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Backpacker Magazine – September 2007

Minnesota's Boundary Waters Face Extermination By Climate Change

As temperatures rise, Minnesota's North Woods will likely go up in smoke.

by: Gustave Axelson

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5
Boundary Waters, Courtesy of Explore Minnesota Tourism
Boundary Waters, Courtesy of Explore Minnesota Tourism

A longer growing season is not good for this tree, Frelich explained, because it goes hand-in-hand with warmer soil temperatures. And paper birches, which range from here to Alaska, can't tolerate warm soil.

That's why paper birches are among the species that Frelich says will migrate from the Boundary Waters entirely if, as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts, average global temps rise another 2 to 11.5°F by 2100. Other trees in Frelich's climate-change dead pool include balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce, jack pine, and red pine. That's nearly every species for miles around. Take those trees away, and this forest is rendered unrecognizable as North Woods.

"If the trend continues, Boundary Waters is going to lose the boreal forest as we know it," Frelich said as he poked around the campsite. "I don't see any way around it."

After a dinner of campfire-grilled steaks (packed frozen and thawed on our first day's journey), I proposed a sunset hike. Behind our campsite in one of Frelich's research plots, we walked past a waist-high grove of birch saplings regenerating after a prescribed burn in 2002. Those saplings, Frelich said, have the best chance of adapting to a warmer 21st century. That's because most boreal trees release seeds every time the forest burns, and the seeds that succeed become new trees that are genetically coded to cope with the climate they're born into.

Climbing up a ridge, I scrambled across pink granite boulders unearthed by a fire that burned away the soil. At the top, I hopped from boulder to boulder above the tiny birches. The setting sun painted distant granite outcroppings a radiant rouge. My eyes told me I was somewhere out West, maybe Utah's redrock country. Then a moose sauntered out of a black spruce bog in a draw that had escaped the flames, and my mind snapped back to Minnesota. She climbed the ridge, glanced back, dipping her bulbous brown nose to give her eyes an unimpeded view, then disappeared down the other side.

I took a closer look at the ground. Vigorous, nascent blueberry bushes, a few ankle-high spruces, and several jack pine seedlings were poking up: boreal forest reborn, at least for now.

MORNING BROKE ON DAY TWO with a calm that had us scrambling into the canoe to take advantage of the flat water. We paddled to another research plot a bit farther down Three Mile Island–a grove of ancient, if stunted, northern white cedars.

The canoe nudged ashore near trees that Frelich dated at 550 years old. Their granddaddy–a cedar estimated at 1,000 years old, quite possibly Minnesota's oldest tree–stood a few feet inland. Only about 25 feet tall, its bark was a weathered and gray, with a hole in the trunk that reminded me of the agonized face in Edvard Munch's Scream.

This plot is important for Frelich's research. These cedar trees could be the future of the Boundary Waters, because they are one of the area's few native trees that could prosper in a warmer climate. All across northern Minnesota, however, white-tailed deer keep white cedars from branching out across the landscape in a classic climate-change domino effect: Milder winters allow more deer to survive and propagate in spring. The deer (whose population is at an all-time high) need to eat, so they munch the cedar saplings. And the cedars take a big hit. Now deer are encroaching on the BWCAW, where 150 years ago they were rare and caribou (now gone) were common.

Soon we were off to another plot on nearby Eagle's Nest Island, which was scorched last year when the Cavity Lake fire burned more than 30,000 acres of forest. The standing dead trees sport black, bubbled bark the texture of burnt wheat toast. Poking around, Frelich found new life. He pointed to fresh shoots of liverwort, a plant with bright green sprigs that belie its pallid-sounding name. But his explanation of their role in a resurgent post-fire forest is suddenly interrupted. Three planes roar low overhead, our first indication that there is a problem very close by.


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HikeTripper
Jul 07, 2011

Global Warming is happening no matter what we do. But, there is no reason we need to speed up the progress. I think some of you that have read this article to quickly jump to just global warming, but missed over the invading species. Some of you donít want to be responsible for your own messes, and thatís fine but keep it in your own home or backyard. How pissed would you be if your neighbor came over to your home had a party and didnít clean up the mess. Think about how that affects you. Know think about you going up to the BWCAW and not following ďleave no trace actĒ. You bring an apple on the trail; eat it down to the pit, and discard of it along the trail. That apple tree can possibly invade and destroy that single ecosystem. Add the effect of a changing climate and pooofff! There we go. So, clean up your mess at home and in the backcountry.

I donít know how many times one person has to state that yes global warming will happen with or without humans in the picture but itís not that global warming exists itís the rate at which it is progressing. Those of us that do understand the effects of global warming do expect everyone to live like a caveman. Well, some do, but to me thatís absurd. Recycle, choose a cleaner more renewable resource like solar or wind to replace not all but at least some of the energy that we use energy, and clean up your mess in the backcountry. We have the tech to run on clean energy, but to many of you have to fight the movement for cleaner energy. If itís not for the fact that you do or donít understand the effects of global warming, Join the movement to save money on energy generate more jobs for us Americans, to clean the pollutants that cause toxic rain and the destruction of the ozone and stop your constant bitching on how we are trying to convert you into cave dweller, and if you canít finish a single mag of backpacker without pulling your hair out. Stop reading it, and move on. So what, we care about conserving, and you don't. Don't rain on our trip.

HikeTripper
Jul 07, 2011

Global Warming is happening no matter what we do. But, there is no reason we need to speed up the progress. I think some of you that have read this article to quickly jump to just global warming, but missed over the invading species. Some of you donít want to be responsible for your own messes, and thatís fine but keep it in your own home or backyard. How pissed would you be if your neighbor came over to your home had a party and didnít clean up the mess. Think about how that affects you. Know think about you going up to the BWCAW and not following ďleave no trace actĒ. You bring an apple on the trail; eat it down to the pit, and discard of it along the trail. That apple tree can possibly invade and destroy that single ecosystem. Add the effect of a changing climate and pooofff! There we go. So, clean up your mess at home and in the backcountry.

I donít know how many times one person has to state that yes global warming will happen with or without humans in the picture but itís not that global warming exists itís the rate at which it is progressing. Those of us that do understand the effects of global warming do expect everyone to live like a caveman. Well, some do, but to me thatís absurd. Recycle, choose a cleaner more renewable resource like solar or wind to replace not all but at least some of the energy that we use energy, and clean up your mess in the backcountry. We have the tech to run on clean energy, but to many of you have to fight the movement for cleaner energy. If itís not for the fact that you do or donít understand the effects of global warming, Join the movement to save money on energy generate more jobs for us Americans, to clean the pollutants that cause toxic rain and the destruction of the ozone and stop your constant bitching on how we are trying to convert you into cave dweller, and if you canít finish a single mag of backpacker without pulling your hair out. Stop reading it, and move on. So what, we care about conserving, and you don't. Don't rain on our trip.

KK
Jul 13, 2009

It is evidence of the profound scientific illiteracy in this country that there is such disbelieve that our manmade inputs have an influence. You can't do something and not expect it to have an impact. The laws of entropy define that. Why in the world has this become a political statement or an ethical perspective when science has already defined it as a cause and effect. How hard can it be???

Dennis Dumm
Apr 24, 2008

Steve,
Where in this article did you read that some "moron who doesn't belong in the woods" started a forest fire? I thought that the writer was stating that it was simply early in the year for the conditions to be right for a large fire.
I also wonder where you learned this interesting fact about Mars having global warming. News to me. Was it something that you gleamed from Rush's radio show? Get with the program, even Bush has admitted that the greenhouse effect is man made. WHat are you some kind of backwoods hold out?

PUH-LEEEEEZE!!!!!!!

Matt Ihnken
Apr 12, 2008

Climate do change over time, but these changes happen over tens or hundreds of thousands of years. The change that we see in the Boundary Waters has happened over a single lifetime. It's this rapid change that is unprecedented and can not be explained by the natural climate cycle. And it is changing wilderness areas all over the country not just in Minnesota.

Austin Nichols
Apr 10, 2008

Isn't it possible that even if global warming isn't man made or that we therefore have no control over it, that is still happening and that the good professor is right on? Boundary Waters is a wonderful place and I would hate to see it disappear regardless of the reasons.

Steve Clothier
Apr 10, 2008

Let me get this straight- some moron who doesn't belong in any woods started a forest fire because "global warming" made it possible for wood to burn? PUH-LEEZ!!
The globe may be warming, but so is Mars. I'm pretty sure that's not because of Martian SUV's or fossil fuels.

David L. Meara
Apr 10, 2008

What incredible drivel! Please, please, please excercise some editorial control on this nonsense. Ecosystems change all the time. 10,000 years ago this area was covered by 1,000+ ft of ice. And to blithley ascribe a seasonal fluctuation to global warming is simpley silly.

Tim
Apr 03, 2008

Lake Elmo:
The difference is I want it to be my choice to reduce my impact, not some member of the Imperial Federal Government forcing me to get rid of my incandescent lights (coming in 2010, BTW). Feel free to reduce your CO2 emissions (hold your breath, for starters) and your use of fossil fuels, just don't force me to do it.

Mikie Granberg
Mar 31, 2008

Here we go again, another magazine spewing the therory of "Global Warming", when in fact the climate is going through a normal climatic cycle, just like it has done for century's. Stick to what you do best, and quit spreading fear of a junk science called "Global Warming". Where are all of these people in their theroy's durning February in Minnesota when it's 20 below?

Pilgrim
Mar 27, 2008

Realist is right: there's no shame in admitting you've been wrong. But there's a LOT of pride that gets in the way:

<a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88520025">NPR on Global Warming's current absenteeism</a>

A lot of pride, and a lot of grant money. A LOT of money.

The mainstream consensus is based on flawed and failed theories about sustainability, theories that fueled the Margaret Sanger eugenics and ethnic cleansing types in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and which continue to fuel those who believe they, through government, can run your life better than you can. And if these sorts can get the public frightened and feeling guilty about something, they can in turn offer safety and absolution in exchange for more wealth and power.

And they must ridicule dissension. Marginalize the minority reports.

I hope the hand-wringing will end soon. It's hard to make it through a BACKPACKER magazine without wanting to pull out my hair.

lake elmo cyclist
Mar 19, 2008

If we are wrong about the effects of CO2 on the climate, and we change our ways as though it does cause climate change what is the worst that could happen? Less CO2, longer lasting fossil fuels, and more chance to be prepared when they inevitably run out. If the opposite scenario plays out i.e. ignore what seems to be convincing evidence and continue in our ways, the results could be devastating to many species including ours. The climate is changing faster than the natural systems can accomodate using feedback and buffering or natural selection.

Joshua Trost
Mar 19, 2008

Ignore the ravings of the climate change deniers; these flat-landers are the remnants of the well-funded corporate propagandists who've spent the last 20 years saturating the media landscape with bogus pseudo-science and doubt. The scientific community is united in the reality of Global Warming.

The BWCAW, to anyone who's spent significant time there over the past decade or more, is clearly suffering the impacts of a changing climate, and it is tragic.

Visit http://www.theclimateproject.org if you would like to find a free presentation by a trained volunteer in your area.

Realist
Mar 18, 2008

Very uneducated discussion. Who will stand up and say to my face "Correlation most certainly implies causation." Aside from Al Gore. Just because Al Gore spends 2 hours telling you that correlation implies causation doesn't make it so. Raise your hand if you've heard of the Milankovitch Cycles or even the scientist himself. Right. Look it up. Right now the argument for man made global warming is as follows: CO2 levels have gone up. Temperature has gone up. Therefore it is the CO2 that has caused the temperature to go up. Too bad this makes a total mockery of the scientific method which is responsible for all of the knowledge we have that allows our society to function. If the global warming screamers ran the show we'd still be clubbing each other over the best cave sites.
Please don't shoot your mouth off if you have no idea what you're talking about and your knowledge comes entirely from the mass media driven consensus. "Scientists all agree that global warming is anthropogenic." Name them. Who is responsible for melting the glaciers that were a mile thick where I'm sitting 14,000 years ago? George Bush? Please.
This is all so that carbon can be commodified and controlled and traded by large corporations. Like Al Gore who has well known ties to the petroleum industry and who will surely get in on the carbon trading scam on the ground floor. We need to reduce SO2 and mercury post haste. CO2 is not toxic, why is there no outcry about fish being inedible because of mercury from coal burning plants? Because the media has been able to ditract you with nonsense and kindergarten logic.
This is the boy who cried wolf. The whole environmental movement is threatened by these shills. Once people realize the truth, the public will lose faith in environmentalists and won't believe them when a real problem occurs. There's no shame in admitting being wrong, admitting that you've been misinformed. The environmental movement is at a critical make or break point, and the global warming nonsense threatens to bring it crashing down from the inside.

B. Sweet
Mar 18, 2008

How you are all blind to the evidence that is in front of you is beyond me. Global warming is occurring and it is anthropogenic. It is true that the earth goes through cyclic periods of warming and cooling but to view the present temperature changes as purely part of that cycle is idiotic as the current trends of warming and carbon dioxide accumulation greatly surpass anything seen in the geologic paleoclimatic data. Even the untrained scientist can surely see that the huge output of waste coming from an ever growing human population must have adverse effects on the global environment. Although I must agree it is wasteful for everyone to dump old gear for new ďgreenĒ gear I do not see how the production of new ďgreenĒ gear is more wasteful. By definition the ďgreenĒ gear is more environmentally friendly i.e. it is recyclable, uses less resources or carries a lesser carbon footprint. And since companies are obviously going to continue producing merchandise would it not also obviously be LESS WASTEFUL for them to create products that use fewer resources. ďBy the way, carbon dioxide levels have been as much as 5 times higher than they are currently and we are still here. Imagine that.Ē Although this fact is true it fails to mention that this actually occurred millions of years before the first humans even existed and that the concentration fell to pre-industrial levels before we appeared. Levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere have grown by roughly 35% since pre- industrial revolution levels, the parallels between rising Carbon Dioxide levels and rising global temperatures are clearly known. As for the Boundary waters wilderness and all others for that matter the future doesnít look too bright if we do not change. One can only hope we can come together and preserve our world and the natural beauty it holds.

Keep trekking.

Michael Eads
Mar 16, 2008

It's easy to see why many mags & bisinesses are hopping on the global warming bandwagon. Every product in the mag has gone "green". Every page is full of buy the next "green gear" product. How many people will discard a perfectly good piece of equip. to be in style with the latest in "green gear". Look at the waste this causes and the resources we waste making all this new gree gear.
Is the Earth going thru a warming cycle? YES! WHY? Manmade? NO! Scientist tell me the Earth is closer to the Sun than in thousands of years. Could this possibly be one reason we are warmer? Manmade? Absolutely NOT! How arrogant of us to think we can affect global warming, in either direction. If by the slighest possibility it was manmade, do you REALLY believe the GOVERNMENT could fix it. PLEASE!
Look at it this way. The more carbon dixocide, the better the plants will grow and the more oxygen they will produce. By the way, carbon dixoide levels have been as much as 5 times higher than they are currently and we are still here. Imagine that.

Perry S.
Mar 14, 2008

Why does it seem everything points to global warming? Too Hot... Global Warming! Too Cold... Global warming! Too many people... Global Warming! Cow's methaine gas... Global Warming! Tree sprouting too soon or too late... global warming! Ice too thick... Global warming! I just sneezed.... Yep, global warming!

Cory M
Mar 10, 2008

Interesting article. Considering I am from Minnesota, and I heard a news report this morning that the Minnesota ice thickness was over 40" on northern lakes. This causes the fish to suffocate and die off, so the DNR is opening up liberal fishing practices to offset the aeration problems. This winter has been unusually brutal for cold temperatures.

Global warming must be to blame for this thick ice problem too. Blaming forest fires on global warming? Please! Lets keep topics in perspective instead of jumping on the bandwagon of 'fashionable world problems du jour'.

Urban sprawl, and our obsession of putting out forest fires prematurely. Our habits for forest management is creating old growth time bombs waiting for the next irresponsible camper.

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