Species of Concern; Investigations

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2012 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
Recipient Type
State Government
Start Date
July 2011
End Date
June 2014
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Project Overview

Part A: Minnesota Common Loons and American White Pelicans - PROJECT OVERVIEW
Over a three month period in 2010, approximately five million barrels of oil was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico causing extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and resulting in significant losses in fish and wildlife populations. A number of Minnesota's migratory bird species spend parts of their lives in the areas impacted by the spill and impacts on their populations in the state could become evident over time. Impacts could result from immediate losses of birds that were present at the time of the spill or from cumulative negative effects resulting from contamination of the food chain by petroleum chemicals and the dispersants used on the oil. The two Minnesota species that are potentially most vulnerable are the common loon and the American white pelican - some of their young would have been present in the Gulf at the time of the spill and their behavior and feeding patterns put them at greater risk of exposure to chemicals from the spill persisting in the environment. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is using this appropriation to determine whether or not common loon or American white pelican populations in Minnesota have been impacted by the Gulf oil spill. Besides population declines in the two species, other impacts that could occur as a result of chemical contamination in the food chain include changes in behavior, migratory abilities, reproductive success, or longevity. If a link is documented Minnesota may be eligible for remediation funds from the Federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process currently underway, and those funds could be used to help restore the populations of these two species.

OVERALL PROJECT OUTCOME AND RESULTS - PART A: Minnesota Common Loons and American White Pelicans
Concerns about impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Minnesota loons and white pelicans led to the need for an assessment of the extent to which pelicans and loons were exposed to impacts by PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) petroleum contaminants, which are carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic, and DOSS (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate) contaminants that cause respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney, and blood disorders, cancer, and hormone disruption.

A statewide pelican count in 2012 showed an increase of 16-19% since 2010 to a level of 22,000 nesting pairs. Pelican egg and bill knob analysis revealed that 58 of 99 pelican eggs had PAH. For bill knobs, 29 of 37 had PAH. DOSS was found in 27 of 48 eggs in 2011 but no DOSS was found in 2012. Fourteen of 37 bill knobs had DOSS. In Phase 2 of this project, pelican eggs will continue to be tested, and a statewide pelican survey in 2015 will include population trend analysis and determination of the ratio of young birds to adults as an indicator of reproductive success.

Loon research included satellite telemetry on 13 loons and geolocator research on 42 loons. This work revealed migration phenology and routes, wintering sites, diving behavior, and on the extent to which PAH and DOSS have been accumulated by loons.

Loon eggs (6 of 27), fat (5 of 29), blood (20 of 52), and feathers (5 of 35) had PAH present. PAH and DOSS contaminants picked up in the Gulf of Mexico could cause long-term sublethal effects. Phase 2 of this project will involve assessment of egg hatchability and chick survival. This information will be used to develop a federal NRDAR court case to recover damages to Minnesota loons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. LCCMR-funded research (phase 2 and 3) will continue through 2017.

PROJECT RESULTS USE AND DISSEMINATION - PART A: Minnesota Common Loons and American White Pelicans
In summer of 2012 Ron Schara's photography team covered the capture and banding with geolocators the loons on Lake George in Anoka County. That story was featured on Minnesota Bound on September 1 and 7, 2013 on KARE-TV.

An article was published in the 2013 January-February issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. Editor Kathleen Weflen devoted two pages of introduction to this study and reflecting concerns for protecting Minnesota's loons and water quality. The 12-page article "Flying with the Loons" by Adele Porter covered the work by Kevin Kenow and his staff from the US Geological Survey as they have studied Minnesota's loons over the past two years, and cited credits to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund for financial support of this work.

Outdoor reporter Dennis Anderson accompanied the loon capture crew on July 16 and wrote an article in the Star Tribune on July 21, 2013, about this loon research project.

We have received recent requests from the media for updates on this study, but we have been deferring response until we have a more comprehensive analysis of the project results. We are also reluctant to release too much information at this point because BP has hired a person from Maine to find out what we are doing in regard to the loon study. Subsequently, their lawyers may try to use that information to minimize concerns or effects on Minnesota loons and pelicans related to the future NRDAR settlement from BP to the State of Minnesota for damages to the state's loon and pelican population due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Part B: Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas - PROJECT OVERVIEW
A state Breeding Bird Atlas is a comprehensive systematic field survey of the occurrence, distribution, diversity, and breeding status of bird species within the state. Atlases are used to set conservation priorities, develop conservation plans, and guide habitat protection and restoration efforts. Minnesota is one of only seven states in the country that has yet to complete a Breeding Bird Atlas. Audubon Minnesota will use this appropriation to complete the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas and create related publications, including a book and online atlas with distribution maps, breeding status, and historical species information.

The Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas project represents the most detailed, comprehensive assessment of the breeding distribution of Minnesota's birds ever undertaken. It is a multi-partner project which included: Audubon Minnesota, MN DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Ornithologists' Union, individuals from the University of Minnesota, and many others. Representatives from these organizations made up a Steering Committee which helped oversee and advise the project. All field data collection was completed in August 2013 with incidental reports from volunteers coming into the database through September. The project recorded 372,172 bird sightings during the 5-years from 2009 - 2013 all of which are in our database. These sightings report 250 species, 232 of which we consider confirmed breeders. Data was collected from each of the 2,339 priority blocks which represent every Township in Minnesota. Additional point count data was collected from 99.5% of the Townships in Minnesota. Following the completion of our field data collection we reviewed, and reformatted 24 external datasets representing 20,000 records which were added to the database. An extensive quality control program was applied to the data involving species experts, regional reviewers from around the state and a verification committee. The number of registered volunteers in the project totaled 1,144 and they reported driving over 100,000 miles and spending 33,000 hours of contributed effort, which is an underestimate of their contribution since our data relies on self-reporting and we know many volunteers did not report this information. Our website, mnbba.org, which allowed volunteers to report their findings, provide county and species maps and a searchable database continues to provide information to the public. Data analysis and results dissemination will occur over the next 2 - 3 years.

Preliminary data has been available on the mnbba.org website since the first year of the project. This website provides general information on the project, its methodology, and purpose. Through it data on specific species can be queried and mapped. We will continue to use this url as we migrate data analysis and information to a new format over the next 2 years. We are developing plans to store the data in the Avian Knowledge Network. Publications using BBA data have included the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer and presentations at the Midwest Bird Conservation and Monitoring Network meetings, the Minnesota Chapter of the Wildlife Society, and the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union meetings.

About the Issue

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had widespread impacts on resident wildlife in the affected areas, many of which will not be fully understood for many years to come. In particular is the potential loss or long term impact on migratory bird populations from central and eastern North America that spend part of their life cycles in the affected areas. In addition to the immediate impacts on birds that were in the Gulf at the time of the spill, there are also long term impacts to consider, such as impacts on behavior, migratory abilities, reproductive success, or longevity from contamination of the food chain by petroleum chemicals or derivatives of the dispersants used on the oil. The two Minnesota species identified to be the most potentially vulnerable to impacts from the oil spill are the Common Loon and the American White Pelican. Long term monitoring is needed to determine if population levels of these two species in Minnesota have declined since the spill and if any declines are attributable to the spill.

Project Details
Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2011, First Special Session, Chp. 2, Art.3, Sec. 2, Subd. 03p
Appropriation Language

$500,000 the first year is from the trust fund to the commissioner of natural resources for investigating species of concern.

2012 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Direct expenses
Number of full time equivalents funded
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Street Address
500 Lafayette Rd, Box 25
St Paul
Zip Code
(651) 259-5104
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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