MINNESOTA DNR NEWS #62 Aug. 18, 2014
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
In search of nature’s undertakers
Chris Smith is on a hunt for buried treasure.
A short hike off a road in the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, near Zimmerman, he drops to his knees next to a hole in the ground that’s been covered with chicken wire, plywood, and a concrete weight. As he removes the makeshift cover, a sickeningly sweet stench wafts out. Smith, a nongame wildlife biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, wrinkles his nose as he reaches into a buried five-gallon plastic bucket and pulls out the deflated carcasses of two very dead, very rotten rats.
Secured from a local reptile food vendor and aged several days in the back of his work truck, the pungent rodents are bait for the objects of Smith’s search: the American burying beetle, a federally listed endangered species that used to be found across the eastern half of the country. Now it’s known to survive in only five states. Black and orange and sometimes nearly 2 inches long, it hasn’t been seen in Minnesota since the late 1960s.
The ripe carrion Smith buried the day before in what’s known as a “pitfall trap” attracts a variety of burying beetles from anywhere within about a half-mile radius. He sifts through a shallow layer of sand at the bottom of the bucket, removing beetles one by one, calling off their scientific names so that his colleague, Erica Hoaglund, can enter the information into an electronic tablet. “Nicrophorus tomentosus, Nicrophorus orbicollis, marginatus, another tomentosus...”
The burying beetles often are found in even numbers – an adult male and an adult female -- due to a type of hands-on parenting that’s rare in the insect world. The parents work together to bury the dead animal to get it away from competing scavengers. They chew up a portion of the carcass and form it into a large ball to make a nest for the larvae, which they feed by regurgitating chewed-up, liquefied flesh – much as bird parents feed their chicks.
Why, one might ask, spend time and money studying a critter seemingly made to tickle a person’s gag reflex? Because, as disgusting as they may seem, detritivores such as burying beetles –- nature’s undertakers – play an important role in an ecosystem, breaking down dead animals to recycle nutrients and energy. And it’s that ecosystem and its health that’s really the main point of concern.
“The biggest reason to study the entire ecosystem as opposed to just charismatic mega-fauna is to understand how ecosystems function, and how all the parts work together,” Hoaglund says. “What we want to preserve and protect is these ecosystems, not just a particular species.”
If an organism goes extinct, more may be lost than just that particular species. One theory regarding the American burying beetle, for instance, surmises that its decline is at least partially tied to the extinction of the passenger pigeon, which may have been just the right size to serve as a host, and it existed in large numbers, making it a readily available food source. In another example of ecological interdependence close to home for Minnesotans, the red parasol moss last year was added to the state’s list of endangered species because it grows only in old moose dung, and moose populations are declining.
Hoaglund explains ecosystem diversity by referring to a ladder: lose one or two rungs, and the ladder still might be serviceable. Lose a few more, and the ladder will fall apart. The biological equivalent is the extinction of too many species and ecological collapse.
“Even if you don’t value the creepy crawly things, something you do value may depend on them,” Hoaglund says. “Flowers need insects for pollination; songbirds rely on bugs for food.”
So far Smith and Hoaglund haven’t turned up any American burying beetles at any of the pitfall traps they’ve buried around the Sherburne refuge and the adjacent Sand Dunes State Forest. They may, however, have found a species of burying beetle never before reported in Minnesota at another central Minnesota survey site at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls; the discovery is pending positive identification. Their work also is providing information on what other types of burying beetles are present in the area, baseline information that would be needed should it be decided to try re-introducing the rare bugs into Minnesota, as has been done in a few other states.
Both Hoaglund and Smith work for the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program, which aims to protect, maintain, enhance, and restore native nongame wildlife resources, helping more than 700 species of Minnesota wildlife thrive. It is funded largely by donations, especially those made when Minnesotans file their state income taxes and voluntarily contribute to the program by checking a special donation box, a feature often referred to as the “chickadee check-off.” More information about the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program can be found at www.mndnr.gov/nongame.
PHOTO ATTACHED. Caption: DNR Nongame Wildlife Specialist Chris Smith demonstrates the use of an identification chart to determine what types of burying beetles have been found in a trap set out in the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.
Lake Bemidji State Park has opened a Nice Ride station, located near the park office building.
For more information on the Nice Ride Bemidji program, visit http://bemidji.niceridemn.org/.
For more information about the park, including a map and virtual tour, visit www.mndnr.gov/lakebemidji.
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Aug. 18, 2014
Nonprofit organizations and government entities are eligible to submit applications now until 4:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website at www.mndnr.gov/cpl.
Projects must be on public land or land permanently protected by conservation easements. Applicants may request up to $400,000 with a total project cost not exceeding $575,000. Projects must also have 10 percent of the funding come from a source outside a state agency.
Three types of CPL grants
Three types of CPL grants available are under this year’s allocation of $8 million. Nearly $3.3 million is available for the traditional grant cycle and $1 million is available for the expedited conservation projects (ECP) grant cycle. ECP is open through May or until all funds are awarded. New this year is the metro grant cycle, in which $3.75 million is available for projects located in the seven-county metro area or within the city limits of Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester.
Information about the three grants can be found at www.mndnr.gov/cpl. Potential applicants are encouraged to review the request for proposals and the how to apply tab at the website, which guides users through the application process.
Questions can be directed to: Jessica Lee, DNR CPL grant program coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-259-5233, or Kelly Pharis, DNR natural resource grants specialist, email@example.com or 651-259-5174.
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Aug. 18, 2014
The pheasant stamp is sold along with hunting and fishing licenses or as a collectable. Revenue from stamp sales is dedicated to pheasant management-related activities.
“We appreciate the talent and commitment of the artists who submit entries to the contest,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Their work is part of our hunting heritage, and valued by collectors.”
The contest offers no prizes and is open to Minnesota residents only. Artists are not allowed to use any photographic product as part of their finished entries. Winning artists usually issue limited edition prints of the artwork and retain proceeds. Judging will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, at DNR headquarters in St. Paul.
Artists who want to submit entries should closely read contest criteria and guidelines for submitting work, available from the DNR Information Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155, and online at www.mndnr.gov/contests.
The offer ends Sunday, Nov. 30 and firearms safety classes have been filling up. To be eligible for this offer, a youth must have completed their firearms safety certification in 2014. Those of any age who have completed advanced hunter education this year can also get a complimentary subscription. Forms can be found at www.mndnr.gov/outdoornews.
More information on firearms safety certification and available classes can be found at www.mndnr.gov/safety/firearms.
Q: What are the characteristics of old-growth forests, and where in Minnesota can you find them?
A: While the characteristics can vary depending on the type of forest, old-growth forests are generally at least 120 years old, having never been significantly disturbed by logging, fire or storms during that time. These forests have a mix of young, old and middle aged trees, and many include very large trees that can measure 2 to 3 feet across. Old-growth forests typically contain large dead standing trees, small gaps in the overhead canopy and lots of woody debris on the forest floor.
Today, less than 4 percent of Minnesota’s old-growth forests remain, but there are some great examples protected in our state parks and scientific and natural areas (SNA’s). For example, Spring Beauty Northern Hardwoods SNA, Tettegouche State Park and Itasca State Park all contain stands of old-growth forest. More information and places to visit are available on DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/forests_types/oldgrowth.
Jon Nelson, DNR forest policy and planning supervisor