Rolf Dahle hasn't so much been a volunteer as a superman for the DNR's Division of Ecological Resources. "Rolf first came to our division as a rare-plant monitoring volunteer, but his broad interest in plants and valuable computer skills quickly spilled over to helping DNR's Minnesota County Biological Survey with everything from rare-plant searches to logistical support and database design and programming," says Carmen Converse, supervisor of MCBS, a statewide survey of rare species, native plant communities, and landscapes to help target conservation priority areas.
Dahle has identified and added records of nearly 200 new locations of rare plants to DNR's rare-features database. He discovered four species not previously documented in Minnesota: linear-leaved moonwort (Botrychium lineare), spathulate moonwort (Botrychium spathulatum), upswept moonwort (Botrychium ascendens), and his personal favorite plant, Case's ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes casei). For donating more than 4,000 hours of volunteer work to the DNR, he has recently received the Presidential Service Award -- the nation's highest volunteerism honor.
"It's such an honor, an immensely pleasing surprise," says Dahle. "I didn't realize anyone much noticed what I have been doing."
Dahle's contributions haven't just been noticeable, they've been vital to the state's monitoring efforts of plants on the federal endangered and threatened lists. Volunteering once a week since 1990, when he retired from a career in software development, Dahle designed the entire rare-plants database and has singlehandedly managed monitoring data for three federally listed plants, including the federally threatened Western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara). "Our monitoring program is unique in the region because one person familiar with the field methods has consistently managed our data for many years," says DNR plant ecologist Nancy Sather.
Dahle also custom-built a database to store more than 50,000 plant records from 1,500 Minnesota lakes for the MCBS rare aquatic plant survey. And he developed software that enabled DNR botanist Welby Smith to include range and occurrence maps for every species listed in Smith's book Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota.
"Rolf has saved many, many hours of DNR staff time over the years," says DNR botanist Karen Myhre. "Time and again, Rolf has seen a need at the DNR and willingly supplied his skills."
The Bell Museum of Natural History has also benefited from Dahle's work, as he has contributed more than 500 herbarium specimens to the museum over the course of his field work. And this past summer, 80-year-old Dahle was back in the field again, compiling the weekly calendar of blooming wildflowers at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Dahle says it's not the rare plants found or software accomplishments that he values most from his thousands of hours of volunteer work: It's the friendships that made it all worthwhile.
"I saw this as an opportunity to expand my wildflower knowledge, and indeed it was. But it turned out to be so much more in terms of rich new friendships with fellow volunteers and DNR scientists," says Dahle. "It is a nice feeling to be part of an important effort by an outstanding group of scientists. All of this has been reward enough. More than enough."
Fourteen other DNR rare-plant volunteers also earned service awards for their enthusiasm, expertise, and generously donated time. DNR volunteers have documented more than 1,000 locations of rare plants and sustained the monitoring program for over 20 years. Anyone interested in joining the rare-plant monitoring crew should email Derek Anderson or Nancy Sather.
Gustave Axelson, managing editor