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Minnesota DNR will keep most restrictions in place for Scientific and Natural Areas

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday that it won’t change many rules for several state Scientific and Natural Areas in northern Minnesota after all.

The DNR in April said it was considering relaxing regulations at 10 of the state’s 159 SNAs to allow more human activities, including hunting, dog walking, berry picking and swimming.

But a public comment period on the plan raised little support for the changes and, except for allowing dogs on leashes at the state’s 18-acre Minnesota Point SNA in Duluth and one other regulation change, the existing rules will hold. The Minnesota Point SNA rule change makes legal a longstanding beach walker practice of having dogs on leashes, and corresponds with the city’s rules on all adjacent, city-managed beachfront.

Berry picking, landing boats and swimming on the state land on Minnesota Point will remain illegal, although those rules are widely broken as well.

The only other change will be to allow deer hunting without a special permit at Lake Alexander Woods SNA in Morrison County.

The DNR received 123 written comments on the proposed rule changes, mostly opposed to the proposed changes.

“The process worked as intended,” said Peggy Booth, the DNR’s SNA program supervisor, in a statement released Tuesday. “We thought the proposed changes could provide public benefits while still protecting the natural resources, but we asked for input and most people told us they didn’t want changes in these areas.”

The Minnesota Point SNA — a pine-studded, beachfront area south of the Sky Harbor Airport on the sand isthmus — is a popular spot. But current SNA regulations prohibit several activities common elsewhere on the public beaches and dunes that separate the Twin Ports harbor from Lake Superior.

The SNA protects what is a unique native pine forest on beach dunes, rare dune grasses and associated wildlife habitat on the longest freshwater sandbar in the world. Because the main goal of Scientific and Natural Areas is to preserve natural features and rare resources of exceptional scientific and educational value, they have tighter restrictions on a range of recreational activities.

DNR officials have noted that the Minnesota Point SNA also has a legally binding conservation easement, held by the Minnesota Land Trust, which prohibits any kind of new trail or building development, or camping, in an effort to protect habitat. Rare birds, such as piping plovers, use the area and may someday nest on the shoreline.

The DNR will take comments on its decision at through 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 2.