Scientists are planting 50K trees to help MN's forests survive climate change

It's an effort to make sure there are always pine trees in Minnesota's forests.
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There's an effort to make sure there are always pine trees in Minnesota's forests, even as the climate changes.

Coniferous trees like spruce, pine and tamarack thrive in colder, wetter climates. But as the average annual temperature continues to rise, and Minnesota gets warmer and drier, these species of trees may not make it.

There's already evidence they're dying. These trees used to make up 70 percent of northeastern Minnesota's forests, but now it's only about half of that figure, The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota said in an email news release.

"When you look at northern Minnesota, you don’t think of oak and maple trees," Eli Sagor, Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative manager at the University of Minnesota, said in a statement. "You think about spruce and pine, the iconic giant red pines and white pines."

What they're doing about it

To make sure these trees are around in the future, The Nature Conservancy is planting 50,000 seedlings both this spring and next year.

But it's more complicated than just planting a bunch of trees. The conservancy has found what it calls "conifer strongholds" – about 30 areas (they range from 5-70 acres) that give conifers the best chance to survive in future generations.

That's because these strongholds have been historically cooler, or aren't warming as quickly as the rest of northern Minnesota.

"One of the goals of the project is to really shift people’s thinking about conifer planting practices from single species to mixtures of three or more. Planting for diversity can enhance the adaptability of conifer strongholds," Meredith Cornett, of The Nature Conservancy, Minnesota, said in a statement.

This project is supported by a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society, and The Nature Conservancy says the work could be a model for saving needled trees in Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada.

Why we need conifers

Not only are giant pine trees an iconic symbol of northern Minnesota, but they're important both ecologically and economically.

These trees help remove carbon from the atmosphere, as well as provide a habitat for many animals, especially migratory songbirds, owls and moose. The Nature Conservancy says conifer-dependent wildlife has declined as the number of conifer trees has gone down.

They're also important in the forest industry. Conifers are used as pulpwood and sawlogs, among other things.

To read more about Minnesota's forests and what The Nature Conservancy is doing to preserve them, click here.

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