Savannas have sprawling bur oaks widely spaced above a ground layer of sun-loving prairie flowers, native grasses, and shrubs. Park-like savannas are homes for animals not common in the closed forest or the open prairie, including redheaded woodpeckers and lark sparrows. Unburned areas of ancient savanna at Cedar Creek teach how the absence of fire has diminished this habitat. Without fire, the sparse canopy lets the ground fill with underbrush and grow up to forest, hiding the reminders of the magnificant savannas of the past.
Conservation: The oak savannas of Minnesota are now nearly gone, but some of the largest remaining tracts available for restoration are at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. Cedar Creek expects to preserve and restore its savannas through intensive conservation and management methods, including prescribed burning.
Remnants of never-plowed native sand prairies still survive within the savannas at Cedar Creek, and they are reseeding many of Cedar Creek’s old abandoned agricultural fields, changing them back to prairie. Fire is important for maintaining prairie, as it is for savanna. A suite of flora and fauna live in the prairie, including monarch butterflies, badgers, coyotes, and skinks.
Conservation: Prescribed burning has long been used to keep prairies healthy, and Cedar Creek expects to continue and expand the burn program in combination with other restoration techniques.
White Cedar Forest
A moist white cedar forest has been part of the Cedar Creek area for a thousand years, and it now forms the southernmost community of this type in Minnesota. The slender old-growth cedars, some estimated to be over 250 years of age, have escaped nineteenth and twentieth century logging.
Conservation: One of the earliest Cedar Creek conservationists, Frank Swanson (1875-1940), donated land to protect the white cedars for future generations. Now during the deep winter cold, white-tailed deer and other animals gather among the trunks for food and protection.
Sandy knolls within the damp white cedar forests are partially protected from wildfire. They have developed a canopy of sugar maple, basswood, red oak, and ironwood trees that is like the Big Woods area of the state.
Conservation: With good examples of maple-basswood forests disappearing around the state, protecting these knolls at Cedar Creek from wildfire and other disturbances will help preserve this interesting community.
The great boreal peatlands extending from the arctic have a southern outpost at Cedar Creek. The fresh dampness of the tamarack and black spruce forest and the floating mat of mosses that surround Beckman Lake is home to insecting-eating sundew and pitcher plants, along with other species that are extremely rare this far south.
Conservation: The peatlands of North America are storehouses for vast quantities of carbon that would otherwise worsen levels of carbon dioxide in the air. Preserving this southern example of peatland preserves the oppor-tunity for future generations to experience and understand this strange and wondrous habitat.
Marshes and fens
Marshes and fens are open wetlands without trees. They are dominated by grasses, sedges, or cattails. Sandhill Cranes have nested in the fens and marshes of Cedar Creek for decades.
Conservation: As suburban areas approach Cedar Creek, monitoring all the wetlands will be crucial— for nutrient levels, pollutants, and invasive species like purple loosestrife. Many of these open wetlands also require controlled burning to remain healthy. Cedar Creek wetlands are now relatively pristine.
Cedar Bog Lake
Cedar Bog Lake is the modern remnant of an ancient lake that covered large parts of this area during glacial times. It is also the site of Raymond Lindeman’s pioneering work on ecosystem ecology.
Conservation: The lake is fringed by a rare mat of Decodon (Swamp Loosestrife), a species of special concern in Minnesota that is being preserved at Cedar Creek. Decodon brightens the fall with its crimson glow.
Beckman is a pristine bog lake with a floating margin of sphagnum moss, insect-eating plants, and a damp black spruce forest.
Conservation: In 2003 this fragile ecosystem was threatened by a man-made dam at the north end of the lake. Rapid conservation measures applied with help of state and federal agencies and local neighbors prevented extensive damage.
The area is named for the gentle meandering creek that flows through—a habitat for otters, birds, and the threatened Blanding’s turtle.
Conservation: The creek itself joins with a designated wildlife corridor known as the Cedar Creek Greenway, a project of Anoka County Parks and the Department of Natural Resources Metro Greenways Program.
An uninhabited lake with a one-mile stretch of open water lies completely within the Cedar Creek boundaries. The songs of nesting loons have livened the lake for decades and accompanied migrating flocks of waterfowl at the change of seasons.
Conservation: The wild-land experience of paddling on a completely uninhabited lake so close to the metropolitan area must be preserved for future generations.