Hastings Sand Coulee SNA restoration continues

Oak woodland before brush removal.

Removal of woody brush with "hot saw."

Oak woodland after woody brush removal.

Oak woodland after forestry mower treatment of stump resprouts (in foreground). Note the untreated patch of native vegetation in the background.

Grassland at bottom of the Coulee after removal of woody brush.

Photos: Joe Walton

At 268 acres, the Hastings Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), located in the southeast portion of the city of Hastings, is the largest native prairie remnant in Dakota County. In 2012, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources contracted with FMR to write a natural resource management plan to guide restoration. The restoration plan, now in phase III, involves improvements in the northwest corner of the property totaling 80 acres including grassland (23 ac.), oak woodland (50 ac.) and former cropland (8 ac.). Before restoration began, the site was degraded and overgrown with red cedar, Siberian elm, buckthorn, and Tartarian honeysuckle. The former cropland had been planted with corn and soybeans for many years.

In December of 2013, phase III implementation began. The first tasks were removing woody brush and seeding the cropland. Winter is a good time to do this work, since soils are frozen and not as prone to damage from the heavy equipment. The result was striking, especially in the woodlands. Before removal, the brush was so thick you could hardly see through it, and afterward, sight lines opened up for hundreds of yards.

As spring arrived, the next steps involved controlling buckthorn stump resprouts. To do this, we used a forestry mower on the woodlands. This is a non-chemical method, targeting areas of high stump concentration. To help re-seed the treated areas, we left scattered patches of native vegetation. Lastly, we seeded a diverse, local ecotype mix of seeds throughout the woodland, to help prevent erosion and provide fuel for future prescribed burns.

Moving forward, tasks will include controlling herbaceous exotic vegetation in the grassland, conducting prescribed burns, and mowing to establish prairie in the former croplands. If you get a chance, please visit the Hastings Sand Coulee SNA to check it out yourself!

Restoration at this SNA is funded by the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund.