Minnesota drought affecting local plant life

The recent climate change has brought about tough times for Minnesota’s indigenous trees, causing concern that the changing face of Minnesota may not include the endangered trees.

Cody Vanasse

The abnormally early snowfall may be disappointing for some, but University of Minnesota professor of urban and community forestry Gary Johnson said the snow has come at a beneficial time for trees. Indigenous Minnesota trees and plant life, Johnson said, are suffering from their sixth year of drought, potentially caused by climate change, generating concern that weakening Minnesota plant species will suffer. Johnson warns that if this pattern of dryness continues through the winter, Minnesota will see increased dieback of sensitive indigenous trees such as sugar maples, oaks and balsam firs. Winter weather chemicals also threaten plant life. The salt used as a deicing agent can seep into soils and damage root systems, as well as land on buds and twigs when slush is sprayed from passing cars, Johnson said. This creates a âÄúdead zoneâÄù that can be seen in areas around streets and sidewalks, especially where salt-plowed snowbanks melt and seeps into the soil. âÄúWe try to do as much mechanical snow removal as possible,âÄù University Grounds Superintendent Les Potts said. Other measures Potts said the University takes are using less harmful pretreatments, combining ice with beet juice to reduce salt amounts and planting more resistant plants along walkways. Johnson speculated that climate change has been cause for the unusual drought and subsequent effects on trees. Center for Hardwood Ecology Director Lee Frelich said she believes that in an extreme situation, Minnesota could be in danger of losing virtually all of its forests. The changing ecosystem could mean lower costs for Minnesotans to heat their homes in warm weather, but it could also mean less wood for fires and suffering areas of recreation. Johnson said students can help prevent tree dieback and climate change by planting rooftop gardens, watering plants and trees in times of droughts, by avoiding walking on sloped areas, which can contribute to erosion, and by shoveling snow instead of using salts.