Things Change


Minnesota’s northwoods could look different with a changing climate

Have you ever seen an opossum with frostbite? I spent one summer working at a wildlife park in northern Wisconsin, during which time I became adept at handling these slow-moving marsupials by the tail so as to avoid being defecated on…repeatedly. Like monkeys, they use their strong, hairless tails to hang upside down and move gracefully across tree branches. Unfortunately, however, opossums weren’t designed for life in Minnesota. Native to the southeastern United States, opossums have migrated west and north over the years, following manmade roads, bridges and ditches, as well as warmer weather. Though they’re able to eke out a living, most don’t survive more than one winter in the north woods and almost all suffer from frostbite on the tips of their poor, hairless tails.    

Ecological shifts are happening within our plant communities as well in response to warmer weather, different rainfall patterns, and pressure from new insect and animal species. Unable to pull up their roots and migrate north like the opossum, trees and other plants are particularly vulnerable to new stressors. Biologists predict that birches, firs and spruce in Minnesota will suffer massive diebacks in the next century and that the range for black spruce could shift 300 miles north into upper Manitoba.

The 2014 Wild Ones Design with Nature Conference, to be held on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Plymouth, will explore the concept of “EcoShifting,” a term used to describe the relatively rapid changes we are seeing in ecological communities in response to climate change and human influences. Guest speakers will offer advice on how we can respond to these shifts now that water and soil resources are increasingly impacted and plants, animals, insects and diseases are moving out of their native territories. Far from being a doom and gloom discussion, however, these speakers will also share their own experiences with integrating adaptability and ecology into natural landscapes to create spaces that are not just functional, but also beautiful.

Keynote speaker Lisa Lee Benjamin, founder of environmental design and consulting firm Evo Catalyst, divides her time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Switzerland, where she shares her inspiration as a guest lecturer at several Zurich Universities. She will talk about the small things that people can do to live more harmoniously with the natural environment, as well as conscious and responsible choices we can make for both immediate and long-term benefit.

Also speaking will be Mark Seeley, the well-known Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist that soothes us with his low rumbling voice on our drives into work. Seeley will present evidence for climate change and its consequences, both globally and locally. Later in the afternoon, Douglas Owens-Pike, founder of EneryScapes, a local landscape design firm promoting ecologically based practices, will talk about xeriscaping for our changing Midwest climate. He will offer suggestions on how to save on irrigation by clustering plants with similar moisture requirements, and will identify those plants that have shown the best resilience to recent extreme heat and drought conditions.

Conference admission includes buffet lunch and afternoon dessert. Wild Ones members $50; non-members $55; full-time students $25. Tickets are $60 after February 7. Registration closes February 17 or when spaces are filled. To register, visit, or for more information, email or call 612-293-3833.