Getting things done with Detroit Lakes DNR -Wildlife & our NW District

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Area Wildlife office in Detroit Lakes, MN currently manages 52 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) encompassing 26,995 acres in Mahnomen, Norman, and western Becker counties.  In addition to managing the WMAs, they work closely with county NRCS offices, watershed districts, local and state conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and private landowners on various wildlife projects. 

One of those collaborators is our Northwest District! In 2016, two notable projects were completed with the help of our NW crews.

  • Tree Removal:  Woody trees including invasive European buckthorn, cottonwood, box elder, and ash were treated or cut on 6 WMAs, helping to maintain the native grassland ecosystem.  On three of those WMAs; Hubbel Pond, Beaulieu, and Warren Lake, the DNR Roving Crew assisted with cutting, piling, mulching, and burning.  With funding from an Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) grant Conservation Corps Minnesota (CCM) cut and sprayed buckthorn on 3 WMAs improving 143 acres of prairie habitat.
  • Seed Harvest:  With the help of local cooperators, CCM crews, and the local Seed Consortium, 5,970 pounds of high quality local origin native grass and flower seeds were harvested on local WMAs.  All will be reseeded onto existing and newly acquired WMAs to restore and enhance prairie habitat in the Detroit Lakes Management Area.

Learn more about Detroit Lakes area wildlife.

The Mississippi and its unseen tributaries

“The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit.”

– Mark Twain

To impose on a reader affirmations concerning the importance and historical significance of the Mississippi – our continent’s longest river – seems no more necessary than asserting the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Well documented are its contributions to commerce, history, literature and recreation. But less frequently considered is its contribution to the economic vitality of the cities through which it passes. Of course, in bygone days it played a huge role in transporting goods, and that continues. Today, “Ol’ Man River” is also the source of new opportunities that generate revenue, create jobs and enhance quality of life.

The Mississippi is an important part of our state’s identity, and a clean, vibrant river is good for commerce and recreation – including a growing tourism trade. 

The Mississippi is an important part of our state’s identity, and a clean, vibrant river is good for commerce and recreation – including a growing tourism trade. 

Notably, the river has seen growing tourism. Cruise lines report increased bookings, as tourists – many foreigners among them – come to gather first-hand accounts of this important contributor to America’s past and to enjoy its majestic views as a backdrop. They’re drawn to upgraded ports of call like St. Paul, a city that greets them with a beautifully restored and modernized Union Depot and a bustling urban scene just a few steps away. Restaurants, bars and public spaces are also embracing the river, as locals start to discover for themselves what the tourists are coming to see.

So, beyond the important environmental reasons, when Conservation Corps assembled more than 100 volunteers to clean up the Mississippi at several sites just south of St. Paul, they were helping the river and helping the city, too. This annual Adopt-a-River event gave them plenty to do: They cleaned up enough trash to fill two 30-yard dumpsters – imagine a 14-foot by 14-foot room with walls eight feet high – that included large Styrofoam blocks, many bags of plastic bottles and more tires than in any previous year. (Also unearthed was a 1939 Chicago newspaper with accounts of an aggressive German leader seizing Czechoslovakia and otherwise upending the status quo in Europe.) The refuse list went on to include chairs, mattresses, fishing line and lures, shoes, old mop heads and plastic bottle caps.

Crew members report Styrofoam is particularly burdensome. One piece will disintegrate into six when touched, and the wind will quickly disperse some number of those. They’re not gone, though, and those shards will continue to besmirch the landscape in their new location or float downriver to compromise the scenery somewhere else. 

This art – from debris pulled from the Mississippi and its banks – was created in 2012 and is now located at the DNR office in Saint Paul.

This art – from debris pulled from the Mississippi and its banks – was created in 2012 and is now located at the DNR office in Saint Paul.

To raise awareness of the problem, from 1994 through 2014, the Adopt-A-River program commissioned artists to make outdoor sculptures from found trash, which were exhibited near the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) building at the Minnesota State Fair and later put on permanent display at various locations.

The impact of the Mississippi reaches far beyond it banks. Help from Conservation Corps protects its ecosystem, but with a clean river and clean environs, it also helps the river pay proud homage to its history and be an asset to cities eager to capitalize on the new opportunities it provides.

You can volunteer for this year’s event, the 26th Annual Great Mississippi Riverboat Cleanup, on Thursday, June 15th from 8am to 2:30pm. Visit our website for more information and to register.

From its inception in the mid-1980s, the DNR Adopt-A-River program educated Minnesotans about caring for and cleaning up rivers and watersheds. Since then, 90,000 volunteers at more than 3,200 cleanups have removed 6.5 million pounds of trash from 11,000 miles of Minnesota’s public waters. In 2016, the program transitioned to Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, a long-time partner of the Minnesota DNR.

Women of the Corps

By: Kou Yang

As of recent, the “green industry” has shown a tremendous rise in employment and economic growth. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), employment rates for renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs have grown roughly 18-20% within the past few years alone (EESI). An outstanding 2015 statistic shows that, “3,384,834 Americans were directly employed by the clean energy industry…[while in comparison] an estimated 2,989,844 Americans were directly employed by the fossil fuel industry (EESI).” In the United States alone, it seems that people are gaining a greater interest and concern for climate and other environmental-related issues.

Although it is a great leap forward to see such a rise in employment, recent statistics show that women hold only 12% of the millions of jobs in the green energy industry (Forbes). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47% of the total U.S. workforce, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations (USnews). For example, about 34% of environmental engineers are women (ngcproject).

The lower representation of women in the Eco-industry does not necessarily mean a lack of success, however. Eco-heroines from all over the country (and world) exist, and serve as influential role models for women of all ages and backgrounds. Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, works to improve the environment and the economic prospects of South Bronx while promoting environmental justice to neighborhoods that have been burdened with environmental hazards for decades ( Barbara Allen, at 71 years old, became the oldest person to hike all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Lastly, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Wangari Maathai, has employed thousands of African women and planted over 40 million trees since 1977 (Sierra Club). These inspiring women are only a few of the many influential women around the world who have made a great impact to themselves, their communities, and the environment.  

Haley Nomenan_Buffalo National River.jpg

Get to know women of the Corps

As a way of commemorating the women who have served and continue working for Conservation Corps, we asked some alumni and staff members what it means to be part of a green organization and to pursue a “green” career. The answers we received were quite diverse showing that women of any background can be interested in pursuing a career in STEM.

Both Maneena Xiong and Kate Marquis served as field crewmembers in the Central District in 2016. Maneena said, “I joined the Corps because I wanted to try something new and different from what I’ve always been told to do”. It is extremely powerful to see someone break stereotypes and do something “nontraditional”. Similarly, Kate joined the Corps out of the simple interest in trying new things. Despite having little to no experience in the field, both members had an inspiring and meaningful Conservation Corps term.

Kate mentions, “This was something I knew nothing about and wanted to know more. My opinions and beliefs reflecting green jobs quickly changed as I worked with the Corps more and more.” Maneena felt highly empowered as a woman working in the Corps. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime…I was more willing to get out of my comfort zone and didn’t feel like I was being held back…I don’t know what I’ll do with this experience, but I’m glad I got it.” The empowerment that comes with the Conservation Corps experience is definitely something that allows women who may be new to this field to grow and develop a greater love for natural resources.

Katie Petzel, who served as a crewmember in the Northeast District, and a crew leader in the Central District provides a different perspective:

I grew up in a family that has farmed the same land for close to 150 years and has, in the past few decades, made the switch from conventional to more sustainable forms of agriculture. Having seen this change take place on my own land, I know that it is possible to farm sustainably and economically. However, without the education provided by our state extension and land management organizations we would not have known how to make that switch. Being a part of that mechanism to bring knowledge and resources to our land users is what made me want to pursue a "green job."

Being able to make a difference on her own land helped to enrich Katie’s love and passion for the natural world.

Lauren Vilen, Conservation Corps’ Northwest Assistant District Manager, pursued a green job to “contribute to positive behaviors and [gain] the opportunity to educate others.”  There seems to be a number of reasons to pursue a green job, whether it is to try something new, work intentionally to impact the land, or to teach others. The Conservation Corps has given the opportunity for all of these women to do just that through hard work and service.

Challenges women face in "green" careers

With any career, comes challenges that one must face. Women in “green” jobs face stereotyping and the assumption that they are incapable of performing the work that a man can. Lauren mentioned dealing with a lack of respect and opportunity from her male colleagues:

Some people still behave as if this field is for men.  They may be projecting this attitude unconsciously, but it still affects the way they interact with and communicate with women. I find that often when I care about an issue in the workplace and am vocal about it, some individuals assume stress or an emotional reaction is the cause of my “speaking up”. They don’t take it seriously.

We can all agree that while this field is male-dominated, it is not a job for only men. This is not meant to de-merit the men in the field, but to acknowledge that without the diverse perspective and skill set of women, Conservation Corps, and other “green” organizations would not be what they are today.

The future impact

As we know for most, time with the Conservation Corps is short-lived. For some, their “green” experience ends after a summer or year-long term, while others return for a second or move on to further develop their career elsewhere. The lucky few will continue their work with Conservation Corps as a staff member, training and teaching young adults and teenagers the skills and knowledge for a career in protecting natural resources.

As the Northwest Assistant District Manager, Lauren’s career has evolved into management and leadership of young adults. She hopes to further her career in ways that can benefit the young adults and staff members working with them. For Lauren, everyone possesses different learning processes and styles. She hopes to educate and teach staff members how to most effectively interact with young adults in our rapidly changing society.

Both Kate and Maneena enjoyed running a chainsaw for the greater good, but do not currently work a green job. However, as Corps alumni, they have grown and learned a great deal of skills and knowledge to help foster a potential career in the following years. Kate also invests interest in getting involved with some volunteer work as the seasons change.

Katie mentions that her post-Corps career plans took an unexpected turn. She went from Conservation Corps “Lumber Jane” to a long-term substitute science teacher, and is on track to get a full-time teaching certification. Although Katie is no longer out in the field restoring habitat, she is making an impact in a different way. She states, “I’ve replaced restoring resources, with instilling the knowledge of how to live with minimal impact on them.” There is no doubt of the importance for today’s professionals to spend countless hours in the field. However, it is of equal—or even greater—importance to instill into the youth the importance of protecting and valuing the world’s natural resources.       


Although, historically shown to be male-dominated, women who are in STEM-related careers have shown to be impactful and successful at their job. It is of utter importance for women to continue to exemplify their leadership in order to be seen as influential role models for a new generation of environmentalists. With the ever-growing opportunities that the green industry offers, the alumni and staff member of the Corps are able to give advice to other young women who dream of or are just beginning to pursue a career in STEM.

Kate Marquis: The only advice I have is to not give into the stereotypes that men are superior to women. Women can do so much and should be treated as equals to men. I consider myself a Feminist and believe that I can do anything a man can do. I do not let others treat me as less because I am not less. I hope that other women can see themselves as that too and not let others treat them unequally, especially in the work force.

Katie Petzel: My best piece of advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity to prove your worth. I have found that people make unconscious assumptions about the skills and knowledge that women would have in this field, and women (more so than men) need to prove that they are skilled and proficient in the tasks necessary to perform the job.

Lauren Vilen: Be aware that stereotypes and discrimination still exist, and don’t be afraid to speak up about it, or for yourself, even if it makes people uncomfortable.  By not bringing it into the conversation, it enables others to continue to ignore their preconceived notions and avoid critical self-reflection of the biases we all have based on the culture we grew up in.

To conclude our segment, some words of encouragement and wisdom: When you take a green job, you become part of an important effort to protect and restore our environment. Whether you help reduce energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, or water consumption; conserve natural resources; or minimize waste and pollution, you can take pride in knowing that your work is contributing to the health and sustainability of life on our planet (

New Alumni Advisory Council

We are excited to introduce our first ever Alumni Advisory Council! The council will work towards developing alumni engagement strategies, assist with planning events, increase our alumni communications, aid in recruitment and engage with current members to improve program experience. We are excited to work together to make 2017 great!

Get to know the members:

Neil Brouwer

Why did you want to be part of the council?

I wanted to be a part of this council so that I could help engage and connect alumni.

Favorite food:  


Favorite outdoor activities: 

Hunting, fishing, and hiking.

Career goals:

I am working toward becoming a Wildlife Biologist.

Person or experience that has most influenced your life:

This is going to sound kind of cliche, but I think the Corps has influenced my life the most. At least in terms of figuring out my career goals. 


Caitie Ryan-Norton

Why did you want to a be a part of the council?

The Conservation Corps was an opportunity that came at a pivotal time in my life. Between the skills that I learned and the friendships that I made I am definitely invested in making sure those opportunities are there for other CCM members.

Favorite food:

Spaghetti with my mom's homemade sauce.

Favorite outdoor activities:

Canoeing, foraging, climbing, swimming.

Career goals:

I love working with people and connecting them to issues that matter to them and make an impact in their lives. I hope to be able to combine my own interests in art and the environment with working with others.

Person or experience that has most influenced your life:

My dad. As a young child he fostered my love of the outdoors and as a young adult he challenged me to continue shaping my ideas about myself, the world around me, and the work that I would do in it.

Brian Elder

Why did you want to be part of the council?

To help the corps with visibility and recruitment, and to help strategize ways to improve corps members' experiences during and after their service. 

Favorite food: 

Seafood, especially lobster and crab. 

Favorite outdoor activities:

Hiking, kayaking, downhill skiing, and grilling. 

Career goals:

Still figuring it out, but I want to always be working in some way for social and environmental justice.

Person or experience that has most influenced your life:

Maybe because it's recent in memory, but my time living in Bemidji and working for Habitat for Humanity has had an important impact on my priorities and worldview. I was confronted with a much more intimate view of diversity, poverty, and privilege than I had experienced prior to my time in Bemidji, and my desire to work for social and environmental justice was made all the more urgent. 

Eric Chien

Why did you want to a be a part of the council?

My time serving with the Conservation Corps was a defining and meaningful life experience. I believe in the power of civic service for the betterment of self and community. The mission and offer of the Conservation Corps embodies that spirit of service, and while my time as an active service member with the Conservation Corps has passed, I want to continue to build the organizations capacity to offer the same opportunities I valued, and to provide alumni with post-service opportunities and the means to remain connected to CCM.

Favorite food:  

I am not too discerning, but I do not think I have turned down a cookie to date.

Favorite outdoor activities: 

I enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, and canoeing. If it takes me out into natural areas, and is a conduit for revealing all of the amazing things in Nature than I am game.

Career goals:

I aim to commit my professional life to the management and restoration of Minnesota’s natural resources.

Person or experience that has most influenced your life:

I owe my mom for exposing me to the outdoors from the very start, and for both fostering and enabling all of my inquiries into the natural world no matter where they led.

Rachel Sicheneder

Why did you want to be a part of the council?

I am excited to be part of the alumni counsel to expand networking opportunities within the Corps and create a larger support network for Corps members after their service. Ultimately, the Corps is part of your life for more than just the year in which you served. I would like to help see the alumni council expand on that idea.

Favorite food:

Anything with peanut butter or chocolate on or near it.

Favorite outdoor activities:

I love hiking and camping outside. I've also developed a love for snowshoeing and dog sledding (mushing) to keep away the winter blues.

Career goals:

I would like to continue working for the Coast Guard for the next few years as a Prevention Officer - working with U.S. ports to ensure all ships that come into our water are adhering to our environmental regulations. If I decide to get out of the military my main priority would be to find work somewhere back in the Midwest.

Person or experience that has most impacted your life:

This past summer, the ship I am stationed on crossed the Atlantic Ocean to visit Europe. As the Junior Watch Officer aboard I drove the ship every night from midnight to four a.m. Making decisions in rough seas that affected the lives of the 250 people onboard made me reevaluate how I function under stress and taught me more about myself as a leader.

Kou Yang

Why did you want to a be a part of the council?

I want to help build a greater alumni community and help in enriching current corps members' experience so that they can continue the great work that alumni have the capability of achieving.

Favorite food:

Anything containing noodles. Pho and Pasta, to name a couple. 

Favorite outdoor activities:

Being active, playing sports, or canoe/kayaking.

Career goals:

I'd like to work engaging under-represented communities in the realm of natural resources.

Person or experience that has most influenced your life:

I had a history professor, David Obermiller, in college. I resonated greatly with his own adolescent experiences, and he was able to teach me many great things throughout my college career.  


Harley Hanson

Why did you want to be a part of the council? 

There's a great big Conservation Corps family out there, and I want to help connect folks to build momentum for Corps service opportunities down the road.  As the son of a Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee in 1939 and the father to a Minnesota Conservation Corps crewmember in 2006, as well as a Corps alumni myself and project host for many crews the past two decades, I hope that opportunities will continue to exist for my grandchildren to head outdoors to learn big things, serve their community, work hard and earn a paycheck.

Favorite food: 

I like to give all food groups a chance to succeed, so I respectfully decline to answer this question.

Favorite outdoor activities: 

Hiking, cross-country skiing, biking, wildlife observation, canoeing & kayaking, tossing rocks into bodies of water, supper on the deck (see #2 above).

Career/retirement goals:

Thanks Bailey, for adding 'retirement' to the question!  As the elder council member my first thought went to the physical:  I want to maintain balance and flexibility so I can locomote down the trail with confidence, perhaps with a little grace too.  And the next thought?  I want to maintain balance and flexibility in all that life presents me.

Person or experience has most influenced your life:

I've been blessed by the presence in my life of incredible people sharing ordinary and extraordinary experiences, too many to filter to one.  I'm still learning from my parents, my mountain-of-a-man uncle, my first forestry boss...and most no longer roam this earth.  But after a long and rewarding career in natural resources I most certainly believe that Conservation Corps experiences--my own and those of family--deeply influenced my first steps.

Better Food from Better Water

White rice is a staple in a very large part of the world, but it’s wild rice – Minnesota’s State Grain – that has a special presence here. Perhaps it’s because such a large percentage of its total production occurs in Minnesota that we love this gluten-free, protein-rich grain that’s the sine qua non ingredient of the eponymous soup and many a stuffing recipe.

Recently, Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) had an opportunity to plant wild rice in parts of the St. Louis River where it once grew abundantly. They also learned important lessons about how Native Americans view the land, the water and about what they see as their responsibility to the St. Louis River and its estuary.

Undaunted by naysayers who told them wild rice wouldn’t grow, CCMI joined an effort led by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and others to undo destruction caused by industrial development that had reduced to almost nothing plantings that had once covered 2,000 to 3,000 acres. The project’s goal is to restore 250 acres during the next five to ten years.

The Fond du Lac resource management team sourced wild rice seed from other areas in Minnesota and used air boats to plant. It was a catch-as-catch-can process, as the team had to modify its schedules to work around what was, at best, a sporadic seed delivery schedule. Over three days, a nine-member CCMI crew from Moose Lake and a field specialist planted 10,000 pounds of wild rice, adding to the total of 12,000 pounds planted in 2016.

2016 was the second year of a three-year planting plan. 2015 results saw success in every bay in which the seeds were planted, but hungry Canada geese ate a significant portion of that year’s yield. The Fond du Lac resource management team is working to mitigate the problem.

An important benefit of the project was the opportunity to work with Tom Howes, the natural resources director for the Fond du Lac band. Tom taught the CCMI crew about the special relationship it has with the river and about the responsibility they feel to care for it. The band considers the river “a place of abundance” and an integral component of its community.

Thanks to the restoration efforts of the Fond du Lac tribe and the support of the CCMI crew, that abundance will grow well into the future.


Protecting Our Assets: How to Keep A River in Shape

Withe, wattle, and gabion.* If you want to improve your vocabulary, start studying terms environmentalists bandy about when they develop strategies to control erosion that occurs around our State’s rivers and streams. It’s important work, because those waterways are among our most bountiful assets. In fact, straightened and placed end-to-end, Minnesota’s rivers and streams could circle the Earth almost three times.

Crews from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) play an important role in controlling erosion and repairing deteriorated river banks. They find the most opportunity at rivers and streams whose banks’ loose soil and lack of woody plants have made them particularly vulnerable. Eroding banks impact habitat and property – the former via sediment buildup that can harm fish and wildlife and upset the natural ecosystem; the latter via compromised banks that invite water to find its own path.

CCMI’s work can be as straightforward as adding stability to the soil by planting woody vegetation and grasses in bare spots or applying willow posts that sprout along the banks. More serious erosion control might mean using bundles of live branches, laying loose rocks, building stone walls and installing gabions.

At one CCMI project, the crew employed a newer method of erosion control that used large logs along with packed sticks and vegetation. Working in the gullies with mattocks and picks, they dug trenches, set in the ends of the logs and then used log carriers to hoist them. Positioning each log slightly above the next, they worked upward by sections along the stream. Once they set the logs, the team packed them with sticks and filled gaps with soil.

Because the method was new, CCMI crew members got a nice lesson in the importance of planning. “Measure twice, cut once” became the order of the day – particularly to avoid the need to extract or reposition a large log.  

Of course, further complicating any erosion project is the water that caused the problem in the first place. Add a bit of dirt, and you’re dealing with mud that can confound even the normally simple task of getting around. Mud can hold boots captive, and crew members tell stories of grabbing a handful of plants from the bank – some of them poison ivy – to gain leverage.

There’s no need for obscure words to describe the impact of these projects and the important role they play in maintaining the quality of life in our great state: “Beautiful” would probably do the job. 

*A withe is a slender flexible branch or twig. A wattle is a fabrication of poles interwoven with slender branches, withes, or reeds. A gabion is a basket or cage filled with earth or rocks. And a mattocks is a digging and grubbing tool, akin to an axe or pick.