Climate change threatens forests, Great Lakes
For Minnesota and the greater Midwest, climate change threatens to darken the waters of the Great Lakes and allow invasive animal and plant species to replace native ones like moose and trees, resulting in major effects to the region’s ecology and financial future, according to local environmental experts and a new White House report on global warming.
“The big thing that this report says to me is we are already seeing statewide impacts of global weather,” said Jessica Tritsch, an organizer with the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club, based in Minneapolis. “And that these changes are only going to get worse.”
The report, released Tuesday, says extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality and will exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.
Climate change will result in increased heat stress, flooding, drought and late spring freezes, which will affect the spread of certain pests and disease, increase competition from non-native species and cause economic shocks such as crop failures or reduced yields due to extreme weather events, according to the report.
“To me it’s about the changing landscape and the fact that the Minnesota we know and love is changing and will continue to change as our climate gets warmer,” Tritsch said. “We’re already seeing changes now. With the change to environment, it gets harder for (the) moose population to prosper.”
J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director with Fresh Energy, a clean energy organization based in St. Paul, said evidence suggests climate change played a part in the polar vortex weather phenomenon that caused temperatures to dip in January. That’s because the Arctic has warmed to a greater extent than the rest of the Earth, causing a change in the jet stream that drew polar weather down to the Northland.
Hamilton added that projections are for a decline in native spruce, balsam, aspen and birch trees, and an increase in elm and ash trees.
“These are very valuable species which would decline,” Hamilton said. “And more ash creates problems because we’d have more emerald ash borer.”
Another projection is that a warmer Lake Superior could start getting algae blooms, which would darken its waters and reduce its appeal to tourists.“These are very big parts of our economy,” Hamilton said of the lakes and forests. “This report is a wake-up call.”