Minnesota's Natural Heritage

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2015 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund
Minnesota Zoo
Recipient Type
State Government
In Progress
Activity Type
Legal Citation / Subdivision
Laws of 2013, Chapter 137, Article 4, Section 2, Subd. 9
Appropriation Language

These amounts are appropriated to the Minnesota Zoological Board for programs and development of the Minnesota Zoological Garden and to provide access to the arts, arts education, and cultural heritage of Minnesota.

2015 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Measurable Outcome(s)

Our World Speaker Series

  • All 2014 and 2015 featured speakers focus on issues relevant to the conservation of Minnesota’s natural heritage.  Topics include The Ecological Future of North American Bison, Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and other Backyard Wildlife, Invasive Species in Minnesota, Dwindling Numbers for an Iconic Insect (Monarchs), and Wildlife of Voyagers National Park.  Speakers include: University of Minnesota Conservation Biologist Karen Oberhauser; Minnesota native and Smithsonian Institute scientist Kristofer Kelgen; bison specialist Kyran Kunkel; and Minnesota’s most beloved outdoorsman Ron Schara.
  • An average of 85 Minnesotans (mostly adult) attended each of the 2014 Our World Speaker Series events (totaling more than 600 people).
  • The Our World Speaker Series was offered free of charge to all attendees, ensuring access for all interested guests.  
  • Virtual Google+ Hangouts of the Speaker Series (hosted by the Zoo’s social media coordinator) were offered for six of the 2014 events. The Minnesota Zoo has more than 270,000 Google+ followers.

Zoo Education Program

  • Over 500 children participated in summer Zoo Camps specifically focused on Minnesota Natural Heritage, including the popular Minnesota Voyagers camp, which immersed participants in the natural treasures of our great state.  Campers even participated in a fishing excursion to a nearby lake.
  • More than 1,000 students from nine different schools in Minnesota enjoyed a performance of “Tales Along the Minnesota Trail,” a theatrical performance in the Zoo’s Target Learning Center, in partnership with the Minnesota History Theater.  The play supported student learning in the areas of Native American history, different languages and cultures of Minnesota, links between Minnesota’s natural environment and cultural history, impacts of the arrival of European settlers to Minnesota, conservation of Minnesota natural resources, and Minnesota wildlife.
  • Minnesota Natural Heritage Tours are now offered year-round to school groups visiting the Zoo.  Geared for elementary and middle school students, these active 45-minute naturalist led tours highlight the rich natural and cultural history of our great state.  Topics and activities support Minnesota’s social studies and science standards.  Tours are enhanced by a Minnesota Quest teacher curriculum guide that enables teachers to connect their experience along the Zoo’s Minnesota Trail back to the classroom.
  • Teens and adults have the opportunity to explore the unique natural heritage of Minnesota through Zoo staff-led Travel Edventures across the state.  A group of teachers participated in a bird banding expedition to Hawk Ridge near Duluth in September 2014.  Upcoming Edventures include tracking wolves in Ely and exploring the prairies of western Minnesota to learn about the successful reintroduction of bison to their native territory.

Bison  Reintroduction Program

  • We have successfully bred pure bison that will be part of the first-ever release at Minneopa State Park.
  • We built a new bison holding facility to accommodate the expansion of the Zoo’s onsite herd for this initiative. 
Legal Citation / Subdivision
Laws 2015,1st special session, Chapter 2, Article 4, Section 2, subd. 7
Appropriation Language

For programs and development of the Minnesota Zoological Garden and to provide access and education related to programs on the cultural heritage of Minnesota

2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Number of full time equivalents funded
Measurable Outcome(s)

Outcomes for FY 16 include:

• Successfully conducting DNA testing on the bison conservation herd to make recommendations for future breeding and animal transfers.
• Transporting three female yearlings to Minneopa State Park.
• Producing bison calves for the future transfer and release into Minnesota state parks.
• Increasing the overall survivorship of Dakota skipper larvae within the Zoo’s captive population.
• Expanding the Zoo’s on-site rearing capacities.
• Producing a long-term strategy for the captive management of Dakota skippers and Poweshiek skipperlings and for reintroduction for Poweshiek skipperlings.
• Producing preliminary data needed to evaluate threats prairie skipper butterflies.
• Publication of one peer-reviewed scientific article.
• Presentation of research at one scientific conference.
• Tales Along the Minnesota Trail presented to more than 1,000 Minnesota students from nine schools.
• More than 500 children participated in summer Zoo Camps focused on Minnesota Natural Heritage.
• Minnesota Natural Heritage Tours offered year-round to school groups.
• Zoo staff-led four Travel Edventures, including a bird banding expedition to Hawk Ridge near Duluth, two wolf-tracking expeditions to Ely, and a visit to Mystery Cave in southeastern Minnesota to explore the importance of bats in Minnesota’s ecological systems.

Project Overview

Minnesota has long been committed to preserving its natural heritage. In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Minnesota, and other conservation organizations, the Minnesota Zoo plays a significant role in these preservation efforts by addressing pressing wildlife conservation issues important to our State. Legacy funds allow the Minnesota Zoo to expand its field conservation and educational programs with a focus on animals and habitats closely aligned with Minnesota’s cultural identity.

Bison Reintroduction Program
Bison are among the most iconic animals associated with the central plains. Where millions once roamed vast portions of Minnesota, few bison genetically free of cattle genes remain today. Having exhibited descendants of these plains bison for years, the Minnesota Zoo is now cooperatively breeding and managing a bison herd with MN DNR for reintroduction into state parks.

Prairie Butterfly Field Conservation
In the 1800’s, prairie covered 18 million acres of Minnesota, or about a third of the state. Prairies and their native wildlife are an important part of Minnesota’s cultural heritage, but today, only about 1% of Minnesota’s native prairie remains. With the loss of native habitat, many of the wildlife species in Minnesota that depend on prairie have declined or even disappeared. Initiated with Legacy funding and now also supported by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Zoo’s Prairie Butterfly Conservation Program aims to prevent the extinction of a number of prairie butterflies, understand the reasons for their declines, and ensure that populations are sustained long-term. In partnership with other state agencies and organizations, the Minnesota Zoo has established a captive conservation breeding program at the Zoo addressing some of Minnesota’s most threatened butterfly species, including the Dakota skipper and Poweshiek skipperling. In conjunction with its breeding program, the Zoo is supporting field work to monitor prairie butterfly populations and research on the threats that imperiled butterflies and other species may face in Minnesota’s prairies.

Moose Conservation Field Research
Moose, one of Minnesota’s most iconic wildlife species, are declining in Minnesota. In less than 20 years, moose in northwestern Minnesota declined from over 4,000 to fewer than 100. With high levels of adult and calf mortality, the northeastern Minnesota moose population, numbering 4,350 is now declining. There were approximately twice as many moose in northeastern Minnesota ten years ago as there are today. Working with the University of Minnesota and other researchers, the Minnesota Zoo has been conducting research on moose responses to warm temperatures, moose-wolf interactions, and parasite transmission between deer and moose that will inform moose management in the state and hopefully slow or prevent a decline in Minnesota moose population.

Zoo Education Programs
The Minnesota Zoo’s education department has expanded programs to enhance participants’ knowledge and appreciation of Minnesota’s natural heritage. These programs and experiences are designed to “connect” participants to the natural world, fostering a lifelong conservation ethic for the wild life and wild places of our State.
Education programs supported by Legacy funding include:

• Tales Along the Minnesota Trail – A theatrical performance offered to school groups visiting the Zoo that addresses Native American history, Minnesota languages and cultures, links between Minnesota’s natural environment and cultural history, and conservation of Minnesota natural resources.
• Zoo Camp – Week-long summer day camp experiences focused specifically on Minnesota natural heritage, including the Minnesota Voyagers camp, which includes a fishing excursion to a nearby lake.
• Minnesota Natural Heritage Trail Tours –Naturalist-led trail tours supporting Minnesota social studies and science standards offered as to school field trips.
• Minnesota Quest Curriculum and Trail Guide – An on-line teacher’s guide to the Minnesota Trail that includes topics and activities to support Minnesota academic standards in Social Studies and Science.
• Travel Edventures –Zoo staff-led field trips providing teens and adults the opportunity to explore the unique natural heritage of Minnesota.
• Life on the Farm – Interpreting life on a traditional Minnesota working family farm to Zoo visitors.

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Minnesota Zoological Garden
Street Address
13000 Zoo Boulevard
Apple Valley
Zip Code