At Thomson Reuters' sprawling campus in Eagan, employees on a committee dubbed "Bluebirds and Beyond" volunteered to work in a carpentry workshop on a recent afternoon, nailing together cedar birdhouses.
Meanwhile, on a paved "Blue Bird Trail" that winds more than two miles past ponds and meadows, other employees were hiking, hoping for a glimpse of the deer, coyotes, wild turkeys and jackrabbits that populate the company's land near Hwy. 149 and Opperman Drive.
With an array of conservation projects underway, the landscape here is changing. This summer, it will bloom with wildflowers as the birds and wildlife get an upgrade in their habitat.
That's because more than 100 employees have been volunteering for stewardship projects that began last year with the removal of invasive plant species and reseeding.
Large expanses of lawn are being replaced with perennial native prairie plants that will create an ecosystem supporting birds and wildlife, said Tim Nixon, who heads a "Green Team" steering committee of 14 employees. They oversee a half-dozen committees working on various initiatives.
About 5,000 employees work at Thomson Reuters in Eagan, and many have been invigorated by the stewardship projects, Nixon said.
"We're incrementally getting greener and greener, and this is a great place to start just because of the campus we have here and the opportunity to do habitat restoration," Nixon said.
He showed sacks of seeds for the prairie restoration, from black-eyed susans to wild bergamot with lavender, pink or white blooms.
Nixon is director of legal editorial operations for West, a Thomson Reuters business, and president of the Audubon Society of St. Paul. Minnesota Audubon is working with the company on the conservation.
Near Nixon in the carpentry shop stood one of two new 14-foot-tall cedar towers for chimney swifts, which are on the decline in the Midwest.
Thomson already has 20 birdhouses on its path and two nest boxes for ducks in wetlands areas. Employees this week are putting up more for bluebirds and wood ducks, and later will erect towers for chimney swifts.
Future projects could foster purple martins, hawks and owls. Such work is lauded by the American Bird Conservancy, which warned in a March 11 report that climate changes are endangering birds.
"This is another great example of individual volunteers making a huge difference for bird conservation. Populations of both the wood duck and the bluebird have rebounded because of nest boxes," said Jim Giocomo of American Bird Conservancy, which works to protect endangered species, conserve habitat and remove threats to bird populations.
The prairie restoration project began last fall with seeding near Yankee Doodle Road and removal of invasive species on a 10-acre patch across Hwy. 149 from the campus, where employees will seed in late May.
"We did that because this is a nice piece of vacant property, and it's high visibility there, and it's going to be good for everybody," said Jon Durand, the company's head of facilities.
Employees are also volunteering to put in a community garden, and the fencing is already up, he said.
Organic herbs and vegetables will be sold weekly to employees at an in-house farmers' market, with the proceeds going to charities within the city, Durand said.
Out of nearly 300 acres on this massive campus, nearly 200 will be used for various green projects, he said.
It's the largest tract of vacant commercial or industrial land in Eagan and probably the largest contiguous tract, said Tom Garrison, a city spokesman.
Durand said the activity is driven by employees.
"We had a few leaders come forward on the Green Team, and had all these great ideas, but we didn't have resources to do a lot," he said. "The employees stepped up, and we have a very passionate group that's out there who want to volunteer their time, and that's why this is working."
Take Karin Copeland, who volunteers to clean out the birdhouses each fall and to ready them for the birds each spring. Now she hopes to soon see even more bluebirds, which are her favorite.
Copeland, a nature lover, carries peanuts in her pockets for ground squirrels she's trained to scamper to her on afternoon hikes, which she calls "the highlight" of her workday. As with other employees, her excitement over the "green" work is mounting.
"I think we have an obligation to do this, with all this wonderful land," she said.
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017