Thursday, December 10, 2020, marked our first virtual Next Generation of Parks event, featuring local award-winner author Adam Regn Arvidson, who is also Director of Strategic Planning for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Adam’s book, Wild and Rare: Tracking Endangered Species in the Upper Midwest, formed the basis of an exciting presentation and conversation about the plant, animal, and human characters that shape Minnesota’s landscapes. While we were able to tackle several audience questions live that evening – check out the recording of the presentation below – there were a few that merited some follow-up, which Adam responds to in this post.
(Minneapolis Parks Foundation) What do you think is the likelihood that there are any undiscovered species in Minnesota? What might they be and where would they be found?
(Adam Arvidson) I think it is highly unlikely that new species will be identified in Minnesota. It is possible that some known rare species that have been found in nearby states (the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and the Massasauga snake in Wisconsin, for instance) could also be found in Minnesota. Despite decades of searching, however, they haven’t been. Any possible new species identification would likely be of one that is highly mobile, perhaps entering the state as the climate changes. We’re talking, therefore, about insects and birds, mainly. Species are being identified by western science at a rapid rate in other parts of the world, notably the tropical rainforests and the deep sea. This is because these places have much higher biodiversity than the North American Midwest. They also have landscapes that are less populated (and therefore less altered) by European-style colonization and development. In addition, the Minnesota Biological Survey—an effort that “systematically collects, interprets, and monitors… data on plant and animal distribution” has put scientists in the field for more than 30 years. I would expect that most of the proverbial needles in the Minnesota haystack have been found.
What role does Indigenous land management practices play in the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s ecological systems plan? Do you have examples of Indigenous land managers playing a role throughout the state in stewarding and protecting rare and endangered landscapes and species?
MPRB’s (and most agencies’) efforts on co-management of lands are in the very early stages. At a much larger scale, the National Park Service has multiple examples of co-management of sites with Indigenous Tribes, such as at Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. MPRB’s Ecological Systems Plan does not explicitly identify strategies around collaboration with Tribes or Indigenous people. However, numerous MPRB planning efforts are engaging Native people more robustly and compensating them for historical, cultural, and ecological knowledge and expertise.
I feel there is more to learn here. And though I have not dipped my toes back in the design/planning journalism world for some time, I am at work on an article for Landscape Architecture Magazine about Indigenous responses to climate change. Likely to be published in early 2021, the article will look at the work of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and the 1854 Treaty Authority—both of which have created planning documents that take a specifically Indigenous perspective on addressing climate change and its effects. I am hoping to learn a lot through my research conversations for this article, and to share the stories of the unique and powerful work of these knowledgeable stewards.
In addition to your book, what other resources do you recommend for folks wanting to learn more about the topic?
The basic clearing house on endangered species is the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species home page: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/. There’s a great search function that allows you to see species listed by state and by county. Every species has a fact sheet that’s a great resource for learning about your favorite rare plant or animal.
For a broader context on the idea of rareness and extinction, I would recommend three key books that I consider part of the “canon” of nature writing, right up there with classics like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, and Wendell Berry’s Long-Legged House. They are:
- The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
- Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Chris Cokinos
- Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
(By the way, it would be great to support local bookstores when you make your purchases. These books are all fairly popular, so you might find them in stock, but these stores are happy to order them for your pick-up.)
One of the best things land stewards can do is plant native pollinator gardens. It might seem like a small thing, but having good food, nesting, and wintering habitat for bees, butterflies, insects, and birds can be done at any scale in any landscape—from lakeside cabins to urban backyards. Aside from general advocacy around endangered species, this is one of the most important things people can do to help our wild and rare ones. There is a wealth of resources out there. Here are a few:
- Minnesota DNR
- U of M Bee Lab
- Minnesota Zoo
- Minnesota landscape Arboretum
- MN Board of Soil and Water Resources
Is there a follow-up to Wild and Rare? If so, what would it be and when can folks expect it?
Well, I am glad to hear there’s already interest in a sequel (though we know all too well those can be a let-down). I began writing Wild and Rare while I was running my own consultancy and finished it after joining MPRB. Taking on the new challenge of working for change in the public sector was the next important step in my career, and I have devoted significant time to that work. That means there is no second book underway at the moment.
That said, I began a birding/writing project in 2020 and have written numerous short essays about species I’ve seen and how they link to a year of challenging seasons. Orioles arrived on Memorial Day weekend, when George Floyd was murdered. Hummingbirds flitted through the backyard under the rotors of military helicopters. Red-winged blackbirds seemed to multiply daily in the cattails as COVID cases surged through the first wave. I have about 50 essays and I don’t know what exactly will become of them just yet. I’m submitting to journals and magazines and will announce on social media when and if anything goes live. You can connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram at @adamregn.
Featured image: Screen capture of Adam speaking during event.