A recent assessment conducted by the US Forest Service projects that in the next hundred years boreal forests, such as the ones that characterize iconic sites in Minnesota, may give way to a mix of broadleaf species. Given the pace and way that the climate is changes coniferous forests and feet of snow may be replaced by a portion of precipitation falling as rain in deciduous forests. This assessment inventories effects already being observed and projects the vulnerabilities faced by 23.5 million acres of forest in northeastern Minnesota. The tree species which are already at the southernmost point of their range such as; balsam fire, tamarack, quaking aspen and white spruce are expected to decline and be replaced by species like; red maple, sugar maple, basswood, black cherry, eastern white pine and white oak. Over the past century climate data collected in Minnesota shows the receipt of less snowfall overall, but storm intensity has increased. Mean temperatures, across all seasons, have been on the rise with winter experiencing the fastest warming. Precipitation in spring and fall has surged with most falling in in deluges of 3 inches or more.
By understanding current conditions and monitoring ongoing changes allows for the development of management methods which encourage sustainability and resilience, research being conducted provides technology to forest managers that will help them meet these challenges head-on. Some of the anticipated issues associated with accelerated successional changes include; increased number of extreme precipitation events which may lead to flooding and erosion, conversely unpredictable weather patterns may leave forests susceptible to drought stress, increased fire risk, higher hazards to niche takeover from invasive species and increased sensitivity to disease and other pathogens. The lead author of the vulnerability assessment, Stephen Handler, recognizes that there are innumerable variables affecting the future of the forests and one of the only constants is the uncertainty, however, he maintains that data collected to date is sufficient to attempt planning for a range of future scenarios.
This assessment was conducted as a collaboration among federal, state, academic and private partners through the Northern Institute for Applied Climate Science (NIACS) as a contribution to the Northwoods Climate Change Response Framework (www.nrs.fs.fed.us/niacs/climate/northwoods/). The NIACS is an interdisciplinary research team composed of staff from the US Forest Service, Michigan Technological University, The Trust for Public Land and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement.
“Minnesota Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis” was published by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and is available online at: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/45939