Posted on Oct 20, 2020

EcoEducation: Restoring Minnesota’s Forests in the Age of Climate Change

Forests are a big part of Minnesota's outdoor and natural identity.  Jim Manolis, the MN Forest Conservation Program Director at the Nature Conservancy pointed out that we care about our forests because of their beauty and recreational value, for the habitat they provide for over 100 species of fish and wildlife, for the wood products and the jobs that the forest industry provides and for their incredible ability to help our water and air remain clean.  We Minnesotan's do care about our forests.  Our changing climate is creating threats to the ongoing health of our forests.  Fortunately there are solutions to these threats.   
The threats from climate change and previous forest management practices put the future health of our forests at risk. 
Minnesota has seen a 2 degree Fahrenheit change in average temperature over the past hundred years, especially in northern Minnesota.  We are having more frequent over 95 degree days.  This change warms things, but it also can dry things out which can be hard on forests.  Warmer winters also mean that some of the insects that would normally die off in the winter are surviving and some of those insects harm trees.  We also are seeing bigger storms and bigger rainfall events, especially more three inches+ per day events.  Logging practices from the past encouraged single species trees, example birch, to take the logged trees place limiting the diversity of our forests.  The changing environment is hard on birch and we are seeing die - off in certain areas. Foraging deer limit the grow back of new species. We've suppressed wildfires which paradoxically creates huge fire risk. 
We have courses of action to address the threats to the forest and they fall in two camps - mitigation and adaption.  The mitigation side of the coin includes topics that we've discussed in our meetings and are about reducing carbon emissions.  The adaption side of the coin is a realization that some of the change described above is not reversible and we need to help nature adjust. 
Planting trees is actually a way to address both sides of the coin.  Trees help take carbon out of the atmosphere and if you attend to ensuring that the plantings are diverse you help make the forests more complex and diverse which will essentially create a hedge against future climate unknown.  Another key to planting is species selection.  Paper Birch unfortunately is not a tree that is going to handle the type of change we are seeing in northern Minnesota. White Pine, however actually has a range that goes farther south than Paper Birch and so will be a good pick for our northern forests.  Red Oak and Burr Oak are also species that have a range that is farther south and will likely do well.  Planting the trees is not enough.  They shoot for an 80% survival rate and that means the trees need to be monitored and protected when they are young  - especially from deer. 
The Nature Conservancy has planted about 4.37 Million trees in the past 10 years across over 20,000 acres in the arrowhead area of Minnesota.  They have set a goal to double that over the next five years.  They are expanding west into the Chippewa National Forest.  They are also expanding scope by working with private land owners and working with the state and the School Trust lands.  The Nature Conservancy is also examining which land will have the most ROI because it will be the most resilient to climate change in companion with these tree planting efforts.