Senior Ecologist Karen Schik retires after 23 years with FMR

Karen Schik smiling for the camera while standing in front of the Mississippi River.

FMR's senior ecologist Karen Schik's hard work helped protect and restore thousands of acres of important river habitat while strengthening community connections.

This summer FMR bid a fond farewell to beloved senior ecologist Karen Schik. Karen was hired as the organization’s first full-time ecologist in the spring of 2000 (that was during the Clinton administration, for you history buffs) when FMR had only about six employees. 

During her 23-year tenure at FMR, Karen made a huge and lasting impact on the health and vitality of the river through her ecological restoration work at dozens of sites encompassing thousands of acres. 

"Karen leaves a huge legacy. But what has always impressed me most is her deep love of the natural world and the joy she takes in discovering the many relationships in the ecological web we’re trying to protect and restore. That love is infectious and it's had a huge influence on her colleagues and partners including me."

—FMR Conservation Director Alex Roth

Restoring critical habitat

Among the highlights of the work she has led is the 23-year partnership with Flint Hills Resources at Pine Bend Bluffs. There she oversaw the restoration of 700 acres of oak savanna, deciduous forest and rare sand gravel prairie, which is now home to the rusty patched bumble bee and has been awarded a Wildlife Habitat Council Gold certification. Karen also led the restoration and management activities at the 265-acre Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area.

Watch Karen tell the story of preserving and stewarding that special place:

Karen also spearheaded FMR’s ecological restoration work at the Hastings Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area southeast of Hastings. After FMR led the work with landowners and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to acquire and protect this native prairie, Karen wrote the management plan and led the effort to expand and improve the prairie and oak forest plant communities at the site.

Other notable sites that Karen managed are the more than 500 acres of forest and prairie at the 3M property on the river in Cottage Grove; the 6,449 acre Gores Pool Wildlife Management Area near Hastings; the prairie, savanna and oak woodland restoration at Spring Lake Park Reserve in Dakota County; and the 207 acre Hampton Woods Wildlife Management Area in Dakota County.

Karen’s passion for restoring the ecological integrity of our native landscapes has been thrillingly rewarded as she has been able to use her amazing bird ID skills to document many birds and other wildlife species now using her sites. In fact, her multi-year breeding bird surveys showed increases in bird populations and endangered species like the Henslow's sparrow at many of FMR's prairie restorations.

“Karen has had an incredibly positive impact on the natural resource in the Twin Cities area,” says former FMR Conservation Director Tom Lewanski who hired Karen and worked closely with her for nearly two decades. “We all owe her a ton of gratitude for her passion, hard work and leadership.  Many of the natural areas in the Metro area are more diverse, resilient and sustainable, thanks to her efforts. I am honored to have had the good fortune to work with Karen and to call her a friend.”

Five photos of restoration prairies and woods

Just a few of the special places Karen helped restore: Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area, Hastings Sand Coulee SNA, Gores WMA, Spring Lake Park Reserve and Hampton Woods. (Photos by Karen, FMR and Tom Reiter)

Connecting with people and communities

Over the years Karen has become a well-known and trusted guide to hundreds of FMR volunteers who have worked alongside her at restoration events collecting seed, planting trees or pulling buckthorn.

Karen cultivated long-term, trusting relationships with many landowners and partners that have sustained FMR’s work in these special places. She has also been a valued mentor and guide to many ecologists and interns. Her sense of humor, her commitment to excellence and most of all, her deep love of the natural world has been an inspiration to her colleagues for nearly a quarter century.

She also put her writing and photography skills to good use, educating and connecting with readers through her articles on native plants and wildlife and how to protect habitat. (Fan faves include pieces about native lizards, ladybugs and orchids.)

In the slideshow below, we've assembled a few of her beautiful photos (tiger salamander, penstemon, tree frog, monarch), plus pictures of our newly retired senior ecologist from her early days with FMR, her many field visits and volunteer events, and her retirement party.

It's an understatement to say that we'll miss Karen and that we're grateful for her foundational work and all she accomplished for the river.

When asked how she plans to spend her time during retirement Karen quips, "Oh, I’ll probably be dropping by FMR to see if I can help with anything." So, fortunately, we may not have seen the last of Karen.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific & Natural Area, Inver Grove Heights