What DNR is doing

collage of dnr projects that represent adapting or mitigating climate change

We have a responsibility to adapt to climate change. We manage the impacts of climate change and protect Minnesota's natural resources, ensuring outdoor recreation opportunities for future generations.

We take seriously our contributions to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. We are investing in renewable energy, continuing our good stewardship of public lands, and limiting or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

DNR is using these strategies to both prepare for climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. Here are some examples of our strategies in action:

Ecosystems and water

Climate conversations on Lake Superior’s coast

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Duluth, MN

washed out road The Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program helps communities across the region become better informed about the shifting climate, its impacts, and opportunities for adaptation. Photo credit: Tansey Smith, 1854 Treaty Authority

The problem:

Climate shifts are projected to cause large-scale effects in northern Minnesota, including changes to its iconic North Woods. Other impacts to the region include precipitation changes and subsequent impacts to municipal infrastructure, water quality and quantity, increased numbers of invasive species, safety and potential tourism consequences from changes in Lake Superior water temperature and wind speeds, and potential impacts to local food production and harvesting. Many municipalities throughout the region have limited capacity and resources available for adapting to these changes.

What DNR is doing:

The DNR’s Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program, led by Julie McDonnell, in collaboration with Minnesota Sea Grant and the 1854 Treaty Authority is bringing together local and state administrators, resource professionals, and university researchers from Minnesota’s North Shore region to share information about the changing climate, impacts and adaptation. Since July 2015, more than 25 presenters have covered topics including local climate observations and trends; observed and potential changes in Lake Superior water temperatures, food web, and ice cover; regional natural resources; regional food security; public health; and stormwater management.

Participation in the program is increasing. By exploring the latest data, identifying information gaps, and sharing ideas on adaptation strategies, the program helps communities across the region become better informed about the shifting climate, its impacts, and opportunities for adaptation.

Protecting climate resilient natural heritage sites

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Central and southeastern Minnesota

Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA displays far above average metrics of climate resilience. This SNA displays some of the most southern examples of colder climate plant species, in part due to the cold microclimates provided by the globally-imperiled algific talus communities that occurs on site. These communities act as natural air conditioners that can keep hyper local temperatures at 40-60 F through even the hottest days of summer.

The problem:

Changing temperature and precipitation patterns can alter the habitats of Minnesota’s native plant and wildlife species. If climate-resilient landscapes aren’t protected, we can expect many sensitive species, or at least certain populations, to disappear.

What DNR is doing:

The Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) program strategically preserves and protects Minnesota’s natural heritage lands. Each site under consideration for SNA designation is evaluated to determine what rare species may exist, if high-quality habitats are present, and how it fits into the broader network of publicly owned lands.

The SNA program has begun to assess the climate resilience of sites in central and southeastern Minnesota as well, using The Nature Conservancy's "Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation in the Great Lakes and Tallgrass Prairie Region" report for guidance. Natural habitats that are more connected to other natural habitats and have greater topographic variability should provide species more opportunities to adapt and persist as the climate changes around them. The DNR is exploring the augmentation of statewide SNA evaluation criteria to ensure climate-resilient sites are prioritized over those that are not climate-resilient, all else being equal.

By focusing our limited funding dollars on acquiring more climate-resilient sites, the SNA program is maximizing the benefits provided by habitat protection now and into the future.

Terrestrial invasive species and climate change

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Statewide

Terrestrial Invasive Species - Tree of heaven Tree of heaven is a terrestial invasive species poised to spread as the climate warms. DNR provided input on Minnesota Department of Agriculture policy through participation on their Noxious Weed Advisory Committee, recommending that tree of heaven plants be restricted from sale in Minnesota. Photo credit: David Hanson, Minnesota Department of Transportation

The problem:

Due to climate change, invasive species that previously couldn’t survive in Minnesota may survive and thrive in the future. Established invasive species may expand their ranges or have amplified impacts. Current management techniques may become less effective with longer growing seasons.

What DNR is doing

The DNR is proactively managing invasive species and enacting policies to minimize impacts on Minnesota ecosystems in the face of climate change.

One strategy involves regulations on emerging invasive species that are not currently widespread across Minnesota. The DNR provided input on Minnesota Department of Agriculture policy through participation on its Noxious Weed Advisory Committee, recommending that invasive tree of heaven and porcelain berry plants be restricted from sale in Minnesota. By preventing additional sales, there will be fewer plants planted throughout the state and poised to spread as the climate warms. Another strategy is early detection and rapid response. Invasive vines, such as Oriental bittersweet, are predicted to do well under increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. The DNR actively controls Oriental bittersweet while populations are small, potentially reducing the negative impacts of this invasive plant in the future.

These examples demonstrate that the DNR has opportunities to adapt our policies and actions to minimize impacts of invasive species due to climate change.

Minnesota's ecological monitoring network

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Statewide

DNR staff surveying a forest DNR’s Minnesota Biological Survey established a statewide network of permanent ecological monitoring sites across Minnesota. The results will help to aid decision-making by natural resource managers, conservation organizations, land owners, and others.

The problem:

The long-term impacts of climate change on Minnesota’s prairies, forests, and wetlands are uncertain. In order to effectively manage these habitats in the future, it is vital to assess and monitor how they change over time.

What DNR is doing

Minnesota’s prairies, forests and wetlands provide essential services to its residents, including recreational opportunities, timber production, habitat for wildlife and pollinators, flood protection, and water filtration. To ensure Minnesota’s prairies, forests, and wetlands are effectively managed to minimize the negative impacts of stressors like climate change, it is important to assess and monitor these habitats for change over time.

The DNR’s Minnesota Biological Survey is establishing a statewide network of permanent ecological monitoring sites across Minnesota. The first phase of the project, funded by a three-year Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund grant from June 2016 through June 2019, is developing the monitoring network design and sampling methods, and collecting and testing field data on over 100 sites.

This monitoring project was carefully designed to provide objective data on long-term changes in habitat. The results will aid decision-making by natural resource managers, conservation organizations, landowners, and others.

Ecological Monitoring Network »

Forestry, fish, and wildlife

Ruffed grouse protection

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Moose Willow WMA/Hill River State Forest

washed out road Ruffed grouse rely on thermal cover to stay warm in the winter. Photo credit: Beau Liddel

The problem:

Warmer winters mean decreasing snowpack, which can leave ground-dwelling birds like ruffed grouse (that burrow in the snow for warmth) with limited thermal cover in the coldest months.

What DNR is doing:

Minnesota’s state wildlife management areas (WMA) provide important habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for Minnesotans. DNR wildlife biologist Derek Frost and forester Matt Huseby led a project in the Moose Willow WMA and Hill River State Forest to provide more winter cover for ruffed grouse and other wildlife that generally depend on thick snow to stay warm and hide from predators in the winter.

In May 2018, a mix of 20,000 balsam fir and white spruce seedlings were planted in small, half-acre patches across a 400-acre area that recently had been logged to salvage wood from the great number of trees knocked down during a large storm. The young conifers will provide protection for grouse and increase the tree diversity of the aspen-dominated forest.

The project was funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society with a grant from Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Management plan for Frazee-Vergas School Forest

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Frazee, MN

photo of a learning center in Frazee School Forest Small shelters create a great working area for student groups. Frazee-Vergas School Forest, Frazee. Photo credit: Kylee Berger

The problem:

Higher temperatures threaten Minnesota’s cold-hearty forests in a variety of ways, from added heat stress on trees to increasing populations of forest pests that attack stressed trees. Increased precipitation also is leading to more flooding around the state.

What DNR is doing

School forests provide living classrooms where students can learn about forests and forest management. At the Frazee-Vergas School Forest, students also are learning about how climate change impacts forests and how forests can adapt to those impacts. DNR forester Kylee Berger worked with the Frazee-Vergas school to develop a forest management plan focused on increasing diversity at all levels within the forest – creating variety in tree age, size, species, and even genetics. Diverse forests are more resilient to change and more likely to survive and thrive.

Further, the plan provides direction on how to protect the school forest’s wetland. Healthy wetlands help control flooding and provide important wildlife habitat. Other adaptation strategies in the plan include thinning young stands of trees to reduce competition and reducing risk of tree diseases through active monitoring and management.

In addition to creating a resilient forest, the school forest’s management plan helps educate faculty, students, and local community members about climate change impacts and adaptation opportunities.

Protecting cisco in Tulaby Lake

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Tulaby Lake, Mahnomen County

native prairie next to Tulaby lake Native prairie planting next to Tulaby lake.

The problem:

Cisco (also called “tullibee” or “whitefish”) are an important prey species for loons and many popular species of game fish in Minnesota, such as walleye. However, they are sensitive to even small changes in their environment. The combination of warming lake temperatures from climate change and nutrient runoff from surrounding lands jeopardizes the health of Minnesota’s cisco populations – as well as the walleye and other fish that depend on them.

What DNR is doing

Many private landowners are doing their part to protect cisco lakes by planting or maintaining native vegetation along the shore to help reduce soil and nutrient runoff. As an example, one family with land in Mahnomen County along Tulaby Lake have done some reforestation on their property, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the air as the young trees grow.

The DNR is working with landowners who own forestland in cisco lake watersheds by offering to prepare forest stewardship plans at a reduced price and provide cost-share funds for restoration projects along the shore and in surrounding forestlands. The Tulaby Lake family qualified for one of the low-cost stewardship plans, which provides them further direction on how to sustainably manage their forestland near the lake.

As Minnesota’s cold-water lake fish like cisco face increasing pressure from rising temperatures, actions that keep lakes clean and reduce stress on fish populations are more important than ever.

Planting resilient forests in southeast Minnesota

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Lewiston Area, Fremont Township, Winona

Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest - located in southeast Minnesota

The problem:

Warming temperatures threaten Minnesota’s cold-hearty forests in a variety of ways, from added heat stress on trees to increasing populations of forest pests that attack stressed trees. Different tree species are expected to adapt to climate change with varying rates of success.

What DNR is doing

As the DNR plans for timber harvests, the agency considers future forest conditions. This includes reforesting harvested areas with tree species predicted to adapt to warmer conditions.

In an oak woodland on state forest land in southeast Minnesota’s “Driftless Area” that is nearing its harvest age, DNR forester Kevin O’Brien has written a forest management plan to plant swamp white oak, shagbark hickory, and bur oak in the understory of the woodland. These tree species are projected to increase under future climate conditions in southeast Minnesota, according to modeling performed by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. That means they are expected to survive better than some of the other tree species native to the area. Planting the trees before the woodland is harvested will give them a head start so they are ready to grow once the canopy is open and they have access to sunlight.

In addition to helping create a climate-resilient forest, these native trees provide a needed food source of nuts and acorns for wildlife.

Increasing diversity in black ash forests

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Koochiching County, MN

EAB emerging through its D-shaped exit hole. Emerald ash borer (EAB) emerging through its D-shaped exit hole. EAB is an invasive insect that is slowly making inroads in our state and wiping out ash trees

The problem:

Warming temperatures threaten Minnesota’s cold-hearty forests in a variety of ways, from added heat stress on trees to increasing populations of forest pests that attack stressed trees. Northern Minnesota is home to vast stretches of swampy black ash forest that are at great risk from emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that is slowly making inroads in our state and wiping out ash trees.

What DNR is doing

One way of protecting ash-dominated forests in Minnesota is to diversify them with other tree species, so if the ash die there are other trees left to take their place. On state forest land in Koochiching County, DNR forester Lars Helleloid wrote a forest management plan to plant 800 bur oaks, 800 silver maples, 500 black spruces and 500 genetically-improved white spruce seedlings over a nine-acre site where ash trees recently had been harvested. DNR foresters will monitor the success of the planting in future years and potentially take further management action to reduce competition so the young planted trees can better grow.

The DNR plans to do similar trial plantings like this one elsewhere in the state in an ongoing effort to better prepare ash forests for future change.

Kettle Lake ash reforestation: tree planting in advance of emerald ash borer

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Cromwell, MN

EAB emerging through its D-shaped exit hole. A crew plants various species of tree seedlings to diverisify a black ash-dominated forest that is at risk of emerald ash borer invasion. Photo credit: Paul Dubuque

The problem:

Northern Minnesota is home to vast stretches of swampy black ash forest that are at great risk from emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that is slowly making inroads in our state. It’s been found in southeastern Minnesota, the Twin Cities and Duluth. Warming winters and fewer days of extreme cold provide conditions that allow the insect to thrive and reproduce, likely eventually killing most ash trees in the state. In the black ash swamps of northern Minnesota, this could greatly affect the region’s hydrology.

What DNR is doing

Diversifying ash stands may be the best way to keep trees on the landscape, should most of the state’s ash succumb to emerald ash borer. In 2017, DNR forester Wes Habedank wrote a forest management plan for a 23-acre area of state forest dominated by ash trees. The site was harvested, leaving behind clumps of hardwood trees and scattered conifer trees to provide a non-ash seed source for the future forest. Following the harvest, 12 native tree species were planted across the site including red maple, white spruce, black spruce, tamarack, balsam fir, paper birch, bur oak, quaking aspen, hackberry, silver maple, swamp white oak and cottonwood. Some of these species are common in southern Minnesota and may be better adapted to handle a warmer future climate. In cooperation with University of Minnesota researchers, the DNR will monitor the site to see which species do best.

The forest near the Kettle Lake Wildlife Management Area is unique in that it represents a variety of ash-dominated forest ecosystems and can be accessed easily by road. This case study provides an opportunity to showcase a climate adaptation demonstration trial for foresters and other natural resource managers.

Operations and infrastructure

Improved fleet efficiency

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Statewide

DNR zero emmission vehicle Whenever possible, DNR purchases vehicles that are more fuel efficient than the units that they are replacing. Photo credit: Aaron Cisewski

The problem:

Greenhouse gas emissions generated from vehicle usage contribute to global warming, fueling climate changes that impact our natural resources.

What DNR is doing

The DNR is improving the fuel efficiency of its fleet to reduce the amount of fossil fuel consumed and emissions produced. Since 2010, DNR fleet fossil fuel use decreased by over 125,000 gallons. The DNR is achieving these reductions through multiple pathways. First, whenever possible, the agency purchases vehicles that are more fuel efficient than the units they are replacing. For example, the DNR enrolled over 125 hybrid or electric cars into its fleet and the average miles per gallon of its sedans increased from 28.6 MPG (fiscal year 2014) to 38.3 MPG (fiscal year 2018). Second, the DNR is increasing the amount of alternate fuels such as E-85, bio-diesel, and propane purchased. Many of the DNR’s vehicles, including pickup trucks (which make up a large portion the fleet), can be run on such fuel.

The DNR owns and manages its own fleet. We have the opportunity and responsibility to maintain a fleet of the most fuel efficient equipment possible while also achieving our important natural resources work.

Energy-Smart at DNR »

Designing resilient watercourse infrastructure at road intersections

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Statewide

bridge/culvert Instead of the traditional design that confines all flow to a main culvert or bridge, DNR’s site design guidance and tools allows runoff to flow naturally during a flood. Photo credit: Kevin Zytkovicz

The problem:

More intense precipitation events cause increased flooding and road washouts in floodplains across Minnesota.

What DNR is doing

The DNR provides technical support for local infrastructure projects at road-waterway intersections. Instead of the traditional design that confines all flow to a main culvert or bridge, DNR site design guidance and tools allow runoff to flow naturally during a flood. This approach maintains floodplain and channel connectivity by distributing the high flows and energy across the floodplain. This means the infrastructure is designed to work with the natural system and allow for stable waterways long-term.

To date, the DNR has provided technical assessments at 17 sites using this approach. In addition, five road projects have been implemented. DNR staff monitor the project sites to determine if these projects are helping enhance natural ecological processes and watershed resilience.

Geomorphic Approach to Infrastructure Design at Road/River Intersections »

Net zero building

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Glenwood Area Office, Glenwood, MN

Glenwood Office The new DNR area office in Glenwood, MN has an award-winning sustainable energy design.

The problem:

Greenhouse gas emissions generated from building energy use contribute to global warming, fueling climate changes that impact our natural resources.

What DNR is doing:

The DNR is improving energy efficiency by retrofitting and upgrading existing facilities and working toward net zero energy usage in new facilities. The DNR area office in Glenwood was designed to achieve the net-zero energy goal, winning the 2017 Best of B3 award from the state's Sustainable Buildings 2030 program. Installation and design features include geothermal heating and cooling systems, a building orientation that maximizes solar energy gains, and a solar panel installation on the south side of the building, as well as additional air circulation, insulation, and plumbing considerations.

Renewable energy installations

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Statewide

Solar panels on a park shelter Lake Shetek State Park Picnic Shelter with Solar Array.

The problem:

Greenhouse gas emissions released from burning fossil fuels for energy contribute to global warming, fueling climate changes that impact our natural resources.

What DNR is doing:

Renewable energy installations including photovoltaic (solar) arrays, solar thermal, and wind are increasingly common at Minnesota state parks and DNR office buildings. Since 2009, the DNR has installed 40 renewable systems at 31 locations across Minnesota. These systems generate over 675,000 kilowatt hours of electrical power annually, helping the DNR meet state and agency-specific goals to reduce fossil fuel energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Parks and recreation

Managing invasive plants in state park floodplains and terrace forests

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Southeastern Minnesota blufflands

garlic mustard Garlic mustard infestations can get their start when flood waters redistribute their seeds in floodplain areas. Photo credit: Laura Van Riper

The problem:

Increased heavy precipitation and "mega-rain" events are causing frequent re-infestations of invasive plant species in floodplains and terrace forests. This makes it difficult to maintain high-quality native plant communities in these areas and detracts from resource management needs elsewhere.

What DNR is doing

Climate change is fundamentally affecting how the DNR manages resources within state parks. Prior to 2010, invasive garlic mustard patches at Whitewater State Park in southeastern Minnesota were controlled and shrinking, requiring about 150 hours of crew time annually. This changed after large flood events impacted the park in 2007, 2010 and 2017. Approximately three years of intensive effort is required to re-survey and treat floodplain areas following each large flood. It became untenable for the DNR to continue this level of management effort here and at other state parks in southeastern Minnesota.

As a result, the DNR shifted its approach to managing garlic mustard, focusing available time and funding on areas that are not experiencing repeated flood events, or floodplains with other important resource values such as protected species.

Restoring Mound Creek

small thumbnail of Minnesota map location Blue Mounds State Park

Mound Creek View of the Lower Mounds Creek dam after the June 2014 flood event.  The historic basin completely drained and formed an incised creek channel. Photo credit: Molly Tranel Nelson

The problem:

Infrastructure damage in flood-prone areas is on the rise due to increasingly common heavy rainfall events. In 2014 a "mega-rain" event hit southwestern Minnesota. It caused a failure in the historic dam and resulted in the draining of the Lower Mound Lake impoundment.

What DNR is doing:

In response to the damage within Blue Mounds State Park, the DNR conducted an extensive review to determine whether to remove the remnants of the dam and restore a portion of Mound Creek or to repair the dam and allow the impoundment to refill.

The dam and lake were on the National Register of Historic Places. However, water quality in the lake impoundment was poor due to high nitrate levels and E. coli contamination. Further, the creek had occurrences of the federally endangered Topeka shiner as well as state listed species (plains topminnow and pond mussel). The DNR received guidance and input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, State Historic Preservation Office, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the end, it was determined the best path forward was to restore the stream corridor to provide habitat for the federal and state listed species and help the park adapt to future extreme precipitation events.