A wide range of conservation partners are currently focused on finding ways to increase the long-term resiliency of conservation lands and natural areas. Conservation projects conducted through a number of programs help to restore and maintain water retention, runoff reduction, wildlife habitat, and water quality in Minnesota while increasing landscape resiliency. This, in turn, enhances adaptation to climate change. The ecosystem services provided by wetlands also protect against intense storm events and periods of drought. Associated upland buffers protect wetland ecosystems, and provide landscape connectivity and other functions that promote landscape resiliency. Restoration projects also increase carbon sequestration that can increase infiltration rates and store water on the landscape.
In addition to improving natural resources, efforts to increase landscape resilience can also support ecotourism to help ensure that tourism remains an important part of local economies while helping people to appreciate our natural heritage. The following information summarizes key planning methods and strategies to increase the resiliency of conservation lands and natural areas.
Planning Methods and Programs
A number of state plans and technical resource have been developed to assist with landscape planning for conservation lands and natural areas:
Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan (DNR): The 2011 plan focuses efforts on grassland and wetlands, and is a partnership between federal agencies, state agencies and conservation organizations. The plan identifies core conservation areas and creates a vision of a connected landscape from Canada to Iowa.
Wetlands Restoration Strategy; A Framework for Prioritizing Efforts in Minnesota(pdf): This strategy was developed in 2009 to provide a statewide perspective and improved approach for restoration of wetlands. State and federal agencies, local government units, and non-governmental organizations combine and coordinate their efforts to achieve the shared goal of greater net gains in wetland functional benefits.
Minnesota’s Wildlife Action Plan 2015-2025 (DNR): This plan prioritizes species that are in greatest conservation within a mapped Wildlife Action Network of terrestrial and aquatic habitats throughout the state. The Wildlife Action Network facilitates adaptation to climate change and other stressors by identifying core areas large enough to contain a diversity of habitats and connection to allow for species movements and the flow of energy and materials.
Restorable Wetland Prioritization Tool: This tool, developed by the Natural Resources Research Institute and MPCA, aids individuals interested in wetland restoration or protection by:
- Predicting likely locations of restorable wetlands with a statewide restorable wetland inventory.
- Locating highly stressed areas most in need of water quality or habitat improvement.
- Prioritizing areas that already are or are most likely to result in high functioning sustainable wetlands.
- Identifying areas that will provide the greatest benefits in the form of water quality and habitat.
- Refining prioritizations with aerial imagery and available environmental data.
Minnesota Wetland Restoration Guide: With attention to sound engineering and ecology, this interactive document provides guidance on the most current restoration practices: from the selection of a site; goals and outcomes for projects; to post-project management and monitoring.
Regional climate change adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation in a midcontinental region of North America(pdf): (Biological Conservation, 2009): This study identifies adaptive actions aimed specifically for Minnesota forest ecosystems: “defensive actions intended to resist the influence of climate change; practices aimed at promoting resilient ecosystem responses to climate change; and active involvement in facilitating change to ecosystems or particular species."
Conserving Biodiversity: Practical Guidance about Climate Change Adaptation Approaches in Support of Land-use Planning(pdf): This 2015 article includes six adaptation approaches and case studies on conserving biodiversity. The approaches range from protecting current patterns of biodiversity to identifying areas that will provide future climate space for displaced species.
Forest Adaption Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers: This guide provides a comprehensive set of materials that enables land managers and decision makers to consider climate change, providing a wide array of strategies to increase the ability of forests to cope with climate change impacts, as well as step-by-step instructions to develop customized adaption approaches for different regions, and sample case studies for review.
The Northern Institute of Climate Science’s Forest Adaptation Strategies and Approaches: This document provides 10 comprehensive strategies for forest adaptation based on the use of the Forest Adaptation Resources Workbook (above).
- Key Strategies
- Making Landscape Connections. Establish strong connections across landscapes. Create habitat and genetic dispersal corridors and decrease landscape fragmentation. Also create networks of conservation practices in agricultural areas. Pulling together important remnants plays a key role in restoring landscape resiliency and providing refuge for wildlife species.
- Practicing Strategic Site Protection/Selection. Work with project partners to identify the prairie, forest, wetland and aquatic landscapes that are in greatest need of protection and restoration based on resource needs and ecological function. This may involve restoring habitat complexes or buffering key water resources to re-establish natural cycles and plant and animal populations.
- Minimizing Landscape Stressors. Investigate opportunities to improve environmental conditions throughout watersheds. Site projects in locations where ecological stressors such as flooding, decreasing water tables, or invasive species will not significantly detract from key functions into the future.
- Maximizing Ecological Function. It is important to focus on primary goals for project, but multiple ecosystem functions including wildlife habitat, plant diversity, food production, stormwater treatment, soil quality and nutrient cycling can often be accomplished at once.
- Matching Plant Communities to the Site. Match targeted vegetation to the native plant community that best fit site conditions. Also restore natural hydrologic regimes to aquatic and wetland systems. Historic plant community information can be used as a guide for decision making. Determine the kinds of native wildlife that can benefit from the project and include native plants that will provide food and shelter for them.
- Restoring and Maintaining Diversity. Plant diversity supports wildlife species and increases resiliency by helping plant communities continue to function as intact systems during climate variation and other stressors. Filling niches by planting native species also prevents the establishment of invasive species. Diverse state seed mixes are available for a variety of project types and the Minnesota Wetland Restoration Guide summarizes restoration strategies for uplands and wetlands.
- Providing Habitat for Pollinators and other Beneficial Organisms. Pollinators play a unique role in the landscapes by pollinate around 70-80 percent of flowering plants in the Midwest, playing a key role in their seed production. Pollinators and other insects and organisms play an essential role in supporting ecosystems. Pollinators provide seeds and fruits that are relied on by a wide range of wildlife by pollinating around 70% of flowering plants. Support insect and soil microbes and other organisms by minimizing pesticide use, buffering natural areas and diverse plantings from pesticide exposure, restoring habitat complexes and wide natural corridors, increasing plant diversity, and restoring clean water sources. BWSR’s Pollinator Toolbox provides guidance for projects and the state's interagency plan outlines steps for meeting Governor Dayton’s Executive Order “Directing Steps to Reverse Pollinator Decline and Restore Pollinator Health in Minnesota”.
- Guiding Effective Water Management, Treatment and Use. Implement a variety of practices in agricultural landscapes and around conservation lands and natural areas such as perennial crops, conservation tillage, conservation drainage, cover crops, buffer strips and wetland restoration to manage water resources. Other practices such as raingardens, infiltration trenches, treatment swales and detention areas can be used in urban areas to reduce runoff, recharge groundwater, improve water quality, and reduce flooding. Promote the wise use of water resources and the use of catchment systems to help ensure adequate supplies into the future.
- Preserving and Restoring Soil Health. Cover crops and perennial vegetation in agricultural areas around conservation lands and natural areas promote good soil structure, organic content and microorganism populations that translate into healthy soils that promote productive ecological and agricultural landscapes.
- Working with Ecological Adaptation. Natural plant communities have the ability to adapt and develop a natural dynamic though genetic adaptation, succession and natural colonization. Promote these processes to provide desired ecological functions, and buffer the community during future changes in climate and associated disturbance. Use assisted colonization as needed to help maintain plant community integrity in plant communities.
- Promoting Natural Disturbance. Restore natural disturbances that sustain specific natural plant communities such as prescribed fire, conservation grazing and hydrologic variation. These disturbances play a key role in maintaining diversity as well as plant community structure and wildlife use and can help support local companies.
- Using Integrated Pest Management Strategies. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) involves the use of a variety of control methods to manage pests while decreasing the use of herbicides and pesticides or providing practices for their use. These methods help decrease impacts to pollinators, aquatic species and other organisms.
- Managing Invasive Species Across Boundaries. Invasive species are effective at dispersal, giving them an advantage in adapting to climate change. Plan to work in partnerships and manage invasive species across ownership boundaries to restore resilient landscapes. Invasive species should be prioritized based on their risk to ecosystems, agriculture, recreation, and human health.
- Practicing Adaptive Management. Adjust management practices based on monitoring efforts and experience with successes and failures to improve the long-term effectiveness of management practices and resiliency of plant communities. Practices such as prescribed burning, water level management and prescribed grazing and haying may replicate natural disturbances and promote diversity and resiliency.
- Engaging Landowners. Find ways to engage landowners in projects within urban or rural communities as this can be an important way to promote conservation efforts. This can be accomplished though volunteer events, tours or promoting community gatherings where projects are featured. Having landowners speak about the benefits of projects on their property can be an effective method of convincing other landowners to sponsor projects. A guide titled “Inspiring Action for Nonpoint Source Pollution Control” provides a detailed discussion about ways to engage the public.
- Adapting to Climate Change. A major climate trend in Minnesota has been an increase in intense rainfall events that stress aquatic systems and cause erosion. Partners that are working on water planning and conservation projects should consider the potential for more extreme weather events and the implication for water and land resources. BWSR’s Climate Change Trends and Action Report(pdf) provides detail about climate change adaptation for conservation and protection of natural resources. All of the strategies summarized in this section of the Toolbox play a role in climate adaptation efforts. In addition to the strategies already summarized, it is also important that NOAA Atlas 14 rainfall frequency data and good BMP/landscape planning and design practices are used to address larger storm events. It is also important to identify landscape and populations at risk from climate change trends.
- Case Studies
Ellefson Group Wetland Restoration.
Restored wetlands and prairies play an important role in adapting to climate change by increasing the resiliency of watersheds. The Ellefson Group Wetland Restoration in Norman County was a combined effort by four landowners and state, federal, and local agencies.
The site was previously farmland that frequently had crop failure due to flooding. It now provides a refuge to a wide range of wildlife including pollinators, amphibians, reptiles, shorebirds and waterfowl. The site decreases downstream flooding by detaining water from large storms. Surface runoff from the site is estimated to be reduced by 88% during significant rain events.
Woodland Creek Wetland Restoration
A wetland mitigation that transformed a former golf course into pollinator and wildlife habitat has produced recreational and educational benefits along with mitigation credits for public road impacts within the seven-county metro area. BWSR staff partnered with the City of Andover in Anoka County to complete the Woodland Creek wetland restoration on 63.4 acres of city-owned property adjacent to Coon Creek.
Restoration work began in fall 2016 and finished in spring 2018. Construction included a minimum-maintenance trail system that provides local residents with recreational access to observe wildlife and enjoy the landscape. As part of the trail system, a wooden boardwalk was constructed across a narrow wetland area. The project provides opportunities for interpretative signage and other educational features, which nearby schools can use for outdoor education.