Melanie Kern, an Outstanding Conservationist in Anoka County, passed away October 21st but left behind a Legacy

Melanie grew up playing outside and formed a love and respect for nature. She told me a story of when she was a little girl. She was walking around her grandparent's property and heard a shrill bark that stopped her in her tracks. She then took another step and there was another bark. Then she noticed a mamma raccoon with babies and understood that the raccoon was politely giving her a warning. She calmly turned around and went another way. She had many other stories of being outdoors with her family. I suppose those times and stories are what planted the seeds for Melanie's love and respect for nature.

Later in life, Melanie moved to Nowthen in northern Anoka County into a beautiful home surrounded by mature trees. When the cornfield south of that property went up for sale, she purchased it. She tells the story that she crazily spent her retirement savings on a cornfield. However, she had a vision and insight to create habitat for all wild creatures and open land to capture and store water. In 2003, Anoka Conservation District staff helped Melanie implement that vision by establishing a Conservation Easement and turning the cornfield into a diverse natural landscape with wetland, prairie, savanna, and woodland habitats with funds from USDA and MN DNR conservation programs. Melanie founded the Kern Heritage Center in 2012 so that they Board of Trustees could preserve the space. The property is now home to a diversity of native plants, bumblebees, butterflies, birds and many more creatures… thanks to Melanie Kern.

Anoka Conservation District is grateful for Melanie's land ethic and our relationship we had with her over the years. Melanie, you will be missed!

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If you see green, it might be buckthorn. Fall and winter are a great time for buckthorn treatment.

Late fall is a great time to assess your property for woody invasive species. The three most common woody invasive species that are found in Anoka County are Common Buckthorn, Glossy Buckthorn, and non-native Bush Honeysuckle. These three species tend to hold on to their leaves long after our native trees and shrubs. Since the leaves on these invasive species also tend to stay green instead of change color like our native species, they stick out like a sore thumb this time of year. These species can easily out compete native woodland species, deteriorating our woodlands and wetlands.

Common Buckthorn:

Common Buckthorn tend to look like a large shrub or small tree, reaching approximately 20 feet when fully grown. The most distinct characteristic of Common Buckthorn is the twig endings often contain small, sharp, stout thorns. When Common buckthorn is cut down the heartwood also have a distinctive orange color. This tree can be easily confused with our native plums and cherries.

Glossy Buckthorn:

Glossy Buckthorn has a similar structure as Common, they tend to grow like a large shrub or small tree, reaching approximately 20 feet. Glossy Buckthorn can be found in forests, but tend to favor wetlands and wetland edges. Glossy Buckthorn does not contain any thorns but also has a yellowish orange heartwood when cut. The look-alikes for Glossy Buckthorn include some native dogwoods and alder.

Non-native Bush Honeysuckle:

Non-native Bush Honeysuckle is a shrub that typically grows 8 to 12 feet high. The older Honeysuckle often have a shaggy tan bark and stems that are often hollow. The leaves on the Honeysuckle are opposite, simple, oval, and untoothed. The shrub produces pink and white flowers in the spring.

Find more information on common and glossy buckthorn ID and treatment methods on the Anoka CWMA website.

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Update - Riverbank Stabilization Project in Mississippi River Community Park, Anoka

The riverbank stabilization project in Mississippi River Community Park is one step closer to completion. Native trees (container size) have been planted along the slope above the riprap. Upland species (e.g. Bur Oak) were planted higher on the slope and floodplain species (e.g. Swamp White Oak) were planted lower on the slope.

Remaining project elements include the planting of dormant live stakes near the top of the riprap in a zone that will see inundation during high water conditions, and the planting of bare root shrubs and trees along the slope above the riprap. Similar to the container size trees, both upland and floodplain bare root species will be planted when they become available. Roots associated with the vegetation will stabilize the bank above the riprap.

Tree clearing, bank reshaping, riprap installation, seeding, and erosion control blanket installation were all previously completed. The project stabilized approximately 1,500 linear feet of severely eroding riverbank.

The project is funded by a Clean Water Fund grant, a Watershed Based Funding grant, and match from the City of Anoka.
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$5.5M for Conservation Easements Along the Rum River

The Rum River watershed is near the top of State efforts for ecological protection, with implementation being done by soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) including ACD. In 2021 the Minnesota legislature approved $2.5M for Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) easements, on top of $3M that was allocated 2 years ago. In the most recent round, the Rum was one of just four watersheds statewide to be targeted.

With a RIM easement, the land remains privately owned. The easement prohibits future development of the land. The owner is paid approximately 60% of the assessed value. The program includes some funds for habitat improvements.

Landowner interest has been strong. The first $3M of easement funding was committed to just over 3,000 acres in about a year, leaving over 1,100 acres on a waiting list. The second round of funding picks up where the last left off, aiming to protect at least 1,750 acres.

Soil and water conservation districts and partners like The Nature Conservancy and Pheasants Forever promote the RIM easement program to the most ecologically valuable lands. Within the Rum River watershed, they have chosen to focus on lands adjacent to the river. This ensures that in addition to protecting the riparian corridor habitat there are also water quality benefits. They use a scoring system that incorporates each property's ecological quality and proximity to other protected habitat.

Within Anoka County there have been two landowners apply for RIM easements on their land. They total 149 acres. A third landowner, which happens to be adjacent to the other two, is also considering applying. More outreach to other landowners is in the works.

Landowners interested in a conservation easement should contact Carrie Taylor at 763-434-2030 ext 190 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Lands must be adjacent to the Rum River or major tributary. Parcels greater than 20 acres get the strongest consideration.

Funding for the Rum River watershed RIM easements is from the Outdoor Heritage Fund from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
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Tribute to a Job Extremely Well Done

When coworkers find exciting career opportunities that entice them to move on, we share in their excitement, while also lamenting that we won't be working with them any longer. Having accepted a position with Hennepin County, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Emily Johnson's last day with ACD is November 12, 2021.

Emily originally joined ACD in September of 2017 as a MNGreenCorps member and accepted a position with ACD one year later as our first Outreach and Engagement Coordinator. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Biology with a minor in Geology from Macalester College and a Certificate in Environmental Education from Hamline University. Emily coordinated the newly established Anoka County Water Resource Outreach Collaborative, created outreach materials and programs, connected with target audiences, and built efficiency in achieving outreach goals throughout the county.

Emily's work general fit into three categories:

  • Outreach – connecting with people;
  • Information – enhancing the public's understanding of our shared natural resources; and
  • Engagement – providing the public with opportunities to take action to make a difference.


In Emily's first 15 months on ACD's staff, she set an unimaginable standard by:

  • tabling 40 event booths and interacting with nearly 5,000 people;
  • coordinating 27 presentations to a combined audience of over 1,600; and
  • hosting 15 conservation action oriented workshops for over 300 residents.


COVID-19 swept across the country in 2020, severely limiting the ways in which Emily was able to connect, inform and engage the public. During that time, Emily prepared the Community chapter in ACD's new 10-year comprehensive plan, which focuses on how to tap into Anoka County's human resources to result in positive conservation outcomes. Emily also enhanced ACD's visibility in the community by initiating monthly digital snapshots of our work as well as more comprehensive quarterly newsletters. Quickly adapting to virtual meetings and events, Emily forged ahead with outreach and engagement despite COVID-19 barriers. She redirected her attention to enhancing social media content, mastering virtual meeting technologies, refining digital web content, and creating outreach materials.

Emily created durable outreach materials in the form of displays, brochures, videos, articles, and website/social media content. The impact of these materials grows with each reading, viewing, and/or use. By the end of 2020 Emily's three videos received over 10,000 views. As of today, that has grown to nearly 22,000.

Whether tabling a booth on a frigid day on one of Anoka County's frozen lakes or engaging with a landowner at a community event, Emily always did so with an inviting smile, an infectious energy, and a compelling understanding or our natural resources.

Emily brought to ACD a talent set that will be hard to replace: social media and communications coordinator; outreach technologies engineer; sociologist and public engagement expert; event organizer; and natural resources steward. Brimming with talent, intelligence, dedication, professionalism, and a personable disposition, Emily is bound to succeed at whatever endeavor she tackles. Staff and supervisors at ACD wish her the very best and hope to collaborate with her in her new position at Hennepin County. 

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Rum Riverbank Stabilization Project in Oak Grove

A project stabilizing 400 linear feet of severely eroding Rum Riverbank is underway in Oak Grove. Tree clearing and some excavation have taken place to date. Installation of toe protection in the form of angular riprap is being installed this week.

The next steps include finishing the installation of 850 tons of rock riprap, grading of the bank to a more stable slope, blanketing and seeding with a native seed mix, and the planting of native willows and dogwood trees.

The project is funded by an Outdoor Heritage Fund grant through the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, as well as match dollars from the property owner. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is one of four funds created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. This project will prevent approximately 140 tons of sediment per year from washing into the river, and will enhance wildlife habitat along 400 feet of riverbank that had been a non-traversable eroding face prior.

Stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses!

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Soil Health Practices – Effects on Farm Profitability

Practices to improve soil health, such as no-till and cover crops have been touted for their environmental benefits. But from a business perspective, questions about their impact on profitability have dogged adoption. A new survey by the Soil Health Institute (SHI), with funding from Cargill, found these practices are good for business.

See image from the Soil Health Institute below for the Key Findings of the survey.

Given the current adoption rates of no-till (37%) and cover crops (5%) in the U.S., the study indicates that many other farmers may improve their profitability by adopting soil health management systems. Soil and Water Conservation Districts throughout Minnesota promote soil health programs. In some cases, financial assistance is available locally or through the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement them.

The full SHI report is available online: www.soilhealthinstitute.org 

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Go Hunting!

Fall hunting season is upon us in Minnesota. Hunting is one of the best ways to sustainably enjoy our State's amazing natural resources. Opportunities exist to harvest game animals ranging from squirrels to birds like grouse, pheasant, turkey, and waterfowl to large ungulates like deer and elk, and even black bear. Minnesota has a rich hunting tradition and some of the most ample public land hunting opportunities in the country! It is easier than ever to learn to hunt with the advent of instructional webinars and social media.

The Minnesota DNR has all of the information and resources you need to get started. You can find season dates, license information, and land access opportunities for all kinds of hunting on their web pages. Social media groups exist for all kinds of hunting around Minnesota, and newcomers can learn from seasoned veterans, some of whom may just be willing to show you the ropes.

If you are interested taking up a new outdoor hobby, creating memories that last a lifetime, and harvesting sustainable, healthful meat, hunting may just be the pastime you've been looking for!

Minnesota hunting fun facts:

  1. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 in the nation for number of resident hunters with over 500,000 licensed hunters annually.
  2. According to the USFWS, Minnesota ranks 5th in ducks harvested and 2nd in geese harvested in the US over the past 10 years.
  3. Minnesota is frequently the #1 state in the US for annual ruffed grouse harvest.
  4. Less than 50 years ago, 29 wild turkeys were reintroduced into MN. Now, the population has grown to over 70,000 birds with turkeys occurring across much of the state.
  5. Minnesota has 23 species of ducks and geese.

Photo below is ACD staffer, Jared Wagner, with his niece.

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Collaborations are Critical to controlling Invasive Phragmites australis throughout Minnesota

Non-native Phragmites is a highly invasive plant that can invade wetlands and shorelines, outcompete native vegetation, and degrade wildlife habitat. Fortunately, most of the infestations in Minnesota are small and there is hope that the invasive grass can be controlled.

Coon Creek Watershed District and ACD staff first detected non-native Phragmites in Anoka County in 2018 along the Ham Lake shoreline. The 2,500 square foot stand was herbicide treated in fall 2018 and mowed in January 2019. No Phragmites was found at the Ham Lake site in 2019 and 2020. One sprout of Phragmites was found in 2021 and dug up.

Additional non-native Phragmites infestations have been found and verified by UMN in Anoka County. The treatment success at Ham Lake inspired staff to continue additional efforts to control non-native Phragmites. In 2019, the Anoka County AIS Prevention grant paid for treatment of 14 additional Phragmites sites that were detected in the 2019 growing season.

The MN Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed grant provided funds for the Metro Counties to collaborate and treat over 80 sites in 2020 and 2021. The University of MN, MN DNR, and MN DOT are also tracking and treating additional sites throughout the state. Sites will continue to be monitored to determine treatment needs.

Photo below shows a stand of Phragmites at a site in Anoka County being monitored in 2020. Follow up treatment occurred in September 2021.

Find more information and distribution maps can be found at the links below:

https://www.eddmaps.org/distribution/viewmap.cfm?sub=59038

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquaticplants/phragmites/index.html

https://maisrc.umn.edu/phragmites

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Biomonitoring with High School Students

Every spring and fall, staff members from Anoka Conservation District lead several high school classes through a hands on biomonitoring session. These students don waiters, grab a D-net, and wade into the shallow waters of a particular stream or river in Anoka County. They use these nets to scrape rocks, down trees, or vegetation in hopes of finding macroinvertebrates, which are collected. During the classroom potion of this lesson, the students identify and label these macroinvertebrates species. ACD then reevaluates and counts all specimen. The same stream and river locations are sampled almost every year, allowing ACD to monitor any long-term trends in the species found.

Biomonitoring is a useful tool because macroinvertebrates live on the bottom of rivers and streams. During their aquatic life cycle, which can be multiple years, they cope with chemical, physical, and biological influences in their habitat. They are less mobile than fish, making them less able to avoid the effects of these pollutants and changes to aquatic habitats. Macroinvertebrates also have a wide range of pollutant tolerances amongst the various species. The numbers and types of organisms present in a water body reflect the quality of their surroundings. Inventorying the makeup of aquatic communities can help determine if changes in the environment are causing effects such as the loss of sensitive groups of organisms. Macroinvertebrates are also practical and easy to sample, making them perfect for a high school science class. 

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The City of Anoka Selected as Outstanding Conservationist

Each year, Anoka Conservation District (ACD) supervisors consider the work we've done in partnership with landowners, cities, private sector partners, and other organizations to complete natural resources conservation work in Anoka County. The list is distilled down to a single conservation partner who most emulates a conservation ethic put to action. That individual or entity is acknowledged as Anoka County's Outstanding Conservationist. The 2021 Anoka County Outstanding Conservationist is the City of Anoka.

The projects the City of Anoka implemented in partnership with ACD and on their own over the years have demonstrated an enduring commitment to both steward and enjoy our natural resources.

"The majority of the City of Anoka's successful conservation projects have involved multi-agency collaborations and support; without our partnership and the expertise/guidance from the staff at ACD, many of these projects would not have been possible. The success of these projects involves the hard work of many individuals all working together to create the projects, draw plans, complete grant applications, and monitor construction/projects." – Lisa LaCasse, City of Anoka Public Services Administrator

The following list of conservation initiatives completed by, or in partnership with, the City of Anoka demonstrates their breadth of commitment;

  • Donation of a conservation easement to ACD on the 200-acre Anoka Nature Preserve (ANP).
  • Enhancement of 70 acres of forest habitats on ANP with buckthorn control.
  • Sponsoring annual goose hunts at ANP for veterans.
  • Construction of the state of the art stormwater treatment facility at the Rum River boat launch.
  • Installation of several stormwater treatment hydrodynamic separators.
  • Installation of five rain gardens.
  • Stabilization of 300 feet of riverbank at Rum River shores.
  • Stabilization of 1,500 feet of riverbank at Mississippi Community Park
  • Enhancement of bank stability on 350 feet of Rum River shoreline with cedar tree revetments on school property with the city trail easement
  • Enhancement of floodplain forest at Kings Island Park
  • Wetland enhancement at the ANP
  • Subwatershed retrofit modeling and analysis on 1,500 acres of city-scape.

Lisa LaCasse, Public Services Administrator for the City of Anoka, cites the extensive work to restore habitat at the Anoka Nature Preserve as one of the conservation projects that saw a lot of benefits for both native plants and wildlife, as well as for people. A large quantity of invasive buckthorn was removed and the area was part of a prescribed burn to promote the growth of native species. The City continues to maintain the area through cutting back regrowth of buckthorn and spot-treating as necessary. LaCasse views this project as a huge success because the City and residents are beginning to see growth of desired native plants as well as improved habitat for wildlife. In addition, the removal of the dense buckthorn underbrush has improved archery deer hunting opportunities. Often, community volunteers are able to participate in invasive species removal projects like this one and come away with a sense of connection to the habitat they worked to enhance as well as a sense of pride for a job well done. "It's easy to see the progress and immediate improvements from these types of projects." – Lisa LaCasse

This acknowledgment is part of a larger program, wherein SWCD's from throughout MN submit their outstanding conservationists to the MN Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in nomination for the MN State Outstanding Conservationist. In early December, at their annual convention each outstanding conservationist is recognized during a large banquet whereat they will also unveil the state winner.

Congratulations on this well-deserved award and thanks go to the City of Anoka council and staff for all they have done. Projects upcoming in the City Anoka include new rain gardens to capture and infiltrate stormwater, hydrodynamic devices, modifications to existing storm ponds, and stabilization of the Rum River shoreline to reduce erosion. ACD staff and supervisors genuinely look forward to partnering with the City of Anoka on projects in the future.


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ACD staff spotted a rusty patched bumble bee at the Blaine Preserve SNA!

Bombus affinis, commonly known as rusty patched bumble bees were once common throughout the east and upper Midwest but its population has recently had a drastic decline. The USFWS listed the rusty patched bumble bee as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Rusty-patched bumble bee worker diagnostic traits:

  • Thorax – black hairs in the shape of a thumb tack
  • 1st abdominal segment – yellow
  • 2nd abdominal segment - Rust colored patch on the middle and front half and yellow on the rear half
  • Remaining abdominal segments – black

Find out how to create habitat for the rusty-patched bumble bee and other pollinators on USFWS, Xerces Society and BWSR websites.

Apply today for an Individual Support Grant by visiting Blue Thumb's website. Applications will be accepted through February 15, 2022.

View Verifiable Observations of Bombus affinis on INaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/121519-Bombus-affinis

USFWS Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Map:

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Tree and Shrub Pruning Basics

Trim up the sides and take a little off the top. I'm going for a well-kempt look without being obvious about it.

No! Not me, my trees.

The best time to prune most trees is in the winter months. To do it well, now is the time to make a mental note of what needs to be done. For example, identifying dead branches is easier during the growing season but pruning should be postponed until the tree is dormant.

Things to Remember:

  1. Remove the right parts - refer to the figure below
  2. Use the right tools.
    • Hire a professional for pruning outside your comfort zone
    • Sharp pruning sheers or pruning saw.
    • A chain saw (and related safety gear) may be needed for large limbs.
    • Safety glasses and gloves
    • A ladder to extend your reach
  3. Use the right techniques.
    • Use three cut method to avoid bark ripping
    • Cut just outside of the branch collar
    • Use the right sized cutting tool for the branch
    • Clean tools with rubbing alcohol between trees or after cutting diseased limbs
    • Properly dispose of diseased or infested wood/brush

Cautions

  • Do not use pruning paint – this will inhibit natural healing
  • Never prune oak trees in the spring and summer as Anoka County is the oak wilt capitol of the world and pruned trees are likely to get infected
  • If the tree is unhealthy, diagnose the cause before pruning
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Supervisor Spotlight: Sharon LeMay

Sharon LeMay, who has been a Supervisor with ACD since January 2017, moved around a lot growing up, from England to Florida, France, Illinois, Texas, Minnesota, and back to England before finally settling permanently in Minnesota. She did not grow up in a family that spent a lot of time outdoors, preferring instead to visit museums, historic landmarks, and read. In fact, one of her first memories of nature was quite traumatic for her as a young girl. While exploring a vacant, wooded city lot, Sharon looked down at her tan corduroy pants and found they were crawling with little spiders, which she only learned later were actually wood ticks! Up to that point, her only experiences with nature involved manicured city parks or sightseeing in short trips. Still, even though recreating in nature was not a core part of Sharon's childhood, she grew up to revere nature and spend much of her free time working and volunteering to be a good steward of the environment.

When she isn't working, Sharon volunteers with several local organizations, including the Master Naturalist program, the MN DNR, and Herbalists Without Borders. She enjoys her studies in homeopathy and making herbal medicines. She also loves hiking, yoga, biking, visiting historic sites and museums, and camping with her husband and dogs.

Sharon's favorite place in Minnesota is the North Shore of Lake Superior. She loves the remote and rugged coastlines of oceans, and the North Shore is as close as it gets to that in Minnesota. She enjoys walking the beaches looking for stones, hearing the waves, smelling the air, or simply sitting on a rock watching the water. In this peaceful place, she is able to reflect on nature as something valuable in its own right, rather than valuable only for what we can do in it or with it. Her love for the environment evolved over time as she came to witness the sacredness of nature, and it culminated in her choice to run for elected office on the ACD Board of Supervisors. 

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Creating a More Resilient Landscape at Kings Island

Anoka Conservation District has been working with the City of Anoka and Mississippi Park Connection to create a more resilient landscape at Kings Island. Efforts have begun to remove invasive buckthorn from the island to allow space and light for native plant regeneration. Invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) infestations that kill ash trees have been detected throughout the Metro region and near Kings Island. Approximately 50% of Kings Island canopy is ash (green, black or white ash) so a loss of ash would have a great impact on the habitat on Kings Island. Surveys have and will continue to be conducted to monitor for the presence of EAB. To prepare for the loss of ash trees and create a more resilient landscape at Kings Island, a diversity of tree and shrubs were planted by volunteers. Species planted include Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), Red-oiser Dogwood (Cornus sericea), Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Cottonwood (Populus deltoids), Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) a tree with a more southern range. More efforts are needed to control buckthorn and create diversity for a more resilient landscape at Kings Island. 

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