Success Stories -
El Colegio Charter School in South Minneapolis tore out part of a parking lot and restored it as prairie. The prairie plot helps protect the school building from water damage.

Junior high students from St. John the Baptist School in New Brighton helped the Rice Creek Watershed District plant ground cover to stabilize an eroded stream bank.

Oakdale Elementary School and Tartan High School in North St. Paul teamed up with the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District to get a Department of Natural Resources grant to restore aquatic habitat in a new wetland and retention pond. Students study the newly restored native plants and animals.

Gray-Headed Coneflower, National Park Service

Link down the page to:
A. Explore the Context of Habitat Restoration
     Fact sheets, curriculum, maps, and more. 
B. Plan Successful Habitat Restoration:
     Planning Guides
     Get Help
C. Types of Projects:
     Restoring Habitat Areas
     Rainwater Gardens
     Butterfly Gardens
     Erosion Prevention Projects
     Tree Plantings

Where Do I Start? 

There are two components to incorporating habitat restoration projects in a school setting.

A.  CONTEXT: Students need to understand what healthy native habitat means, what types of habitat existed in their area prior to Euro-American settlement, how the landscape has changed, and what is being done to protect and restore native habitat. 

B.   MANAGEMENT: If students are to actually plan, plant, and care for native habitat, they need a deeper understanding of what is required for successful habitat restoration.  It must be a long-term project, and it can be complex.  Yet students can learn much about ecosystems at the same time that they make a difference for their community and the planet.


A. Explore the Context of Habitat Restoration

With the arrival of Euro-American culture in the 1800s, most of Minnesota’s forests, prairies, and wetlands changed forever.  Based on surveyor’s notes from the Public Land Survey, 1847—1907, in 1930 Francis J. Marschner compiled a detailed map of Minnesota showing the native habitat across the state.  Click on the thumbnail map to download a pdf map (4.5 megabytes-may be slow to download) based on Marschner’s map from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.   

Background Fact Sheets for Students

Habitat Action: Why Does Native Habitat Matter?
Details the benefits to water quality of native habitat restoration projects such as rainwater gardens.
Naked Dirt: Erosion Explains the impacts of erosion and the benefits of native plants for water quality. 

For Teachers: Planting Project Related Curricula

Access curricula related to habitat restoration and erosion prevention plantings.

Understanding Minnesota Ecosystems

To learn about Minnesota’s ecology, explore the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Minnesota Ecological Classification System.  For each of twenty-two subsections, the site describes: landform, bedrock geology, soils, climate, hydrology, presettlement vegetation, today’s land use, natural disturbances, and conservation concerns. 

For technical details including plant lists, obtain the Field Guide to the Native Plant Communities of Minnesota for your “province” of the state.  Order from www.dnr.state.mn.us.  (Search for Field Guide.)
Laurentian Mixed Forest Province came out in 2003.
Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province came out in 2005. 
Prairie Parkland Province is in production.

B. Plan Successful Habitat Restoration

Oak Savannah Restoration, Photo by National Park Service

Planning Step-by-Step

Habitat restoration can range from planting native trees to designing, creating, and maintaining a multi-acre school nature area. 

1.  Decide: What kind of project you will do?  Where you will you place it?  How big will your site be?
2.  Find a qualified partner. 
3.  Organize a planning team. 
4.  Gather and map site information. 
5.  Analyze the information. 
6.  Choose your project.
7.  Plan the details. 
8.  Prepare the site and plant. 
9.  Maintain it: water, mulch, weed—maybe more.
10. Download a Habitat Action Planning Form to guide your effort.

Detailed Planning Guides

The School Nature Area Project published a superb guide, Benefiting the Biomes that delves into contextual issues of habitat restoration and then provides a proven planning system.  Organized around six key considerations for site design: Diversity, Limited Fragmentation, Native Plants, Rare Species, Reasonable Access, and Wildlife.  Good list of resource books.   

National Wildlife Federation, Schoolyard Habitats – Supports school nature areas with plans, curriculum, and links.  Purchase the excellent Schoolyard Habitats® Starter Kit, the Schoolyard Habitats® How-To Guide for K-12 School Communities, an orientation video, and other resources.   

Wild Ones Manual 4th Edition includes the latest wisdom on planning native landscaping.  

Get Help

Even if you are an experienced gardener, your group will need advice and support.  Come summer, someone has to water the new plants!  Remember too that plantings demand a long-term commitment.  See the Habitat section of the Resources page on this site.  Some experts (especially those at government agencies) can provide advice for free, but many (especially private companies) must charge for their valuable services.  If you are in doubt, please ask! 

C. Types of Projects

Choose a project.  Then access these resources to plan and organize it.  

Restoring Habitat Areas 

While it is important to attempt to restore the original native habitat of an area, bear in mind that on a small scale (such as an urban school lot) what is most important is to ensure the survival of your planting.  Soils, drainage, shade, invasive plants, human uses, and other factors will impact the strategy for success on any given site.  Start small and build on success. 

One practical approach is to start with a model plan with plant lists.  Then get advice about how to adapt such a plan for your site.  

The Minnesota DNR offers complete model plans for Landscaping with Native Plants for five different types of gardens. 

The Minnesota DNR offers a free download: Going Native: A Prairie Restoration Handbook for Minnesota Landowners. 

Buy the Minnesota DNR’s Restore Your Shore instructional CD ROM.  

Rainwater Gardens

Native plants are growing in popularity as a landscape alternative and a means to slow and filter runoff.  Some cities offer incentives for property owners to install rainwater gardens and other best management practices. 

See the Wet Meadow model plan on the Minnesota DNR’s Landscaping with Native Plants site. 

The Rice Creek Watershed District created a guide and network of local suppliers through One-Stop Shopping to Restore Your Yard and Shore. The site includes free downloads of a How-To Raingarden Manual and a Planning Packet. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offers a free download of Plants for Stormwater Design: Species Selection for the Upper Midwest.  These documents include guidance for choosing the best plants for your site. 

University of Wisconsin Extension offers a free guide to rainwater gardens.

Butterfly Gardens

One way to ensure success is to keep your project simple.  Small plots of native flowers attract insects and birds for students to study and enjoy. 

The Minnesota DNR offers free downloads of plans for butterfly gardens.   

Tree Plantings

Trees cool neighborhoods, block winds, and provide key habitat.  Trees also live for decades.  So if you are going to plant a tree, do it well. 

Twin Cities Tree Trust offers instructions and many links to additional resources.  Apply for training and technical assistance. 

The Minnesota DNR describes native tree species.  (The DNR also publishes the Trees of Minnesota in booklet form.) 

The Minnesota Shade Tree Association offers useful guidelines for choosing the right tree for your site.  NOTE: Many trees listed on this site are not native to Minnesota.  If you aim to restore habitat, choose only natives.    

Erosion Prevention Projects

The Pollution Prevention Project Guide has a three-page “to-do” list with details under each of the nine planning steps above.  Download detailed “Habitat Restoration & Erosion Prevention” instructions.   

Note: This section of the PPPGuide offers an overview only.  You can then access the many other resources on this page as well to help you plan your project. 


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