Silvopasture Learning Network


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Our volunteers receive the technical training needed for advanced restoration projects.

The Silvopasture Learning Network promotes silvopasture to improve soil health, water quality, and restore oak savanna in Minnesota. This project is a joint effort led by University of Minnesota Extension with the Sustainable Farming Association and Great River Greening, with funding provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

Restoring a critical ecosystem

Oak savanna is a rare shifting-mosaic plant community. Once covering nearly 5.5 million acres in Minnesota, it is now reduced by approximately 99.8%, making it one of the most threatened habitats in Minnesota. Historically, grazing by large herbivores such as bison and elk maintained the health and structure of these ecosystems. Ecosystem decline, caused by agricultural expansion/conversion as well as forest succession, has altered soil composition, hydrological processes, and vegetation composition and regeneration patterns. This has resulted in the encroachment of invasive plant species and diseases, and altered water quality.

Why silvopasture?

Restoring and protecting oak savanna is critical to preserving natural services, including rare wildlife habitat, enhanced water quality, and soil health. Silvopasture—the practice of intentionally combining intensive management of trees, forage, and livestock as one integrated practice—has been successfully used to restore environmental and economic functions of oak savannas around the world. Learn more about silvopasture for oak savanna restoration.

About the study

In 2014, over 640,000 acres of unmanaged wooded pasture existed in Minnesota, mostly within the historical oak savanna region. However, the use of silvopasture for oak savanna restoration has not been assessed in Minnesota. This study will examine the effects of silvopasture on plant/animal and pollinator diversity and distribution, soil health, and water quality characteristics at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman, MN. This region of historical oak savanna communities serves as a critical aquifer for east-central Minnesota. We hypothesize that use of silvopasture methodology will demonstrate a significant increase in restored oak savanna acreage. Meet the research team.

Creating connections

In addition to studying the impacts of silvopasture as an approach to restoring oak savanna ecosystems, this project aims to scale up the use of silvopasture for oak savanna restoration through outreach activities and development of a Silvopasture Learning Network (SLN) to foster farmer-to-farmer learning, promote advocacy, and facilitate volunteer efforts to expand natural resource conservation. Join the network.

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