Scientists Planting 400 Acres Of Minnesota Pines To Survive Climate Change

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If you want to plant a pine tree that might survive the climate upheavals that are already remaking northern Minnesota’s boreal forest, where should it go?

If you want to plant a pine tree that might survive the climate upheavals that are already remaking northern Minnesota’s boreal forest, where should it go?

Scientists from the Nature Conservancy and elsewhere now think they know. This summer they’re embarking on a project to plant 400 acres with cold-loving evergreens like jack pine and tamarack in carefully selected “conifer strongholds” — places that they predict will stay cooler or wetter or have better soil, increasing the chances that a few of each species will survive for the next generation as Minnesota grows warmer.

“We are trying to get us in better shape for the centuries to come,” said Meredith Cornett, a forest scientist with the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota who is heading up the project.

The aim is to preserve northern forest species — not just the trees but also the mosaic of plants and animals that rely on them — to maintain biodiversity.

Both will be exceedingly difficult thanks to a double whammy of the region’s past and its future.

Conifers like white and jack pine, white cedar, and tamarack once made up two-thirds of Minnesota’s northern forest. But thanks to logging, development and the deer that followed both, they’ve declined to about half, and aspen have become just as common as conifers.

Now, climate change is forcing a different kind of evolution on the southern, most vulnerable, edge of the boreal forest. The giant, long-living pines are disappearing, replaced by more southern species like red maple as tree species across the country move in response to rapid changes in temperature and moisture brought on by 100 years of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere.

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