NE CASC Stakeholder Outreach and Science Planning Meetings: Minnesota

January 17-18, 2013:  University of Minnesota


Executive Synopsis

by Meeting Facilitators from the Keystone Center


This was the second of two stakeholders meetings held at opposite ends of the Department of Interior Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NE CASC) geographic region (the first took place a week earlier in Massachusetts January 9-10, 2013). 

The meeting attracted over 70 participants, including representatives from, among others, USGS regional leadership, the Climate Change and Land Use Mission Area, the Wisconsin Water Science Center, (a PI for one of the 2012 projects), NOAA, Forest Service, various states, tribes, Sea Grant, forestry interest, urban interests, several Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (coordinators from the Plains and Prairie Potholes, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, Eastern Tall Grass Prairie and Big Rivers, and Gulf Plains and Ozarks), western Consortium members (University of Wisconsin, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, and  the College of the Menominee Nation, Wisconsin.)

The meeting began with welcomes from: NE CASC Director, Dr. Mary Ratnaswamy; Dr. Shawn Carter, Chief Scientist, NCCWWC; the host, Dr. Tony D’Amoto of the University of Minnesota, and USGS Midwest Regional Director, Dr. Leon Carl. The remainder of the meeting focused on gathering input from stakeholders on the key science topics/priorities under seven theme areas identified in the NE CASC draft science agenda.  Input was gathered primarily in small groups, contextualized by earlier presentations of each theme by a team: a scientist and recipient of the science. Day one small groups discussed all three cross-cutting themes: (#1-Climate change assessment and projections for decision making by resource managers; #6-Impacts of climate change on cultural resources; and #7-Decision frameworks for evaluating risk and managing natural resources under climate change;, and an additional topic focused upon needs and suggestions for communicating with and from NE CASC.  During day two, participants selected one of four theme small group concurrent discussions: #2-Climate impacts on freshwater resources and ecosystems; #3-Coastal and near-shore response to climate change, including Great Lakes; #4-Climate impacts on land use and land cover; or #5 Ecosystem vulnerability and species response to climate change.

The energy and interest during discussions resulted in many insightful recommendations and observations from the small groups and in plenary sessions. Uncertainty and risk was raised many times with participants noting both the difference between them and the need to understand each to make decisions. Including the human dimension crossed all theme areas from the perspectives of both impacts “to” and impacts “from”. Moreover, participants noted the need to tailor communication methods and decision frameworks to specific identified audiences.


Some salient points by theme include:

Theme 1: Climate change assessment and projections for decision making by resource managers. Important factors and priorities include applicability to managers and at the right scale (regional or finer), clarifying the degree of uncertainty and risk, and the need to link stakeholders, managers and modelers. A recommended starting point may be to develop guidance to help managers make decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

Theme 2: Climate impacts on freshwater resources and ecosystems. This theme links to theme #5 (Ecosystem vulnerability). There needs to be research on the tension between the human impacts, water supply needs and ecosystem needs. This is incredibly broad theme from small scale (e.g., tributaries, wetlands to large scale (e.g., Mississippi River Basin). It was suggested to start research by modeling hydrologic flow regimes (how much rain/snow) to capture the salient local heterogeneity resulting from climate change at large scales.  Participants also suggested quantifying impacts of climate change on water resources, including interactions and uncertainties between human activities and ecosystems.

Theme 3: Coastal and near-shore response to climate change, including Great Lakes. This theme needs to be explicit in addressing the distinct impacts and needs of saltwater coasts and freshwater/inner coasts (e.g. Great Lakes). The priority of participants was the human dimension - impacts on human infrastructure (nearby major cities), economics, safe tourism/uses, and human migration/population patterns. Also important was to understand lake and sea level variability and the human and ecological impacts. This data would help planning for extreme events as well as how an event may change the system.  In order to help focus NE CASC efforts, research should start with the vulnerable human and aquatic populations and impacts to economy including seasonal effects upon tourism/recreation, characterize the effects of ice variability and model the salt and fresh water systems to see if they respond similarly or differently.

Theme 4: Climate impacts on land use and land cover. This theme needs to cover all land uses including forestry and agriculture; even highly managed ecosystems, such as agricultural landscapes, are vital for protecting water, air and other physical resources for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife as well as for humans. Research should include science, policy, socio-economics and human behavior (human components are important in this populated region). It is important to identify land uses, places that are most vulnerable, rates of change, types of change and link that data to adaptation strategies for land owners and tribes. Start with identifying which is optimal – protection or assessment-- and identify minimal thresholds for assuring sustainable landscape and/or ecosystem services.

Theme 5: Ecosystem vulnerability and species response to climate change. Monitoring, while not specifically a task for the NE CASC, is important and the Center needs to use existing monitoring networks (e.g., Breeding Bird Surveys). High priorities included:  vulnerability assessments for species, populations and ecosystems; identifying winner and losers; identifying management approaches with spatially explicit models. Start research by listing resilient ecosystems, conducting connectivity studies and vulnerability assessments focused on ecosystem function and making all data easily available. The focus should be upon ecosystems because this would allow for more effective management of many species and models to inform natural resource managers/decision makers about significant vulnerabilities.

Theme 6: Impacts of climate change on cultural resources. This was a controversial topic, centering on defining the term “cultural resources” which can be broad in certain contexts (e.g. traditions, stories, subsistence, archeological sites and artifacts); it must be defined and a focus chosen. It is important to increase use of traditional ecological knowledge across all themes. The NE CASC geography covers the greatest population of any CASC and contains natural and cultural resources especially vulnerable to climate change (e.g. urban heat islands impact on nature, drought revealing artifacts). There was an interest in maintaining the tribal emphasis and to seek preservation of particularly vulnerable archeological resources.

Theme 7: Decision frameworks for evaluating risk and managing natural resources under climate change. Participants agreed that structured decision-making is not the only approach; there may be more organic responses influenced by the resource and processes it means to address. It is important to know the audience (where and what level) address uncertainty and include the human dimension. This is not just about gathering the right data, but also explaining the methodology and use.