by Craig Minowa, Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education
A state-listed endangered species was discovered and documented at Spirit Mountain in late July thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network & Fund to the Izaak Walton League McCabe Chapter for a citizen-led plant survey of the area. This site has sparked one of the largest land-use controversies in Northeastern Minnesota. Before this plant survey, developers were only a couple of permits away from beginning the development of a golf course and hotel on this site. Spirit Mountain holds the largest plot of old growth forest of its kind in Minnesota, diverse wetlands, sacred historical Vision Quest sites, and now endangered species. Spirit Mountain is also a gateway to the Saint Louis River estuary, Lake Superior’s largest tributary.
The endangered species, Pale sedge (Carex pallescens), was discovered in several locations on the site of the proposed development, including right in the middle of the proposed golf fairway. This is likely only the third known location of this plant in the state. According to Gary Walton, the botanist who lead the initial plant survey of the site for developer Kent Oliver, this plant wasn’t discovered in the initial plant survey, “because that survey was done so early in the Spring and during one of the driest years of the 90s”. Discoveries like this bring state and federal law even deeper into the Spirit Mountain Golf Course story.
The citizen-led plant survey sparked a surprising amount of local and statewide media interest and brought together nearly 100 concerned citizens, who were trained to identify a handful of rare species botanists felt would likely be thriving in the Spirit Mountain habitat.
Whether or not these discoveries will ultimately save this pristine wilderness has yet to be decided and will likely be a lengthy process.