Volunteer Opportunities

Lake levels, loons or luminaries? These are just a few of the things involved with the plethora of volunteer opportunities with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. You can monitor lake levels, record the number of loons you see on your lake or light luminaries for a candlelight ski or snowshoe. Like to take photos? Here’s your chance to photograph some Scientific and Natural Areas in Minnesota. Check out the website for more ways you can help the Minnesota DNR.

SNA Nature Photographers

(NE MN and Statewide)

Love taking photos and wish you could devote more time to it? We’ll give you the chance!  Volunteer to take a collection of winter photos of Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) located primarily in the northeastern region of Minnesota to increase awareness and appreciation for the natural diversity found there.

Winter photography of SNAs includes:

  • Images of native plant communities, native plants, native wildlife, signs of wildlife, or events held there.
  • Photos from multiple locations, panoramas, and macro photography.
  • Photos of people on SNAs (snowshoeing, skiing, attending an event, etc.).
  • Uploading photos to the SNA Flickr group.
  • Documenting each photo by title, tags, and content following Flickr guidelines.

Whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer skilled in nature photography, we invite you to share your skills with us.

SNA locations to take photos:

  • Hovland Woods
  • Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods
  • Myhr Creek Ridge
  • Sugarloaf Cove
  • Butterwort Cliffs
  • Iona’s Beach
  • Black Lake Bog
  • McGregor Marsh
  • West and East Rat Root River Peatlands
  • Any other SNA’s in the northeastern region or state would be welcome!

For more information on being an SNA nature photographer, contact either
Bryonna Persing in Eveleth at 218-735-3962, email bryonna.persing@state.mn.us  OR
Kelly Randall in St Paul at 651-259-5070, email kelly.randall@state.mn.us

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Posted in environment

Who Knew?

You learn something new every day. With the list of “Six Green Alternatives”  for Christmas I learned six new things! The list is from from Green Line Paper Company.

Six Green Alternatives
Every Christmas season, U.S. consumers purchase tons of cheaply made garland, wrappings and ornaments that are chock-full of toxic chemicals. Why not try a green approach to holiday decorating this year that is gentler on the environment and is far more beautiful.  Here are six common holiday decorations that contain harmful chemicals or unsustainable ingredients, as well as eco-friendlier alternatives you can use to achieve the same look.

1)Artificial Christmas trees. If you’re going to use a fake tree (and there are many green reasons to do so), it’s important to choose carefully. Until recently, artificial Christmas trees were cut from compressed sheets of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a known human carcinogen. Now some tree makers have switched to injection-molded polyethylene plastic, which is safer but still plastic.

Alternatives: Use a non-PVC artificial tree. Or choose to decorate a living pesticide-free tree, bush or houseplant that will continue to clean your indoor air long after the holidays are over.

2)Spray-on snow. If you live in a region that doesn’t get much winter snow, you might be tempted to pick up a can of faux snow to give your windows and tree a just-frosted look. But many snow sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride and these solvents can be harmful when inhaled while spraying. However, once the snow spray is dried, it is not dangerous.

Alternatives: Try cutting decorative snowflakes out of paper.  You can use them again next year if you’re careful. You can also use cotton batting (sold at craft stores as stuffing for quilts and pillows) to create faux snow drifts along windowsills or around the tree.

3)Vintage ornaments. Like many things made before the time of health and environmental regulations, these pretty baubles can be hiding a toxic secret. They’ve been known to contain lead paint or mercury. Some are even called mercury glass ornaments. Even newer ornaments bearing the “Made in China” label can contain lead or toxic paints.

Alternatives: Consider wearing rubber gloves when you handle the old ornaments, or at least wash your hands right after. If you’re in need of new ornaments this year, think about making your own from natural or upcycled materials.

4)String lights. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the holidays without lights—those twinkling, blinking strings of color that adorn everything from tree to porch. Sadly, 54 percent of holiday lights tested in a U.S. study had more lead than regulators permit in children’s products, with some strands containing more than 30 times those levels. Lead is a common component in vinyl, the material used to coat light wirings and bulb socket.

Alternatives:  Adults only should handle light strings and with care. If you’re in the market for new lights, look for LED strands on EnvironmentalLights.com; some brands sold by Environmental Lights claim to be lead-free.

5)Wrapping paper. While most wrapping paper and ribbons are non-toxic, foil and colored gift-wrap have been known to contain lead, making them dangerous to touch and even worse for the environment after they’re thrown away. And never burn holiday wrapping paper in the fireplace.

Alternatives: Make your own. Wrapping paper only lasts a few minutes anyway, and there are lots of other ways to prevent eyeballs from deciphering what’s inside the package. Some alternatives to gift wrapping paper are reused gift bags, maps, mason jars, clay pots, a gift wrapped in a gift…there are a ton of ways to get creative!

6)Candles. Many types of candles pollute indoor air and put our health at risk. Most of the candles on the market are made with paraffin wax, derived from petroleum, and scented with synthetic fragrances, also derived from petroleum. Researchers have found that the petroleum-based candles emitted varying levels of cancer-causing toluene and benzene, as well as other hydrocarbon chemicals called alkanes and alkenes, which are components of gasoline and can irritate respiratory tracts and trigger asthma.

Alternatives: Look for candles made from soybean, palm, hemp or beeswax—or make your own fragrant holiday candles using natural ingredients, or make your own as a fun family project.

Want to make your own decorations? Remember the four P’s of holiday decorating: Paper, plants, popcorn and pinecones. These natural and recycled materials are better for the planet, are prettier than manufactured products and creating them with your children or a friend is an enjoyable way to spend time during the holidays.

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Largest Land Organism

I would have never guessed the largest land organism is a fungus. But according to an article by Eleanor Imster,  “The largest terrestrial organism on the planet is a fungus called Armillaria solidipes – or honey fungus. The largest honey fungus identified in North America is in Oregon. It measures 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) across!”

The fungi grow in networks of fibers called mycelia that work like plant’s roots. They grow above ground and below ground and individuals are able to fuse to other honey fungus connecting large fungal bodies together creating one large individual. The downside to this fungi is that it is also a parasite and can kill trees.
I’m not sure if I’ve seen these in our neck of the woods but I know I’ll keep my eyes open for them in the spring.




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Geminid Meteor Shower

Plan to stay up late or get up early on the 13th and 14th of December when the Gemini Meteor Showers will peak between midnight and 2am. It’s not the best time of the year for watching meteors in Minnesota but we know there won’t be mosquitoes. The night sky should be dark as we’re approaching a new moon on the 18th. If the skies are clear it should be a fabulous show.

Our ground is covered in snow but a sleeping bag and a lawn chair or a hammock strung in a relatively open area should provide warmth and comfort for the show.

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Caribou Herd Dwindling

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is taking matters into their own hands literally when it comes to saving their Lake Superior woodland caribou. The caribou population on two islands in Lake Superior has been nearly decimated since the arrival of wolves via an ice bridge formed in 2014.

The Slate Islands and Michipicoten Island had large populations of caribou as recently as 2014. Caribou thrived and herds were said to have numbered in the 600’s and 400’s respectively but are now down to less than 100. According to recent articles scientists fear there will be no caribou left by the end of the winter if something isn’t done quickly.

Photo by Layne Kennedy

Unlike moose, caribou are unable to fight off wolves even when they are healthy. On the islands there is no place safe for the caribou to outrun and escape the wolves.  The only way to save the population is to move them to an island that does not have a wolf population.

They plan to move the animals back to the Slate Islands. The wolf

population there has most likely died off completely due to the lack of food/caribou to sustain the packs.

It’s quite interesting to read about the history of the Lake Superior woodland caribou. It isn’t the first time humans have intervened with the caribou. Some Slate Island caribou were transported to Michipicoten Island in the 1980’s. While most likely none of the caribou transported from Slate to Michipicoten are still alive no doubt their offspring may find their way “home” courtesy of a helicopter ride.

Read another article about the Slate Island caribou by Gus Axelson.

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Slippery Sidewalk

Salt used on roadways causes a number of problems. Much of the salt used on roads ends up in lakes or streams or stays in groundwater.  This can affect drinking water for humans and ecosystems for fish. The salt can end up in the soil or on plants and trees along the road and result in death to the plants and vegetation.  Pets and birds that ingest salt may develop health problems and the salt may attract other wildlife to the road where they can be hit by cars. As most of us know salt can damage our vehicles and the road surfaces we drive on. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has offered some information and suggestions about the use of salt on roads.

For release: December 5, 2017
Contact: Mary Connor, 651-757-2629

Nine smart salting tips that protect Minnesota waters
As the first major snow of the season arrives, Minnesotans are thinking about clearing snow and ice from pavement — sometimes with salt. We scatter an estimated 365,000 tons of salt in the metro area each year. But it only takes a teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recommends a low-salt diet for our lakes, streams, and rivers. Much like table salt, rock salt’s benefits are peppered with danger. Salt helps melt ice on roads and sidewalks and protects drivers and pedestrians. But when the snow melts, de-icing salt, which contains chloride, runs into nearby bodies of water and harms aquatic wildlife. Chloride accumulates in the water over time, and there’s no feasible way to treat or remove it.

A University of Minnesota study found that about 78% of salt applied in the Twin Cities for winter maintenance ends up either in groundwater or local lakes and wetlands. The MPCA has found that groundwater in the state’s urban areas often exceeds the state standards for chloride contamination. Forty-seven bodies of water in Minnesota have tested above the standard for chloride, 39 of which are in the Twin Cities metro area.

Though no environmentally safe, effective, and inexpensive alternatives to salt are yet available, smart salting strategies can help reduce chloride pollution in state waters, while saving money and limiting salt damage to infrastructure, vehicles, and plants.

Do your part by following these simple tips:

    • Shovel. The more snow and ice you remove manually, the less salt you will have to use and the more effective it can be.
    • 15 degrees (F) is too cold for salt. Most salts stop working at this temperature. Use sand instead for traction, but remember that sand does not melt ice.
    • Slow down. Drive for the conditions and make sure to give plow drivers plenty of space to do their work. Consider purchasing winter (snow) tires.
    • Apply less. More salt does not mean more melting. Use less than four pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet. One pound of salt is approximately a heaping 12-ounce coffee mug. Leave about a three-inch space between granules. Consider purchasing a hand-held spreader to help you apply a consistent amount.
    • Sweep up extra. If salt or sand is visible on dry pavement it is no longer doing any work and will be washed away. Use this salt or sand somewhere else or throw it away.
    • Hire a certified Smart Salting contractor. Visit the MPCA web site for a list of winter maintenance professionals specifically trained in limiting salt use.
    • Watch a video. Produced by the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, it offers tools for environmentally friendly snow and ice removal.
    • Act locally. Support local and state winter maintenance crews in their efforts to reduce their salt use.
    • Promote smart salting. Work together with local government, businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofits to find ways to reduce salt use in your community.
      Learn more on the MPCA’s website.

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Simplify your gift giving

Looking for some good gift giving ideas that don’t require boxes or wrapping paper? The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is encouraging folks to give the gift of an experience in place of a material gift. Material gifts don’t bring lasting happiness and can actually add to stress levels. Experiences can live on in memories and sometimes you can even appreciate the gift too.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency came up with quite the list!

Make memories, not trash

Illustration showing gifts of Kiss tickets, homemade dessert, thrift-store finds, coupon for free babysitting.

50 things you can give that are more about experience

Membership to a tool library–find one on this nifty map!

Membership to the Minneapolis Toy Library

Cooking classes–You can find everything from ‘how to make good coffee’ to international meals to everyday basics.

Top-10 book list–Share a love of reading by putting together a “Top 10” list of books that you enjoyed.

Visit a bookstore, together–Visit a fun kids bookstore together and let them pick a book.

Jar of love–fill a jar with little notes. Each note listed an activity to do together. Examples include experiences like bike ride, canoe, cross country skiing, see a movie, and go to a park. What could be better?

Ice skating or sledding “party”–Pack a thermos of hot cocoa, some snacks, and a blanket for a winter picnic at your local rink or sledding hill. Make fancy invitations and wrap them up for gift-giving time.

Gift cards for unique winter activities—which can be done on your own, or with a guide:

Orchestra, opera, or other concert tickets

Restaurant gift cards—For a twist, give several, smaller gift cards to different restaurants, instead of one large gift card.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share

Theater tickets—Here are some Twin Cities theaters to get your wheels turning:

  • Southern theater
  • Park Square theater
  • Jungle Theatre
  • History Theatre
  • Guthrie Theater
  • Children’s Theatre Company
  • Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
  • Brave new Workshop Comedy Theatre

Minor league baseball tickets–or college, or major league, or other sports!

Roller Derby tickets

Minnesota State Parks gift card–This gift card can be used for a Minnesota State Parks Permit, camping and overnight getaways; or canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, cross-country ski, snowshoe, and snowtube rentals.

Registration for social winter events, like:

Gift card for to an indoor experience. Such as mini golf, swimming, community center, or bowling.

Indoor rock climbing passes

Museum memberships–art, history, science, you name it. A few Minnesota favorites:

  • The Works
  • SEA LIFE aquarium or the Great Lakes Aquarium
  • Minnesota Zoo
  • Minnesota Landscape arboretum
  • Minnesota Historical Society
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • Minnesota Science Museum
  • Bell Museum of Natural History
  • Bakken Museum

Winter indoor favorites for kids. Such as jump/trampoline gym, batting cages, or skating rink.

Train adventure dayYoung kids will enjoy a ride on one of the Twin Cities light rail trains. Make a stop to do something, eat something, or visit someone!

Treasure hunt–If you are giving a material gift, make the giving itself a fun experience. Instead of wrapping up the final gift, wrap up a clue and let the child go on a treasure hunt to find the final gift.

Geocaching–the world’s largest treasture hunt. Explore, find and log geocaches at geocaching.com.

Lessons–anything from music, to sewing, to dancing. To keep it low-cost, see if you can find a family member or an elderly member of your community who might enjoy passing on the skill at a lower cost.

Paper-related art classes – For adults or youth, take a class together through Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

Registration for a winter family camp or retreat in Minnesota

An eco Minnesota getaway4 fun options are outlined on Do it Green! Minnesota’s webpage.

Lunch date–Give gift certificates to a favorite breakfast or lunch place and plan a one-on-one date with that child.

A meal kit delivery service–This gift can be paired with a weekly commitment to cook a meal together and learn new cooking skills. In this article, the Star Tribune reviewed 7 Minnesota meal-kit options.

Movie tickets

Movie night packages–Wrap up picture of the movie cover (stream online later) and add snacks! Families can wrap up a different movie for each kid and let each child “host” the movie night.

Game night packages–A game night is another great family activity, and giving each child one game was a fun way to expand our collection and they love playing “their game” when we have a game night. Some favorite games are Apples to Apples, Tsuro, Uno, Sequence, and basic card games.

Studio time–For the musician in your family

Metro Transit bus passes–save money on gas, take the bus or train.

Nice Ride–A biking sharing membership

Paddle Share–A new canoe rental option for day trips on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Downhill ski passes

Farm tours and pizza farms–Find farms, wineries, orchards, and more through Minnesota Grown.

The Great Minnesota Ski Pass–Give access to cross country ski in Minnesota’s State Parks or Forests, or on State or Grant-in-Aid Trails.

House cleaning service

Yoga gift certificate or passes


Scuba certification class


A nap or getting to sleep in—Parents of young children will appreciate this one. If you can figure out how to let mom or dad sleep in for a day or take a nap, they will be grateful!

Day out with kids–The kids pick a fun activity they want to do with grandparents or extended family and give it to them as a gift.

Memory book–Make a photo book online or make a homemade book by printing and cutting out pictures and writing captions.

Breakfast treat of the month–Once a month, make sweet bread, muffins, or coffee cake and bring it to a grandparent or extended family member. It will ensure you get over there for a visit!

Transportation Security Authority (TSA) precheck feeGifting the TSA pre-check fee of $85 means the recipient can breeze through airport security!

DNA ancetry test

Memberships to nonprofits and causes–The org depends on the passion of your gift-recipeint!

Minnesota State Fair gate admission tickets

A subscription to Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine

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Ice Skating Fun in Cook County

What happens when the lakes freeze solidly without wind or snow? Large ice rinks are created all over Cook County and people go ice skating!

bwca ice skating

BWCA ice skating

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Posted in BWCA

Got Snow. Find out how much

If you’re wondering how much snow we have up in our neck of the woods, or anywhere in Minnesota for that matter, you can find out online. NOAA has an interactive site for up to date information on snow depth and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources updates their information weekly on Thursdays. The DNR also has information about the condition of cross-country ski trails and snowmobile trails. I’m ready to go cross-country skiing so I’m hoping for more snow soon.

snow depth map

Snow depth guide (in inches):

snow depth legend

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New Northern Pike Regulations

New northern pike fishing regulations coming in spring 2018, why? Watch the video to find out the reasons and then read on to find the new regulations. In the Northeast we are previously allowed to keep 3 northern pike and not more than 1 in possession over 30.” Next year it will be 2 pike and one over 40″ and all fish from 30-40″ must be released. I’m not sure how this will affect anglers in our area, time will tell.

Anglers and spearers pursuing northern pike this winter can prepare for new pike regulations that will be in effect for the spring fishing opener on Minnesota’s inland waters.

“Pike regulations remain the same this winter, with major changes coming this spring,” said Chris Kavanaugh, northeast region fisheries manager. “As anglers continue fishing for pike, we encourage them to get used to measuring their catches and even consider keeping some of the smaller ones in the north-central part of the state.”

The new regulations on inland waters will be in effect starting March 1; however, fishing for northern pike is not allowed on these waters until the fishing opener on Saturday, May 12.

Spearing season opened Nov. 15 and pike fishing remains open until Feb. 25, 2018. Current statewide regulations including the daily and possession limit of three northern pike is still in effect. So, too, are special and experimental regulations listed for specific waters in the 2017 Minnesota Fishing Regulations.

The new fishing regulations beginning in the spring take a cue from hunting regulations and will set up three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota.

“Anglers and spearers have an opportunity to use this winter as a transition period and become accustomed to measuring their catch before the new rules take effect,” Kavanaugh said. “We know many anglers already do measure fish, and spearers judge fish size, but we want to highlight the importance of those practices when it comes to northern pike.”

Pike zones begin this spring
When the new regulations take effect this spring, the majority of the state will be in the north-central zone where the issue is overpopulation of small pike. Anglers here will be able to keep 10 northern pike, but not more than two pike longer than 26 inches, and all from 22 to 26 inches must be released. Northern pike taken by spearing follow the same rules except one pike may be between 22 and 26 inches and one longer than 26 inches.

In the northeast zone, the new regulation will maintain harvest opportunity and protect large fish already present and anglers here will be able to keep two pike and must release all from 30 to 40 inches, with only one over 40 inches allowed in possession. Spearers also will be able to take two pike but only one may be longer than 26 inches.

In the southern zone, the regulation will intend to increase pike abundance and improve the size of fish harvested. Anglers and spearers will be able to keep two fish, with a minimum size of 24 inches.

For more information on the new zone regulations visit mndnr.gov/pike or contact a local area fisheries office. Contact information can be found at mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries or in the printed fishing regulations booklet.

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