Forest and Water Climate Adaptation: A Plan for Alger County, Michigan
With over a half of million forested acres and a public land to private land ratio of one to one, Alger County is an area whose economic sustainability relies almost solely on the stewardship of its land and water. Significant decline in water or forest quality will impact more than 20 percent of its labor force. As an area that is already economically depressed, the decline of its natural resource health would prove catastrophic, causing a significant decline to the quality of life for all of its residents - plant, animal, and human - and serve as a large drain on the Upper Peninsula region, the Lake Superior watershed, and the State of Michigan. There is already early evidence of tree species migration. Already endangered species such as the Piping Plover, a migratory bird that nests along the shores of Alger County, will struggle to keep its nesting habitat intact as Lake Superior’s turbidity and wave action increases. Globally, the issue of freshwater quality, water rights and ownership will continue to be one of the largest issues of our time. Climate change only increases the urgency and severity of water issues. Alternative energy and fuel continues to drive geo-political policymaking and several emerging markets. Beyond the SWP and CSU, many other partners and regional agencies supported the creation of this plan:
SWP and the supporting team devoted 10 months in 2011 to conduct an in-depth assessment of the risks and opportunities related to climate change impacts to forest, water and economics of the community.The priority risks identified include:
- Hotter summers with more drought, leading to a decrease in iconic tree species (such as the Sugar Maple, Eastern Hemlock, and Aspen) and an increase in the cost of living through increased energy and water bills, resulting from air conditioner use and lawn and garden irrigation.
- Decreased forest habitat for terrestrial species such as the threatened Gray Wolf and game birds such as Partridge and Grouse.
- Warmer water temperatures, causing a decline of cold water fish species, such as Lake Trout.
- Decreased ice on Lake Superior and inland lakes, negatively impacting the foundation of the freshwater food chain through diminished plankton such as diatoms, and adversely affecting ice fishing, an important component of the winter tourism industry.
- Increased Lake Superior wave energy, making shoreline infrastructure vulnerable to erosion and potentially damaging the habitat of the Piping Plover, an endangered migratory coastal bird.
- Declining winter tourism dollars, as snow-based activities, such as snowmobiling and skiing, diminish due to lack of adequate snow base, and the cancellation of winter festivals such as the UP 200 dog sled race.
- Disruption of human operations due to increased severe storm events including flooding.
Opportunities available through addressing climate change include:
- An extended summer and fall tourism season.
- The manufacturing of locally produced fuel, such as bio-fuels associated with Alger County forest products businesses.
- The protection of high quality rivers, streams, and lakes, providing healthy fish habitats and public use enjoyment and economy.
- The protection of waterfront property as uniform setbacks are created, ensuring the sustainability of development, and the integrity and health of all shoreline species.
- The education of Alger County residents regarding climate change impacts and opportunities to mitigate those impacts by reducing individual carbon footprints.
- The strengthened partnerships of several local agencies and municipalities including the Superior Watershed Partnership, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, U.S. Forest Service, The Forestland Group, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, the Alger County Conservation District, local townships, universities, and school districts.
With this climate action plan, we intend to enhance existing climate change efforts in our region, and to serve as a model for communities around our state and the Lake Superior Watershed.