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Monday, February 27, 2017

Sharing the Spotlight: Native Bees

As spring nears, you may start to see headlines like "10 Amazing Facts About Bees!" or "How to Attract Bees to Your Garden."  These articles and the photos in them almost always refer to honey bees.  Although they are an important and charismatic part of our agricultural system, honey bees are not native to North America.  With an estimated 400 different species of native bees in Minnesota, we think they deserve their own list of amazing facts.

1.  Bees in Minnesota show tremendous diversity, ranging in size from small sweat bees to large bumble bees.  They may be black and yellow striped like cartoon bees but can also be green, orange, or metallic blue.
2.  Most Minnesota bees are solitary, meaning they do not nest with other bees and do not share responsibility for maintaining a hive or colony.
3.  Many bees spend most of their life as larvae or pupae and may only be active as adults for a few weeks of the year.  You probably have many bees in your yard that you've never noticed.
4.  Bumble bees, as well as a few other bees, use a process called "buzz pollination" to shake pollen from hard-to-reach flowers like those in the family Solanaceae. By vibrating their flight muscles at a particular frequency, they are able to shake the pollen off the flower.  You can see buzz pollination in action in this video.
5.  None of the bees native to Minnesota make honey.  Bumble bees may store 1-2 days worth of nectar in “honey pots” in case of poor weather or other events that may prevent them from foraging but they do not make honey from the nectar.
6.  Some bees are kleptoparasites meaning that instead of building their own nests and providing food for their offspring, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees.  This isn't altogether unusual in the animal kingdom; cowbirds are also known for this behavior.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

North Woods, Great Lakes Curriculum Premiere

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Audience members who contributed to the development of the curriculum stand and receive recognition.

The first Minnesota Master Naturalist Program North Woods Great Lakes course was taught in Duluth in 2008, making the Great Lakes Aquarium an appropriate venue for the premiere of the latest curriculum book, North Woods, Great Lakes: An Introduction to the Natural History of Minnesota’s Coniferous Forests. Hundreds of Master Naturalist volunteers have since completed the course, graduating into service to promote awareness, conservation, and understanding of Minnesota’s natural environment in their communities.

The cover of North Woods, Great Lakes: An Introduction to the Natural History of Minnesota’s Coniferous Forests.

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Amy Rager, state program director for the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program.

On Monday, February 3rd, over one-hundred Master Naturalist graduates, instructors, specialists, University of Minnesota Extension & DNR staff gathered at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth to celebrate the premiere of the North Woods, Great Lakes (NWGL) curriculum. This 316-page curriculum focuses on the unique features of the environment found in the northeastern part of the state and serves as the textbook for northern Minnesota-focused NWGL Master Naturalist classes. Amy Rager, the state program director for the Master Naturalist Program, kicked off the night with her perspective on what it took to develop this comprehensive natural history curriculum. She shared a brief program history,, congratulating graduates and contributors alike for their dedication, and continued involvement in the Master Naturalist program.

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Kurt Mead, Minnesota DNR Tettegouche State Park Interpretive Naturalist and author of Dragonflies of the North Woods.

Keynote speaker, Kurt Mead, took the podium later in the night. As a Department of Natural Resources interpretive naturalist at Tettegouche State Park, Kurt contributed to the development of the NWGL curriculum and worked with various Master Naturalist volunteers over the years. During his presentation, Kurt described t the characteristics that make Minnesota’s North Woods, Great Lakes biome unique and fascinating.

Over three-thousand participants have completed the statewide Minnesota Master Naturalist program since its inception in 2005. Master Naturalist volunteers have contributed over four hundred thousand hours service through stewardship, research, and education impacting over 3.4 million acres of Minnesota’s natural resources. The NWGL curriculum has received wide recognition as a quality resource for learning about natural history and ecology in the region. The February premiere was a celebration of all that the program has been able to accomplish. It was a way to get people together to discuss their Master Naturalist stories and share the experiences that have led to the success of the program.

The loon, a Minnesota Master Naturalist icon.
Thank you to all Master Naturalist volunteers, instructors, contributors, and the public for making the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program a success. We look forward to working together to further build upon the mission of University Extension, Minnesota DNR, and the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rochester Master Naturalists to Restore City Park Environment

Quarry Hill Park and the adjacent Silver Creek form a critical and frequently visited urban green corridor in Rochester, Minnesota. Through a non-profit neighborhood resource center, this parcel of nature recently received a $111,900 grant from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) thanks to the skills and commitment of the Rochester chapter of Minnesota Master Naturalists.

When complete the Quarry Hill Park project will restore sections of stream banks within the city limits to form greenways extending from the rural areas of Olmsted County to the Zumbro River. This project will also enhance the prairies, savannas and woodlands of Quarry Hill; a large city park well known for its natural environments and busy educational nature center.

The Quarry Hill/Silver Creek restoration proposal was initiated and prepared by volunteer Master Naturalists to address ecological damage caused by common buckthorn, non-native honeysuckles and garlic mustard. The application for LCCMR funds was approved in September by the City of Rochester Park's Board as well as the fiscal agent RNeighbors. The funds will be used by the Conservation Corps of Minnesota to reduce invasive species such as buckthorn and Asian honeysuckle over the next three years.

Buckthorn, one of several non-native species infesting Quarry Hill Park, grows quickly and out-competes native flowers and tree seedlings. Left unchecked, it can create a dense monoculture in the landscape.

Rochester’s Master Naturalists connected with city and neighborhood associations to raise the $11,000 match required for a LCCMR grant of this size. They also garnered support from state, local sponsors, and community partners such as the Zumbro River Audubon Society, Silver Creek Housing, Olmsted County Youth Commission, Quarry Hill Nature Center, Nurse Practitioners, Friends of Indian Heights Neighborhood Association, Prairie Smoke of Minnesota, City of Rochester Parks and Recreation, DNR Scientific and Natural Areas, and a commitment of 475 hours of volunteer time by the Rochester Area Chapter of Master Naturalists led by Terri Dugan.

Master Naturalist volunteers work to remove invasive species.

Local Master Naturalists are excited about the ripple effects of a grant of this size to help restore the landscape and enhance wildlife (and human) habitat. Two years ago, a smaller LCCMR grant for a nearby city park restored several habitats so that visitors, after many years of absence, now enjoy the new appearances of a Red-headed woodpecker, frilly puccoon (a flowering native plant), and beautiful native orchids called Nodding ladies’ tresses. Nodding ladies’ tresses have not been seen before in Olmsted County. The Bell Museum is excited by this find and a specimen has been requested for the University of Minnesota Herbarium.

Environmental leadership, project planning and volunteer commitment is an extension of Rochester Master Naturalists’ passion to protect, teach about and conserve Minnesota’s extensive biodiversity.
Visit the University of Minnesota Extension Master Naturalist website to learn more about the program. For more information about this project, contact Dawn Littleton, Extension Invasive Plants Coordinator. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Watch A Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer TEDx Talk about Local Prairies

What happens when we restore our home to more natural surroundings? Chris Schad is a Certified Master Naturalist and Past President of the SE Minnesota Beekeepers Association. In a 15 minute TEDX Talk, he discusses the big changes that occurred when he restored a small portion of his home property back to native prairie. Enjoy learning from his experience.

Visit to learn more about the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Survey reveals interest in a Citizen Science network for Minnesota

A recent survey of citizen science practitioners across Minnesota revealed strong interest in building a statewide network to inform, connect and educate about citizen science. Conducted by the University of Minnesota Extension’s Community of Practice for Citizen Science, the survey’s goal was to identify those working in citizen science and find out if there is interest in working together to use citizen science to strengthen conservation, education, community and other outcomes.

The initial invitation to complete the survey was sent to 100 participants in a University-sponsored Convergence Colloquium networking event on the topic of citizen science. Respondents were encouraged to forward the survey invitation to others in their contacts lists who may be interested, resulting in a “snowball” sampling.

To date, 92 respondents from a variety of agencies and organizations have completed the survey.

With instructions to “Check all that apply,” more than half the respondents reported affiliations with a college or university (52%), with the second largest group (20%) from a non-profit organization. The remaining respondents identified with a state agency (11%), watershed management organization (10%), school district (5%), park district (2%), and a sprinkling of city/municipality, regional/county government, federal agency, and small business affiliations.

These respondents chose a role that best described their primary work with citizen science:

Respondents reported an overwhelmingly positive interest in participating in a network of citizen science practitioners to inform, connect and educate each other about topics related to citizen science. Those responding “It depends” referenced concerns about topics and time availability.

With this clear demonstration of interest, respondents indicated that in-person conferences and workshops are ways they’d like to participate in a network. Social media and webinars were also indicated as communication methods they were likely to participate in, with casual meet-ups and networking events being highly unlikely options they’d engage in.

When this group gathers for training or conferences, the priority topics participants would like to see are indicated in order of preference:

Networking with others working in citizen science
Using citizen science to teach environmental education/STEM
Funding opportunities
Ensuring quality data
Volunteer training
Data entry tools/platforms
Case studies of specific citizen science programs
Citizen science-related work going on at the national and international levels
Developing instructional materials (volunteer manual, activity materials, etc.)
Volunteer management
Volunteer recruitment

Next Steps
Extension’s Community of Practice for Citizen Science is exploring ways to connect the statewide audience of professionals working in the area of citizen science. Ideas include a conference or summit, a training workshop series, or webinars.

The University of Minnesota Extension Community of Practice for Citizen Science includes Extension Educators from a variety of disciplines who are working to raise awareness of the citizen science work going on in Extension and, ultimately, strengthen the outcomes of citizen science programs by improving their ability to engage and support volunteers to provide accurate, continued data collection.

For more information, please contact Andrea at

By: Andrea Lorek Strauss, Extension Educator – Fish, Wildlife & Conservation Education

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Minnesota Master Naturalist Program receives 2016 ANROSP Outstanding Program Evaluation Award

The Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs (ANROSP) concluded its national conference with an awards ceremony held at the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary.

The Minnesota Master Naturalist Program received the 2016 ANROSP Outstanding Program Evaluation Award. This award recognizes the value and importance of program evaluation by highlighting ANROSP member program evaluation efforts, including the tools used to conduct evaluations and communications efforts employed to share results.

Founded in 2005, the occasion of the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program’s 10th anniversary prompted program managers to stop and reflect on the past accomplishments and future directions for the program. Since its inception, the program has had a rigorous evaluation process. Using data collected in a custom-built on-line reporting system, a statewide overview was conducted to examine coverage across Minnesota and then to analyze how Minnesota Master Naturalist has worked with programs nationally, demonstrating the expanding impact of one state’s program. A full-color booklet, available in print and online, was developed and circulated to share the results.

Amy Rager, Minnesota Master Naturalist Program Director, Andrea Lorek Strauss, and Britt Forsberg accepted the award on behalf of the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program, University of Minnesota Extension. Amy Rager, ANROSP President and Minnesota Master Naturalist Program Director, said "ANROSP provides member programs an opportunity to share their best work in the areas of Outstanding Educational Materials, Outstanding Volunteer Project, Outstanding Team, Outstanding Program Evaluation and Program of the Year.  Each year ANROSP is proud to highlight programs from across the United States in each of these categories." Award applications are peer reviewed and selection is made by the ANROSP Awards Committee, chaired by the ANROSP Vice President.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Volunteer Across Minnesota on National Public Lands Day, September 24th

The Minnesota Master Naturalist program is facilitating National Public Lands Day (September 24th, 2016) volunteer sites across the state. Explore the map below to find a location, view a project description, and get a link to registration. The full list of sites is also available on our website. See you in the field!

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