December 2008

The DNR communications team works with agency experts to develop the weekly questions and provide the answers. This feature addresses current DNR issues, interesting topics, or the most frequently asked questions from around Minnesota.





Cross-country skiers are required to purchase and possess a pass before skiing on state and Grant-in-Aid ski trails. What is the purpose of these passes?

Purchasing a ski trail pass is an investment in the sport of skiing. Ski pass funds support 1,800 miles of cross-country ski trails in state parks, state forests, and in the local grant-in-aid program. The money collected goes directly into the grant-in-aid program to maintain and groom ski trails. The DNR works with local units of government and ski clubs to maintain and expand skiing opportunities. Local ski club volunteers or DNR staff do more than half of all trail work before the snow flies, such as clearing brush and preparing trail surfaces. Even during winters of little snow, skiers that buy either the daily, annual or three-year pass help assure that the trails will always be there. Additional information on cross-country ski passes and skiing opportunities in Minnesota is available on the DNR's Web site at

- Andrew Korsberg, DNR Trail Program coordinator


Why does snow make different sounds at different temperatures when it is walked on?

The quality and amount of snow as well as air temperature all influence if snow will be noisy or quiet underfoot. Snow has air trapped between each flake, and when stepped on, those air spaces absorb sound. Dry, fluffy, new snow has more air trapped between each flake resulting in quiet footsteps. Wet, hardened, old snow has less air trapped between each flake, which means that less sound is absorbed resulting in noisy or squeaky snow. The amount of snow effects sound, too - the more it snows, the more air gets trapped, and thus, the quieter the snow is. However, snow only makes sound when the thermometer dips below 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius).  Temperatures above 14 degrees allow the snow to melt just enough to slip silently under your boots as you walk. So your boots can be a good indicator of just how cold it is outside in the winter.

- Retta James-Gasser, Northeast state parks regional naturalist


Where does the balsam fir boughs used to make holiday wreaths and garland come from?

The specialty forest products industry uses many of the natural resources found in Minnesota’s forests, such as pinecones, mosses and birch twigs, to make everything from decorative items to medicinal and herbal products. One of the most important specialty products is the balsam bough. Approximately 4,000 tons of boughs are harvested annually from Minnesota forests, and each ton makes roughly 400 wreaths. However, the number of holiday wreaths and garland made per ton varies depending on the size of each item. Most of the boughs used by Minnesota’s special forest products industry are harvested from public and private lands across the northern part of the state. Itasca, St. Louis, Aitkin and Cass counties support more half of the total bough harvest in Minnesota. The state’s balsam bough industry has annual retail sales topping $20 million.

- Keith Jacobson, DNR Forest Utilization & Marketing Program supervisor


Is there anything in Minnesota's historical weather records that indicates what type of winter we will have this year?

Most of Minnesota reported above-normal temperatures this fall.  There is a slight tendency towards average to above-average temperatures in winters following an above-normal autumn.
Water surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean at the equator are near their historical averages. Warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in this area of the Pacific create the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, which usually foreshadows mild winters in Minnesota.  There is no El Niño forecast for this winter.  

Every Minnesota winter will have spells of bitterly cold weather, bouts of sometime-heavy snowfall and at least one January thaw. Most communities in southern Minnesota will see below-zero minimum temperatures see about 30 days each winter. Northern Minnesota typically has 50 to 65 days of below-zero weather, on average.

- Peter Boulay, DNR climatologist


How do pheasants and other birds survive the long, cold Minnesota winters?

For birds that do not migrate to warm climates during winter, life can be brutal, and survival depends on finding adequate food and shelter. Survival rates of ground feeders such as pheasants are high during mild winters when deep snow does not persist for more than a few weeks. On the other hand, 60-90 percent of pheasants die during severe winters like the one we had in 2000-2001. Persistent, deep snow buries most food and cover. Pheasant survival during severe winters can be enhanced by providing good cover and a dependable source of food, such as a corn food plot, that is adjacent to shelter. In contrast, ruffed grouse thrive during winters that are deadly to pheasants. With deep snow, ruffed grouse use snow burrows to provide shelter from the weather. Furthermore, ruffed grouse feed on tree buds, which remain available regardless of snow depth.

- Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife biologist


DNR Question of the Week Archive