Minnesota’s climate is becoming warmer and wetter, and the Department of Natural Resources is taking action to identify climate-related changes, understand the impacts of these changes on the state’s natural resources and recreation, mitigate the impacts as much as possible, and adapt to those impacts that cannot be avoided.
These actions range from measuring changes to alerting Minnesotans to the effects of climate change, to planting tree species that will survive better in a warmer climate, to installing renewable energy options, like solar panels, at state parks and DNR buildings.
“We want people to know that Minnesota’s climate is already changing and will continue to do so. Across state government, we are working together and with our partners to reduce our contributions to those changes and adapt to the changing climate and reduce negative impacts to Minnesota’s resources and people,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
The DNR has been working hard to communicate the changes state climate experts are seeing. Toward that end, the DNR recently created a new website describing how Minnesota’s climate is changing, the impacts to natural resources and recreation, and what DNR is doing to address it.
The DNR is part of group of state agencies working on climate change adaptation and mitigation. It also collaborates with other partners, such as universities, federal agencies, local governments, and tribes, on climate change issues.
Climate change impacts
Data from the State Climatology Office indicate Minnesota’s temperatures are increasing – especially in winter – and large, more frequent extreme precipitation events are occurring. Minnesota has warmed 2.9 F between 1895 and 2017, while receiving an average of 3.4 inches more precipitation annually.
Climate changes are already impacting Minnesota’s wildlife, plants, waters, historic resources, infrastructure, and available outdoor recreation activities. Here are some examples:
- As a result of warmer winters and longer growing seasons, some 535,000 acres of tamarack forests have been affected by Eastern larch beetle, an insect that Minnesota’s historically colder winters kept in check.
- Lake ice seasons have shortened. For example, Lake Osakis—an average-sized lake in central Minnesota—now has "ice out" more than a week earlier now than it did in the 1940s. Early ice-out dates negatively affect a variety of winter recreation opportunities, such as ice fishing and cross-country skiing.
- With warmer winters and more precipitation, rough fish are gaining a foothold in waters that provide important duck habitat. Rough fish degrade water quality, reducing the food available to migrating ducks.
Adapting to and managing for climate impacts
Minnesotans can see how the DNR is managing for climate impact in state parks and state forests, along lakeshores and in wildlife management areas, and in the infrastructure that the DNR builds and operates.
For example, at Blue Mounds State Park, a 2014 “mega-rain” event destroyed a dam, causing the Lower Mound Lake impoundment to drain. To avoid future destruction, and after extensive review with stakeholders, the DNR restored the creek to help the park handle future extreme precipitation events.
- Foresters in southeastern Minnesota are planting swamp white oak, shagbark hickory, and bur oak in the understory of woodlands because forestry experts predict these species will thrive in Minnesota’s warmer, wetter climate.
- The DNR is working with shoreland owners to maintain tree cover and thereby help curb rising water temperatures in certain lakes. This is critical for cisco (or “tullibee”), an important fish species that is prey for game fish and loons.
- Since 2009, the DNR has installed 40 renewable energy systems at 31 locations across Minnesota. These systems generate 714,000 kilowatt hours of electric power. Also, the DNR has added more than 125 hybrid or electric cars to its vehicle fleet, increasing average fuel efficiency from 28.6 MPG to 38.3 MPG between 2014 and 2018.
Strommen said there is still a lot of work ahead for the DNR. The agency has made climate change a key priority and intends to work closely with stakeholders, other government agencies, and all Minnesotans to address climate change.
“We know that, by working closely with Minnesotans, we can better adapt to this significant challenge,” Strommen said. “We all have a stake in the future of our natural resources and recreation opportunities. By learning, adjusting, and doing our part individually, we can help Minnesota’s public lands, and the people who enjoy them, address and adapt to climate change.’’