Adapting to Change

washed out road

We have a responsibility to adapt to climate change. We will continue to manage Minnesota's wildlife, plants, waters, historic resources, infrastructure, and available outdoor recreation activities to ensure ongoing enjoyment and protection of these resources.

Climate change adaptation refers to the actions that help human and natural systems prepare for and adjust to climate change. The DNR uses the best available science to implement strategies to manage the impacts of climate change on the state's natural resources, outdoor recreation opportunities, and commercial uses of natural resources.

Flood Response at Minnesota State Parks

eastern larch beetle on the park of a tamarack tree

Minnesota’s climate is getting wetter, with precipitation concentrated in heavier storms. These trends can spell trouble for Minnesota’s flood-prone communities, parks, and recreation areas. The DNR has taken adaptive actions at several state parks that have experienced flooding in recent years.

A record-breaking rainfall event across southeastern Minnesota in August 2007 affected Whitewater State Park. The Whitewater River rose by more than 11 feet, changing the course of the river in sections and flooding surrounding areas. More than $4 million in park infrastructure was damaged or destroyed including buildings, roads, bridges, trails and historic structures. Heavy rains caused rare algific talus slope plant communities to slump down into the river and flash-flooding infested floodplain terraces with invasive garlic mustard plants. The park’s small population of state threatened timber rattlesnakes also lost individuals due to flash-flooding.

To better protect the safety of park visitors and address the impacts of more frequent extreme precipitation events, the Minneiska campground was built outside of the park’s updated flood zones. An upriver monitoring system now provides early warning of rising water levels.

The DNR also adopted a new strategy for invasive plant management at the park. Garlic mustard control efforts now are focused toward the upstream end of the park, including private lands outside the park boundary. This strategy addresses source populations that will continue to re-infest downstream areas if not controlled. Repeated flood and recovery efforts at the park have demonstrated the need for baseline surveys to assess impacts and management needs, and the importance of having park management plans and contingency plans in order to best respond to these types of events.

Protecting Coldwater Fish Habitats

eastern larch beetle on the park of a tamarack tree

Many of Minnesota's native fish, wildlife, and plant populations thrive only in a limited range of environmental conditions. Cisco (also known as lake herring or tullibee), for example, require cold, well-oxygenated water and primarily live in deep lakes with clear water. Minnesota is home to a large number of cisco lakes but as the climate warms, suitable coldwater habitat within these lakes will become more limited. This threat is compounded by land-use practices that increase nutrient runoff to lakes, impacting water quality and deep-water oxygen availability in deep water during the warm summer months. Cisco populations in Minnesota already are experiencing population declines, raising concerns for larger game fish such as walleye, northern pike, lake trout, and muskellunge that rely on cisco as a key food source.

In response to these concerns, the DNR and University of Minnesota researchers collaborated on a study that identified 176 "refuge" lakes across northern and central Minnesota. Refuge lakes are deep and clear enough to sustain cisco, even as the climate warms, so long as current water quality is maintained. The DNR is partnering with local units of government, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners to protect the forested lands within the watersheds of these lakes, a key strategy for preserving the water quality and resilience within these systems.

Spruce-tamarack Peatland Adaptation

pine needles of a tamarack tree

Minnesota lies at the convergence of several major North American ecosystems: prairie, southeastern hardwood forest, and northern conifer forest. Minnesota’s forests are sensitive to climate change, as some of our forests are on the edge of their natural range. Minnesota’s coniferous peatlands – vast acidic wetlands that contain black spruce, tamarack, and a variety of rare plants and animals – are on the southern edge of their range and are sensitive to warming temperatures and changes in precipitation.

To better adapt a spruce-tamarack peatland near the Little Fork River in northern Minnesota to climate changes, DNR foresters have planned a timber harvest project that will encourage regrowth of tree species expected to persist under the future climate, such as bur oak and potentially white pine. The project discourages regrowth of species expected to do poorly, such as jack pine and balsam fir. There will be a focus on regenerating young black spruce and tamarack, while maintaining patches of mature forest for wildlife habitat. This diversity will help the peatland be more resilient to climate change.