it sitting on a ledge about 18 feet down — a lucky break since if it had shifted a few more feet, it would have fallen to an area that was 80 feet deep.

“I was lucky on a lot of fronts that day and extremely thankful for Christian being willing to search for it on such short notice,” Montgomery said.

A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site.A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site July 1 as climbers retrieve two chicks from its nest at Tettegouche State Park near Silver Bay, Minn. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Volunteer climber Mark Mussell prepares to descend onto the cliffs.Volunteer climber Mark Mussell prepares to descend onto the cliffs at Tettegouche State Park while a sign warns visitors about a peregrine falcon nesting site in the area. Below Mussell is fellow climber Cody Benz, wearing the blue helmet. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Ropes supporting two climbers descend off the cliffs toward Lake Superior.Ropes supporting two climbers descend off the cliffs toward Lake Superior July 1 at Tettegouche State Park near Silver Bay, Minn. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Jackie Fallon applies a band to the leg of a peregrine falcon chick.Kurt Mead, interpretive naturalist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a peregrine falcon chick while Jackie Fallon, vice president of field operations with the Midwest Peregrine Society, applies a band to the chick’s leg. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site.A peregrine falcon flies over Lake Superior near its nesting site. Tettegouche State Park has been the site of up to three nesting pairs in any given year, which researchers say is significant. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Cody Benz lifts a black box containing two peregrine falcon chicks.Volunteer climber Cody Benz lifts a black box containing two peregrine falcon chicks. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Kurt Mead holds a chick while Jackie Fallon applies a band to its leg.Kurt Mead (left) holds a peregrine falcon chick while Jackie Fallon (right) applies a band to the chick’s leg. Bands cannot be applied if the chicks are younger than 14 days old and they try to avoid banding chicks older than 22 or 23 days old. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Erin Hall holds a rope for climbers Mark Mussell and Cody Benz.Erin Hall, a naturalist intern at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, holds a rope for climbers Mark Mussell and Cody Benz (not pictured because they were on the cliffs). Derek Montgomery for MPR News

A sign warns visitors about a peregrine falcon nesting site in the area.Volunteer climber Cody Benz prepares to descend onto the cliffs at Tettegouche State Park while a sign warns visitors about a peregrine falcon nesting site. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Two peregrine falcon chicks rest on the ground after getting banded.Two peregrine falcon chicks rest on the ground after researchers placed bands on them. The banding is part of an ongoing effort to monitor the peregrine falcons, which had disappeared from the region by the mid 1960s due to the pesticide DDT. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas Program Biodiversity

Credit to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for their report: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snap/biodiversity.html

Prairie wildflowers at Mound Prairie SNA with wooded bluffland landscape in the background

Determining the best candidates for Natural Area protection is a complex process. Natural area conservation planning focuses on areas of high biodiversity. We use the following tools, concepts and resources to evaluate and manage sites.

The value of biodiversity (the variety of life and its processes)

Minnesota’s biodiversity has evolved over millennia into complex ecosystems. A myriad of species interact with each other and environmental factors such as soils, topography, hydrology and climate within these ecosystems.

Preserving biodiversity has benefits (ecosystem services) such as:

  • Maintaining healthy, stable plant and animal populations
  • Protecting genetic diversity
  • Protecting water and soil resources
  • Filtering pollution and nutrient recycling
  • Contributing to climate stability and carbon storage
  • Recovering from catastrophic events
  • Providing sources for food, medicine and other products
  • Research, education and monitoring
  • Recreation, tourism and inspiration

In areas where biodiversity is threatened, losing species can affect the ecosystem’s ability to function properly and provide these services. Maintaining biodiversity reduces voids and the entire ecosystem maintains a higher degree of resilience.

Conservation planning for natural areas focuses on areas of high biodiversity as well as habitats for rare species.

Resilience as a strategy

Resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to cope with disturbance. Resilience is critical to reducing climate change and fragmentation from land development. As climate change affects ecosystems they will face increasing vulnerability. An effective strategy at easing these negative impacts is to build resilience into native communities by:

  • Creating large protected areas and corridors to provide pathways for species to migrate to more suitable habitats
  • Preserving a greater variety of habitats for desirable species

The SNA program is using both strategies for resilience to maintain Minnesota’s biodiversity.

Biodiversity significance rankings

Biodiversity significance is a ranking based on the size and condition of native plant communities and how they fit in an ecological landscape. It also includes the presence or absence of rare species populations. The rankings are ‘outstanding’, ‘high’, ‘moderate’ and ‘below’. Ecologists with the Minnesota Biological Survey determine this status. This ranking is used to help prioritize Natural Area protection efforts.

Minnesota’s Ecological Classification System (ECS)

Ecological landscape classifications are used to identify, describe, and map progressively smaller areas of land with increasingly uniform ecological features. Minnesota’s Ecological Classification System (ECS) uses biotic and environmental factors, including climate, geology, topography, soils, hydrology and vegetation.

The largest units of the ECS are provinces and are defined primarily by climate. Minnesota has four provinces. Provinces are divided into 10 sections based on glacial deposits, topography and plant distributions. The 26 subsections of the ECS are further refined by local vegetation, especially trees, among other factors. Individual Scientific and Natural Areas note the subsection in which they are located. Native plant communities are a finer grading of the classification system.

Minnesota’s Native Plant Communities

Local groupings of trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs that interact with each other and their environment are called native plant communities and are characterized by the kinds and quantities of species they contain. They form recognizable units, such as oak savannas, pine forests, cattail marshes and other communities that tend to repeat over space and time.

Plant communities are subject to change. They form in response to climate and nutrients, as well as catastrophic flooding and fires. In the absence of change, they can be fairly stable over time. However they can also develop into something complete new. For example, a beaver dam can cause significant flooding and as a result, over a period of time, a new community will form in the flooded area. Places where native species have been largely replaced are no longer considered native plant communities.

Native plant communities serve as the basis for evaluating Scientific and Natural Area priorities. The Minnesota Biological Survey has identified, surveyed, and prioritized communities and rare species for research and conservation. Minnesota’s Native Plant Community Classification serves as a standard for ecologists to identify and assess communities. Some individual Scientific and Natural Areas have detail maps showing their native plant communities

Minnesota’s Rare Species

Rare species, are defined under Minnesota law as endangered, threatened, or of special concern. The DNR identifies which species are at greatest risk of disappearance. The law restricts harming those species that are designated as endangered or threatened. Natural Areas protect critical habitat for these rare species.