Stories in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota

2020 Year in Review: Conservation Highlights in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota

A herd of bison on a darkening grassland with rocky plateaus in the background.
Conata Basin Ranch. Bison herd on the move across the prairie just before sunset. © Michael Forsberg

This page was updated on December 9, 2020.

Ann Mulholland is the Director of TNC in MN, ND and SD.
Ann Mulholland Chapter Director in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. © Nancy A. Johnson

A Note from Ann Mulholland

While 2020 has no doubt been an exceptionally challenging year, there is much to celebrate when it comes to protecting nature and preserving life.

From the hundreds of thousands of trees we planted to the prairies and streams we’ve restored,  our work to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends has never been more impor...

While 2020 has no doubt been an exceptionally challenging year, there is much to celebrate when it comes to protecting nature and preserving life.

From the hundreds of thousands of trees we planted to the prairies and streams we’ve restored,  our work to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends has never been more important. Big wins like the Great American Outdoors Act come to mind, but it was also apparent in just about every park, forest and trail system in the country since the pandemic hit. And while the road to recovery remains uncertain, I am confident that it will lead us to a better, brighter and more sustainable future. Thank you for being on this ride with us!

I hope you’ll take a moment to celebrate some wins for nature, and many more moments to appreciate and enjoy the lands, waters and wildlife that you helped protect!



Ann Mulholland

Chapter Director, MN-ND-SD

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Trees! Trees! Trees!

Two bags filled with conifer saplings.
Minnesota's iconic confer We are strategically planting hundreds of thousands where native conifers will thrive even in anticipated warmer, drier conditions. © John Gregor
A woman pulls a potted tree out for planting.
Urban Tree Planting A TNC staffer plants a tree at Duluth and Case Rec Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. © Doug Shaw

In addition to planting more than 378,000 trees in forests along Lake Superior, we also partnered with Tree Trust and United Properties to add trees in the Twin Cities. As part of the effort, TNC is creating a new tool to help guide urban tree plantings.

We also created this video to spread the good word about how trees benefit us all.

Waterfowl Research

Female mallard with ducklings
Mallard Female mallard with her ducklings. © Kent Mason

Thanks to new technology, we’ve helped advance waterfowl research in the Prairie Pothole Region at our Davis Ranch Preserve.  By using drones to identify nests, and surveillance technology to monitor them, researchers with Ducks Unlimited and North Dakota State University are learning more about the needs of ducks and other nesting waterfowl.

2,110 Acres Protected in Superior NF

The Gift of Wild Home to migratory songbirds, eagles, ospreys and wide-ranging mammals like wolves and moose, this an important wilderness area that will be preserved for generations.

Thanks to a retired forestry professor who wanted Minnesotans to enjoy wild lakes,  TNC protected more than 2,000 acres of private inholdings in the Superior National Forest this year. Contiguous blocks of forests and lakes provide ideal habitat for Minnesota’s loons, moose, lynx and more. And it’s a beautiful place to launch a canoe.

“Natural Highways & Neighborhoods” Mapping Tool

TNC scientists across North America have recently released a mapping tool showing the lands and waters that will be most resilient to climate change. These are areas, such as the Missouri Coteau, which stretches across North Dakota and South Dakota, and southeast Minnesota’s Bluff Country, with unique geology, topography and other attributes. This network of “natural highways and neighborhoods” shows that our protection work remains critical. 

Bonding Bill Success

Windy section of the Crow Wing River forming an "S" shape within the frame.
Mississippi River Headwaters Area Encompassing more than 13 million acres and providing drinking water to 2.5 million people, the Mississippi River headwaters area is a top conservation priority in Minnesota. © Richard Hamilton Smith

Thanks to the efforts of TNC staff and supporters, we were able to help secure a total of $2 million in public funding for clean water projects in the Mississippi River’s headwaters area.

Our Water Campaign

Stump bay along the Mississippi River in Minnesota.
Our Water This ambitious fundraising campaign seeks to fund critical conservation work in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. © 2012 Richard Hamilton Smith

Thanks to generous support from individuals, foundations and corporations, we have helped protect more than 12,000 acres in the Mississippi River headwaters area. We’ve also been able to develop a Grass for Water Blueprint for North Dakota and South Dakota.  

All Acres for Our Water

All Acres For Our Water In Stearns County, Minnesota, local farmers are leading the way toward our sustainable future.

This year we were proud to partner with the Stearns County Soil & Water Conservation District on All Acres for Our Water, a new initiative to demonstrate how our lands can be better managed for production, water quality and wildlife. We also launched a new pilot project in Minnesota to increase farmer participation in ecosystem services markets.

Imitating Beavers on the Prairie

Four technicians build structures made of natural materials along a degraded stream.
Stream Reconstruction Staff from The Nature Conservancy and AmeriCorps build riparian structures along a degraded stream in western South Dakota. © Lori Brown/TNC
Technician walking away from a rock rundown along a degraded stream.
Rock Rundown Stone structures built along streams (like this one) can be an incredibly useful tool for erosion control. © Lori Brown/TNC

Through a balance of humility and science, we’ve been partnering with nature to improve the health of prairie streams in western South Dakota. This year we kicked off a new project aimed at restoring these delicate stream systems by imitating beaver! Our teams built and installed temporary riparian structures along streams, thanks to our partnership with AmeriCorps, the U.S. Forest Service and a few private landowners, resulting in 40 new installations just this year.

Momentous Milestone

Sun rising over a grassland pasture.
900,000 acres Thanks for helping us reach a major milestone in our protection work this year! © 2011 Richard Hamilton Smith

We reached a huge milestone in 2021. With your help, TNC has now helped protect more than 900,000 acres in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, including some of the region’s best prairies, forests, wetlands and shoreline along our rivers, lakes and streams.

We Couldn't Do It Without You!

Prairie flowers and grasses against a pink sky.
Thank you Great things happen when people come together in support of our natural world. © ©2012 Richard Hamilton Smith

Your ongoing support is critical to our success every year. Each acre we protect, every stream we restore and every tree we plant is only possible because of supporters like you. Help us conserve even more of our prairies, wetlands, lakes and rivers with a gift today in support of the nature you love in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota