ESRI Conservation Program: GIS Stories from the field

Minnesota Ecosystems Recovery Project

Comprehensive Nature Reserve System Design and Establishment:

The Minnesota Ecosystems Recovery Project's (MERP) mission is the design and establishment of a comprehensive nature reserve system of core areas, buffer zones, and corridors. The reserve's primary purpose is the protection and recovery of habitat for Minnesota's native plant and animal species and to ensure the long-term ecological integrity of its biological systems. Establishment of the reserve would protect plants and animals from damaging human activities and reduce the possibility of genetic deterioration due to isolation from other individuals and populations.

(Full size Reserve Design map 199K). MERP was formed in August 1992, incorporated in 1993 and received 501c3 non-profit status in 1994. MERP started out challenging environmentally damaging activities, such as timber sales, on the state's two (2) National Forests. By the end of the first year we realized that the problems facing our environment were much broader than logging and overlapped lands of different ownerships. In February, 1994, we shifted our focus to the development of a comprehensive biodiversity conservation strategy, including the nature reserve system. The first step was to map Minnesota's remaining roadless lands and create a draft nature reserve design based primarily on those results. Since that time we have received funding and contributions from ESRI, Patagonia, Inc., Foundation for Ecology and Development, Peradam Foundation, and Rowekamp Associates to establish a PC-based GIS with PC ARC/INFO and ArcView, and provide training for key personnel.

MERP has also developed advanced core area identification and mapping guidelines, including a site ranking scheme, that has been reviewed by noted scientists such as Reed Noss and James Strittholt. The next draft of our nature reserve design will be completed by the end of 1997 and will be based on several different theme layers. ...The criteria used to measure and evaluate progress fall into three main categories: design, publication and implementation. The design criteria is the actual mapping part of the project. With it we will identify and map out core reserve areas, buffer zones and corridors based on different data themes. Publication involves peer review and actual publication of the results of our work in scientific and popular journals. The peer review process may change the results of our analyses, in effect strengthening its credibility. Therefore, there may be several revisions of the design before the final product is deemed acceptable for publication.

The final criteria will be implementing our plan. This will entail the protection of core reserve areas, establishment of buffer zones with limited, sustainable human activities, and corridors that will allow migration of plant and animal species between core areas. There are several strategies that may be used to ensure implementation, several of which are on-going. After all three criteria are met, then we will consider the project fully completed. The timeline for full reserve design and peer review is 1-2 years for the Laurentian Mixed Forest, 2-3 years for the years for the Eastern Deciduous Forest, and 3-5 years for the Prairie-Parkland Province. However, a second iteration of the Biosphere Recovery Strategy will be completed by the end of 1997. Establishment of our nature reserve design will be a much longer process. Though we will pursue opportunities as they arise to implement portions of each region's reserve design, the process will take several decades, if not longer, to fully establish.


Text and graphics: Minnesota Ecosystems Recovery Project and The Wildlands Project
January 2, 1997 , ( Michael Biltonen, Exec. Dir., MERP, P.O. Box 293, Red Wing, MN 55066. email: )

Web layout & design: ESRI Conservation Program, January 2, 1996

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