Rice County Roadside Native Vegetation Survey

Overview of Project

The preservation of local plant communities is important to maintaining the natural heritage and diversity of an area. For example, local plants and seeds are needed for replanting of prairie to roadsides and elsewhere, and roadsides provide a great place for many people to see native plants. As a first step, management and protection of native plant communities along roadsides requires information about their location.

The purpose of this project is to identify, map and mark existing native prairie along roadsides in Rice County, Minnesota. Survey work was conducted during the summer of 2000 and was initially will be based on known, mapped locations for prairie. Locations with prairie will be mapped and ranked, species identified and vouchered, and information will included as a GIS layer(s).

Funding for this survey was provided by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Technical Assistance Grant obtained by the Rice County Integrated Roadside Management Committee and grants to St. Olaf and Carleton from the Howard Hughes Medical Institution.  Cooperators included the Rice County Highway Department, Rice County Planning and Zoning, Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service, Big Woods Project, Cannon River Watershed Partnership and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

Rice County Integrated Roadside Committee

The mission of the Rice County Integrated Roadside Committee (RCIRC) is to promote the use of integrated roadside resource management (IRRM) by Rice County officials and landowners.

  • To reduce long-term roadside maintenance costs
  • to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality
  • to protect plant and animal communities for future generations.

Definitions: Integrated roadside resource management (IRRM) incorporates the use of native plant communities; economically and environmentally sound management techniques (such as controlled burning’ spot spraying and mowing at proper times’ and/or biological and cultural controls to establish and maintain a safe, stable, low maintenance roadside that is attractive and healthy for all life.

Realizing that adjacent land management practices and citizen perceptions directly effect roadside management, the primary purpose of this committee will be education, particularly through demonstration areas and written materials. The activities and purpose of this committee compliment other efforts in Rice County such as the Cannon River Watershed Project and the Cannon Valley Big Woods group.
Rice County – On the Edge of the Big Woods

Located in southeastern Minnesota, Rice County is a truly unique region within the state of Minnesota, straddling the line between prairie and forest. Prairie and forests dominated much of the land in the County until the turn of the 19th century. The balance between forest and prairie was largely due to fire. The presence of fire-breaks such as the Cannon and Straight rivers and the many hills and lakes in western Rice County ensured that not all of the area burned with the same frequency and in part explains why forests came to dominate the western half of the County.  With the onset of Euroamerican agriculture in the 1850s, the area of native prairie and forest have shrunk dramatically.

In 1990 and 1991, a biological survey of Rice county was done by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in which natural communities, rare plants, and rare animals of Rice county were inventoried. A total of 66 sites were determined to contain intact “natural communities”, which are defined as “vegetation that is similar to pre-European settlement conditions and that contains a diverse assemblage of native plants.” The total acreage of these 66 sites make up less than 4% of the total acreage of Rice county. Since the mid nineteenth century agriculture, logging, draining of wetlands and urban development have been the primary reasons for the loss of natural areas.

Prairie Survey and Future Plans
Survey work was done by Charles Umbanhowar and Ryan Haugo from St. Olaf College and Mark McKone, Chris Martin, and Amy Purdie from Carleton College.

We surveyed over 820 miles of County and Township rights-of-way (total for both sides of road) in southeastern Rice County and identified 56 prairie sites.  These totaled 7.6 miles in length or less than 1% of the total ditches.  Nearly half (23) were located in Northfield Township.  Of these only six (1.1 miles) were ranked as Good to Very Good, based on ranking criteria used by the Minnesota DNR in their survey or railroad rights of way.  One of the six sites has already been severely damaged due to spraying and driveway construction, highlighting that the marking and protection of at least the 6 sites ranked as good to very good is of the utmost importance if some remnant of the prairie heritage of Rice County is to be preserved.  Marking of all the sites (21) ranked as Fair-Good or higher along with letters to the adjacent landowners is strongly recommended.


If you have questions or comments please contact one of the following:
  Mr. Richard Fetterly, Rice County Integrated Roadside, 25540 Eaton Ave S., Faribault, MN 55021, 507-334-2497
  Charles Umbanhowar Jr., St. Olaf College, ceumb@stolaf.edu
  Mark McKone, Carleton College, mmckone@carleton.edu