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Image of boreal owl

Hidden in Plain Sight

Testifying at a U.S. congressional hearing on wildlife in the early 1930s, the president and the treasurer of the National Association of Audubon Societies said hawks had no need for legal protection because they were common. At that time, people hunted and killed birds of prey. In the audience, zoologist Willard Van Name turned to activist Rosalie Edge and whispered, "But the time to save a species is while it is still common."

This issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer features lots of wildlife—species common in some places, rare in others. You might be astonished to find some of these species reside here in Minnesota. All add to the biodiversity of our landscapes. And their presence poses questions about how to best protect their populations.

"Our Golden Eagles" reveals that a winter population has been hiding in plain sight in our southeastern blufflands. We simply didn't expect to see them in Minnesota. Golden eagles are relatively common in the West, but ours don't come from there. Recent research has shown Midwestern golden eagles breed in parts of Canada where they're considered threatened or vulnerable. That status adds urgency to our responsibility to protect them in their winter habitat.

Boreal owls, also featured in this issue, are common in Canada but rare in our state. None were thought to inhabit Minnesota until a nesting boreal owl was documented in 1978. Since then researchers have learned that boreal owls reside year-round in the northeastern Arrowhead. In a 1990 Volunteer story, researcher Bill Lane narrated his nighttime adventures driving the region's backcountry roads and listening for the spring mating calls of this diminutive woodsy owl. In winter, Canada's boreal owls might migrate to Minnesota when rodent prey becomes scarce in home territory. Photographer Michael Furtman's story "Days of Night Owls" documents one such irruption.

Being rambling, approachable creatures, opossums could hardly be accused of hiding. But Minnesotans have been amazed to see these southern natives move farther and farther north as winters warm. In some parts of Minnesota, the marsupial has become a common sight. "Awesome Opossums" by Christine Petersen tells the tale for Young Naturalists.

Bobcats are also more common than ever. We know that only because of tracking and data collection. "Bountiful Bobcats" by Jacob Edson reports on these stealthy felines that hunt at night and seldom show up around people.

Once plentiful, native elk had all but disappeared from Minnesota before the Legislature funded a reintroduction in the early 1900s. To learn more, read Kristi Coughlon's profile of our three wild herds.

A revolutionary research method helped locate an obscure fish species in Lake Superior last winter. Researchers deployed a wave- and solar-powered aquatic drone to detect Coregonus kiyi, which are hard to study in those deep, cold waters. Get the scoop from Michael Kallok's piece in Field Notes.

You might be surprised to learn that soil is alive with fungi, microbes, and invertebrates, too numerous to count and too tiny to see without a microscope. Microbial wildlife is essential for healthy soil, which is the foundation for plant and animal communities, natural and cultivated. In "The Roots of Healthy Habitat," Brian DeVore maps the connections among soil health, agriculture (the largest user of Minnesota's surface land), and natural resources.

DeVore reports that nearly half of the world's soils have lost biological functions. His story delineates the role of fully functioning fertile soil: It absorbs rain, grows robust plants, stays in place, filters water, and helps prevent sedimentation of lakes and rivers. Half of the organic matter in soil is carbon, he notes. And soil stores more carbon than do Earth's atmosphere and plants combined.

Like many seemingly ordinary things, healthy soil has fundamental value. The time to save what's valuable is while it's still common.

Kathleen Weflen, editor

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