Newsroom Midwest Region

Seeds for habitat; habitat for hunters

October 4, 2017

Collecting milkweed seeds. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS.
Collecting milkweed seeds. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS.

Wildlife conservation in America was born out of a concern that wildlife, particularly game species, were at risk without a regulatory authority and laws. Thanks to early conservationists, which included hunters and anglers, we have public lands to conserve wildlife, fish and plants and to enjoy through outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing and wildlife observation.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is part of these public lands. Comprised of more than 14,000 acres and located near 3.5 million Twin Cities residents, the refuge provides quality wildlife habitat and a unique opportunity to enjoy wildlife in the shadows of skyscrapers and grain elevators.

How does it happen? Through considerate wildlife conservation planning. In the Midwest, oak savanna was one of the most most common vegetation types, but is now one of the rarest. It is estimated that only about 0.02% of the original oak savanna of remains. Minnesota Valley has remnant oak savanna and is working to restore this habitat at the Rapids Lake Unit located in Carver, Minnesota. In 2016, the refuge received funding from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program and the Minnesota Valley Trust. The three-year project will create and implement a conservation plan to restore and enhance 175 acres of oak savanna.

With the first year of restoration work completed, refuge staff witnessed an amazing response from native plants. “Removing the woody vegetation opened the tree canopy and rejuvenated the understory,” said wildlife biologist Vicki Sherry. “Kittentail, prairie smoke, pasque flower and milkweed are rebounding.”

Opening the canopy adds additional light allowing the native seed bank to thrive. Where invasive species were removed, seed collected from the site will be sown to redistribute native plants. The refuge is hand harvesting the seed for a winter dispersal. Hand harvesting is conducted when the seed is particularly valuable, over rugged terrain or ecologically sensitive areas. The refuge is interested in collecting seed from whorled milkweed - a known host plant for the monarch caterpillar. Midwest Regional Office employees were recently able to offer helping hands in the collection of milkweed and other prairie seeds in support of this effort.

Oak savanna habitats provide outstanding conditions for a variety of wildlife. The diversity of forbs in a restored oak savanna is very high. The savanna offers both prairie-like and woodland-like areas. Oak trees provide nesting sites for birds, like the red-headed woodpecker, as well as food for pollinators. Acorns provide excellent food for deer, wild turkey and rodents.

An experienced hunter mentors a youth hunter. Photo by USFWS.
An experienced hunter mentors a youth hunter. Photo by USFWS.

Increasing oak savanna habitat also increases hunting opportunities. The Rapids Lake Unit is one of the closest public hunting areas to the Twin Cities. Diverse hunting abounds with archery and firearms seasons according to refuge regulations. Species hunted on the unit include white-tailed deer, waterfowl, pheasant and wild turkey.

With the ongoing restoration of oak savanna and other native habitats at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, hunting and other wildlife enjoyment opportunities are boundless. Learn more about Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and plan your visit today!

Regional Director Tom Melius and a group of employees work together to collect seeds at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tom Cooper/USFWS.
Regional Director Tom Melius and a group of employees work together to collect seeds at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tom Cooper/USFWS.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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