University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Club

Sarita Wetland

What is Sarita Wetland?
The former Lake Sarita was drained in the early 1900’s, and the present-day Sarita Wetland represents the remnant floodplain forest of this once-enormous body of water. The wetland contains three main basins: a small forebay on the north end of the complex that retains water throughout the year; a small ephemeral basin, added in fall 2009, that lies adjacent to the west end of the forebay; and a large main basin that often dries up in the summer when rain is scarce. As a student organization committed to hands-on, experiential learning, the University’s Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology (FWCB) Club assumed a leading role in Sarita Wetland conservation and management beginning in the fall of 2005. This commitment continues today.


Club Activities at Sarita Wetland
A chronological summary of conservation and management activities performed by the FWCB Club at Sarita is given below:

Club members consulted with Facilities Management (FM) personnel about the removal of large trees and invasive species. Subsequent removal efforts eradicated canopy Eastern cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) as well as Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) and European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).

An informal planning group consisting of University faculty, FM personnel, and undergraduate students convened to discuss how the long-term research and education value of Sarita might be promoted by native vegetation plantings. Group members agreed on the following guidelines for future plant introductions at the wetland:

1. In addition to the native ecosystems they help to re-create, native plants offer exceptional opportunities for hands-on instruction conducted outside the traditional boundaries of the classroom. Group members agreed that plant ecology courses could potentially benefit most from plant restorations at Sarita. 2. A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) field guide to native plant communities should serve as a major resource when planning and implementing vegetation introduction projects at the wetland. 3. Uncertainty about fluctuating water levels and potential hydrological alterations rendered an initial focus on upland plantings prudent. 4. The soil diversity in the wetland, coupled with variable water levels, makes it necessary to introduce an array of species adapted for the diverse microhabitats present at Sarita.

The club also received a $2000 grant from the Beautiful U (BU) Day Committee, using these funds to plant approximately 50 trees in the southern portion of Sarita – where shallow water gives way to a mesic transition zone and eventually a dry upland – in the spring. Introduced species included bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), Northern red oak (Quercus rubra), black cherry (Prunus serotina), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American basswood (Tilia americana), and red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), all of which were purchased from Outback Nursery. Unfortunately, an extremely dry summer caused extensive tree mortality with minimal resprouting. When students returned in the fall, the annual post-State Fair trash clean-up was conducted, as was a large-scale removal of invasive purple loosestrife plants in the northeast corner of the main basin.

With another generous $2000 grant from the BU Day Committee, club members planted more trees and shrubs – including silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), red-osier dogwood, American basswood, sugar maple, and black ash (Fraxinus nigra) – in the spring. Extensive tree girdling by woodchucks necessitated installation of protective tree covers. In the summer, club members continuously watered the trees and shrubs, erected a bat house in the lowlands of the southeast portion of the wetland, and repaired a number of decrepit wood duck nest boxes. Again, in the fall, the club completed the annual post-State Fair trash clean-up.

With more financial contributions from benevolent external sources ($500 from the BU Day Committee and $2000 from the Institute on the Environment) the FWCB Club purchased more native plants for Sarita. Focusing on herbaceous understory species, club members planted 41 species and approximately 775 plants. Herbivory and competition, respectively, were minimized by enclosing the plants with chicken-wire and removing weeds that grew near desirable native species. Watering efforts continued throughout the dry summer. Additional summer restoration projects included common burdock (Arctium minus) removal and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) biological control and eradication using of beetles obtained from a Maplewood wetland. Fall projects included a trash clean-up and removal of European buckthorn, Siberian elm, and purple loosestrife. The major club project for the winter was removal of undesirable plant species, including box elder (Acer negundo), Siberian elm, Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), and European buckthorn.

Under the direction of Andres Morantes, an FWCB Club member with extensive knowledge of Minnesota plant communities, club members and interested University students introduced native shoreline plants to Sarita in May. Plants were purchased from Landscape Alternatives with assistance from the BU Day Committee and Coca-Cola. Two major areas – the north-central and northwest shorelines of Sarita’s main basin, respectively – were selected for planting because of favorable soil and sunlight conditions. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and blueflag iris (Iris versicolor) grew especially well in these locations and continue to reach impressive sizes. Individual cardinal flowers, for example, grow six feet tall! In the fall, club members conducted the annual post-State Fair trash clean-up and harvested seeds from side oats gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula) and common ironweed (Vernonia fasciculate) along the shores of the forebay. The club also applied for a $500 St. Paul Campus Greening Grant in order to fund future native plant restoration efforts at Sarita. Before the ground froze, club members reinstalled a bat house along the south shore of the main wetland.

After receiving approval for the Greening Grant in April, the Sarita Committee – a subset of FWCB Club members with a specific interest in restoring and managing Sarita Wetland – brainstormed plant species to purchase. Andres Morantes, using his years of restoration experience at Sarita to recommend plant species that would respond well to prevailing environmental conditions at the wetland, was a great asset in this selection process. The plants were purchased with the assistance of Jim Weber, University Landcare employee and gardener, in May. While similar to 2009, the species list contained a greater diversity of shoreline grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs:

Carex stricta
Scirpus cyperinus
Glyceria canadensis
Eupatorium perfoliatum
Eupatorium maculatum
Acorus calamus
Aster umbellatus
Cornus alternifolia
Viburnum lentago

Plantings took place in early summer in the same general locations as 2009 (see above). In the fall, the FWCB Club adopted Sarita Wetland through the MN DNR’s Adopt-a-River program, which provided bags and gloves for an early November trash clean-up.

Problems Diagnosed at Sarita Wetland
In order to publicize the FWCB Club’s management and restoration efforts at Sarita and thereby stimulate interest among non-members to become involved in conservation activities, the logistics of gaining access to the wetland must be simplified as entrance to the wetland has been a recurrent problem in the past. Entrances to the wetland are located on the far northern end via the FM parking lot and through unlocked gates in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the conservation area.

Sarita has a number of ecological issues that currently limit its biodiversity. First and foremost, it is plagued by invasive plant species that have created vegetational monocultures in some areas. With few, if any, herbivores or natural competitors in this urban floodplain community, these species have outcompeted desirable native plants that provide food and shelter to native animals that would otherwise inhabit an undeveloped area like Sarita. European buckthorn is the most destructive invasive species afflicting the wetland at present, and without the existence of a superior eradication technique, it will be necessary to continue mechanical removal in the future. If at all possible, roots should be severed either by hand or with an axe, camp saw, etc. Although common herbicides like Roundup, when applied to buckthorn stumps, foster at least temporary growth suppression, the potential for resprouting (because of root retention) still exists.

The State Fair, which takes place across the Transitway from Sarita, also poses a major threat to the wetland’s ecological health by supplying the wetland with an annual influx of trash through underground sewer pipes. If not for refuse from the State Fair, the FWCB Club’s trash clean-ups at Sarita would be unnecessary. Although metal grates currently intercept large waste items before they enter Sarita, smaller objects end up in the forebay, the main basin, and surrounding vegetation. The FWCB Club is searching for a solution to this recurrent solid waste problem and welcomes suggestions from club members and nonmembers alike.

Future Outlook
The FWCB Club has a long-term investment in the conservation and restoration of Sarita Wetland. Other groups and individuals also share this commitment. Dave Moeller, a Plant Biology faculty member, recently drafted and submitted a grant proposal to the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) seeking funding for native plantings at Sarita on a scale that far exceeds those the FWCB Club has completed in the past. If this proposal is approved, native plant reintroduction at Sarita will be revolutionized. On a larger scale than the FWCB Club has ever imagined, students and faculty members will have the opportunity to enhance the ecological value of Sarita through hands-on plantings and weed and invasive species removal. Some University faculty members currently use Sarita as a teaching tool. If the CRWD grant is approved, however, the number of instructors and students that learn from Sarita, and the ecological enhancements made to the wetland itself, will burgeon.

In 2007, the Kestrel Design group finalized a St. Paul Campus Ecological Master Plan that charted the course for creating a sustainable, “Green Belt” campus at the University of Minnesota. Authors of the report envisioned a Wetland Ecology Center at Sarita Wetland that would include an outdoor laboratory and hydrological research infrastructure, a boardwalk surrounding the wetland, and restored habitats suitable for native species and conducive to teaching and research. Although these plans are ambitious, they represent a vision for Sarita Wetland that generations of students and faculty, collaborating with the FWCB Club and other campus student organizations, can strive for.

Herpetofauna: a case in point
Below is a table listing the species of herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) documented to date at Sarita Wetland:

Common Name

Scientific Name








American Toad

Anaxyrus [Bufo] americanus


Cope Gray Treefrog

Hyla chrysoscelis


Eastern Gray Treefrog

Hyla versicolor


Boreal Chorus Frog

Pseudacris maculata








Painted Turtle

Chrysemys picta


Common Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpintina


With continued student engagement (and hopefully funding from grants), similar species lists for Sarita Wetland, our St. Paul Campus living laboratory, can be created for other groups of animals and plants.

We Need Your Help!
If you are interested in becoming involved with conservation and management activities at Sarita or would like to learn more about the wetland, please don’t hesitate to contact an officer in the FWCB Club. Your interest and involvement are welcomed and appreciated!