The Grand Portage Reservation is at the northeastern tip of Minnesota. The Air Quality Program has many ongoing projects in order to maintain healthy indoor and outdoor air. These projects include monitoring for regional haze and particulate matter, indoor air quality, invasive plant removal, public outreach, environmental education, alternative energy, and climate change.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Climes They Are A-Changin'...

How will our changing global climate affect Grand Portage?

This is a question that we in the Environmental and Natural Resources departments are trying to answer. Notice that it is no longer a question of if the climate is changing but how much and how fast. The people that know are the ones that are out in the woods and on the waters every day; hunters, fishermen, foresters, gatherers, resource professionals, and anyone else that enjoys being outside and can observe nature. Elders are a particularly good source of information on how plant and animal communities are changing.

I am only in my forties and I have seen major changes in the local climate and ecology. One example is the ice cover on Grand Portage Bay. Back in the 1970's I would watch as great blocks of ice were sawed from the bay, loaded onto trucks parked on the ice, and put up in sawdust to last the summer. The bay would freeze early in winter and stay frozen for weeks. Now the bay hardly freezes long enough to create ice safe enough to skate or snowmobile on, much less park a truck. Recent research at UMD has shown that Lake Superior is warming very rapidly and ice cover is decreasing. Another example is how more southern animals that were unheard of or uncommon here in previous decades are becoming regular sightings. Now we are seeing cardinals, raccoons, wood ticks, and more. I have even heard about opossums being found up near Bemidji and armadillos in Illinois. It is not so much higher daytime high temperatures that are allowing this northward migration as lack of cold enough low temperatures for long enough periods.

More worrying is the plight of our local moose population. Grand Portage is on the southern edge of moose range, and we are already seeing increases in moose mortality. Moose become stressed if summer temperatures get too high, which leaves them less time to forage and build up strength for winter, which leads to them being more vulnerable to winter ticks and predation by wolves. We are monitoring the health and numbers of our moose closely.

Climate change will be a recurring theme on this blog, since it is one of the biggest challenges we and our fellow species face right now. If you know of anyone, particularly elders, who have stories about how the climate is changing and how it used to be please send me an e-mail at or call me at the Trust Lands office - 218-475-2415 ex 35.

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