The Gustavian Weekly

Biosphere Conference to propose MN River Valley biosphere reserve | The Gustavian Weekly

By Samantha Walters - News Editor, with guest contributions from Alexis Sienczak | November 2, 2018 | News

Biosphere reserve was a new concept for Alexis Sienczak when she visited Sweden in January 2018.  

After that, the term continued to affect her life, even more so as the MN River Valley Biosphere Conference happens on Nov. 14, 2018 in Alumni Hall. 

“This is a chance to educate the public about the biosphere reserve program and what it could mean for the MN River Valley if a biosphere reserve were to be established,” Sienczak said.

The conference will be broken into two sessions; the morning will have informational lectures and the afternoon will have community led workshops. 

Lectures will be given by Johanna MacTaggart, the national coordinator for the Swedish Man and Biosphere Program run through UNESCO; Magnus Fredricson, a sustainable strategist at the Municipality of Skovde (Skaraborg, Sweden); Megan Benage, a MN DNR Regional Ecologist; Cathi Foushi, a MN DNR Regional Planner; and Alexis Sienczak (‘18), a senior biology and geography double major.

Lectures will focus on the global and local impacts of having a biosphere reserve and what it means for the people that live in biosphere reserves. 

Community-led workshops will focus on the people living in the MN River Valley. 

Anyone and everyone are welcome to join the conference, including “those that are environmentally oriented, curious about international conservation platforms, or [want] a chance to hear from different organizations and their approaches to conservation,” Sienczak said.

There is no cost associated with the conference and it will run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Biosphere reserves are not a common word used in the United States. Biosphere reserves are not national parks; you are encouraged to live and work in biosphere reserves. 

“Biospheres reserves are meant to serve as laboratories to test out sustainable methods attributed to the specific biosphere reserves’ goals,” Sienczak said. 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) runs the biosphere reserve program. 

Today, there are 686 global biospheres tied with a specific goal that pertains to their unique environment. 

The MN River Valley Biosphere Reserve would focus on restorative agricultural methods and water conservation. 

The goal would be to educate the populace within the biosphere reserve, not just to own and protect land. 

There is a long future ahead for the MN River Biosphere Reserve. 

This is one of the first steps for the biosphere reserve. 

A hope for the conference is to create a biosphere reserve committee that will lead the organization while applying to UNESCO. 

The UNESCO application requires the biosphere area to be an area of cultural, historical, and ecological significance. 

“There is no better place than the Minnesota River for a biosphere reserve. As a population, we have been fortunate enough to identify ourselves through this natural phenomenon,” Sienczak said. 

How the Minnesota River is treated can affect the Mississippi River and its downstream effects throughout the entire country.  

The Native American heritage of Minnesota, and specifically this land, is something to commemorate. 

The proposed extent of the biosphere reserve would encompass all the MN River Valley, from Big Stone Lake to Mankato. 

But the reality depends on the degree of political and funding support the organization can foster. 

A goal of the conference is to join with local and state environmental organizations that conserve and restore landscapes of the Minnesota River. 

Other counties, such as Redwood and Renville counties, have made a Minnesota River Recreation Plan with the DNR. This has been in the works since 2011 and will start in the upcoming future. They are on the forefront of conserving the Minnesota River, but need a cohesive effort for the biosphere to be a reality. The biosphere will stand as a research area, water conservation and education standpoint, as well as a place of local heritage. 

This adventure started out when Sienczak applied to the January 2018 Wallenberg Internship Award. This scholarship allows students to independently arrange an internship of their choice. 

Sienczak talked to her advisers in the Biology and Geography department to see where previous students have worked before. Chemistry/Environmental Studies professor Jeff Jeremiason is close friends with Magnus Fredricson and he recommended Fredricson because he had hosted interns in the past. Throughout her time in Sweden, Sienczak got to live with Magnus while experiencing all the joys Sweden has. 

“The best part of the experience was that we got to drive around Sweden daily and discuss Magnus’ fascination with social entrepreneurship”, Sienczak said. 

Social entrepreneurship is the idea that culture is a necessity while developing urban environments and how it can best be used. 

Biosphere reserves are a great example of the work social entrepreneurship can do in a community. 

Biosphere reserves are not exclusive to research or government-controlled land. 

The United Nations require a population of people to live and interact within biosphere reserves.

Sienczak’s work focused on constructing a Minnesota biosphere reserve and she chose the Minnesota River Valley as the best spot. 

Sienczak is most familiar with southern Minnesota because she was raised in Red Wing, MN and had her undergraduate career in St. Peter, MN. 

At the same time, the MN River Valley is underappreciated as its role in the Mississippi River Watershed and its role in our past and current climate. 

Most of the western edge of Minnesota was a natural tallgrass prairie until settlers domesticated it for agricultural purposes. 

Today, Sienczak’s mission is to preserve what is left of the native prairie but to not forget the people that live within its boundaries. 

A biosphere reserve is the first step of many, but it is a step that needs to be taken.   

Please contact Alexis Sienczak with any questions or comments about the conference at

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