There is something special about the work we do at with the USFWS and Minnesota Valley NWR. Where park rangers, biologists, realtors, firefighters, mechanics, visitor services, and education experts come together to serve a common goal of conserving, protecting, and enhancing our community, nature, and wildlife.
Something I have found quite fascinating is the work that biologists do on our refuge. As I start my mornings heating up my coffee preparing for my next assignment, a biologist passes me in waders and boots holding a data sheet and jar filled with specimens as they greet me with a smile. I get a brief glimpse into this interesting reality by these small encounters, but I have eagerly wanted to know more.
So, I took the last few weeks to meet with both urban and wildlife biologists, tagging along on their surveys and gathering data from their research this past summer and I am excited to share with you a small glimpse into their work and share how their research contributes to Minnesota Valley.
Along the Mississippi flyway, several species of waterfowl and waterbirds can be seen on the refuge. During migration season, biologists at Minnesota Valley work to band several songbirds and wood ducks by placing aluminum bands on a bird’s legs. Each set of bands has a unique combination of colors and numbers that records the location and date as well as the bird’s species, gender, age and other features.
This data is sent to the USGS lab and is used to understand a birds’ behavior, migration, lifespan, population, diseases and levels of environmental contaminants. This information helps experts make important management and conservation decisions, which is important for the protection and recovery of endangered and threatened birds.
In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more specifically, the Migratory Bird Office, work to analyze banding information from game bird species each year to help set hunting regulations. This helps ensure healthy populations while allowing sustainable hunting opportunities. With Minnesota being a significant stopover and destination for many birds, bird banding has played a huge role in the biology department.
Bees are another hot topic of conversation. The Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas is a public-participation science project aimed at tracking and conserving Minnesota’s bumble bees. Bees play an incredibly important role in sustaining the health of our environment by pollinating flowers in natural and urban areas, as well as by contributing to successful harvests on farms.
Minnesota is one of the few places where we still find the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee. A recent study has demonstrated that one quarter of North America's fifty species of bumble bees are experiencing dramatic population declines. The causes of these declines are likely caused by habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and the introduction of pathogens through commercial pollinators.
Biologists work to protect and manage existing habitat or create new habitat to conserve these important pollinators. Surveys are used to assess species distribution, population shifts, habitat associations, and more. Understanding how species distributions have changed over time, in conjunction with habitat change, can aid in helping biologists form accurate predictions as to what we should expect in the future, and help design effective conservation measures.
The Monarch Watch Tagging Program, a large-scale community science project to help understand the dynamics of the monarch's fall migration through mark and recapture, is yet another focus of our biology department.
Each fall more than a quarter of a million tags are distributed across North America. Once a monarch is captured, scientists record the tag code, tag date, gender of the butterfly, and geographic location and then apply a lightweight, circular tag to their wing. At the end of the tagging season, this data is submitted to Monarch Watch and added to its database to be used in research.
Tagging helps answer questions about the origins of monarchs that reach Mexico, the timing and pace of their migration, mortality, and changes in geographic distribution. While feeding on nectar, monarchs pollinate many types of wildflowers and plants that humans and wildlife depend on.
At the refuge, biologists conduct surveys not only on monarchs, bumble bees and waterfowl, but they also conduct population surveys on trout streams as well as threatened, northern long eared bats, too.
In bat survey’s, biologists use acoustic monitors and mobile route detectors along the Mpls parkway to track bat populations. This information is further used for conservation and restoration efforts. Biologists are also often spotted along trout streams electrofishing, a fishing technique that uses electricity to temporarily sting fish, to collect and measure Brook Trout and Northern Redbelly Dace, and record data that is later used to determine species abundance, density and composition. These efforts, in partnership with the Minnesota DNR, are further used to understand the ecological makeup of the trout stream and form a restoration plan.
Aside from duck banding, monarch tagging, and bat and bumble bee surveys, biologists at our refuge are often busy working to restore the Oak Savannah by conducting vegetation surveys, monitoring plots, planting trees and native plants, and removing invasives. Biologists also collect and harvest native seeds at Hennepin County and Eden Prairie that are later used towards restoration projects along the Long Meadow Lake.
This coming year the Minnesota Valley Wetland Management District plans to work with partner, Minnesota Valley Trust, to complete 18 projects across the refuge and district to enhance 995 acres of land, with focus on wetland restoration, prairie and oak savannah restoration, aerial herbicide application, woody removal, interseeding and invasive species control.
Some of these projects include tree removal, construction of a water control structure and dike, a water management plan at Eagle Creek Spillway Maintenance, beaver dam management, native seeding and mowing at Strom Lake, woody removal and invasive species control of the Barn Ruins at Rapids Lake, and fuel reduction and management projects on Howard Farm WPA and Lincoln WPA.
During these restoration projects, the refuge works to support an abundance of opportunities to engage youth and underserved communities such as the Minnesota Valley Trust Inc., Conservation Corps of Minnesota, and the American Conservation Experience High School Youth, in their conservation efforts.
During these past few weeks, I have had the exciting opportunity to participate in some of these surveys and research projects. It has been rewarding to further understand how we are making an impact in our community on both small and large scales and get the chance to share this research with our community.