Building Resilience To Climate Change


Today, hundreds of thousands of young people walked out of their schools to strike against climate change. Around the world, there are higher highs and lower lows, bigger storms, and historic floods. Our small stretch of the Mississippi River isn’t immune to this worldwide crisis. 

By the end of the fall, we will be growing more than half of the 15,000 trees that we set as a goal for our Plant for the Future Campaign. With partners from the National Park Service, the University of Minnesota, the University of Colorado, and city and county land managers inside the park boundaries, we are working to reforest gaps in the tree canopy caused by emerald ash borer. The ash root systems are important to the floodplain forest because they hold together sandy soils and limit erosion along the river. Other species, like cottonwood, help mitigate flooding by storing hundreds of gallons of flood water in their trunks until water levels decrease. When we reforest the park, we choose tree species that are more likely to survive for the long haul, given the warmer, wetter, climates that we anticipate experiencing in the next 25, 50, and 100 years due to climate change. 

Before a single tree goes into the ground, we give it the best chance of survival. Trees are planted in the spring in community tree nurseries at partner sites around the city like The Raptor Center and the Science Museum of MN to bolster their root systems. The nurseries increase each individual tree’s resilience to drought. When trees are then transplanted to the river in the fall, we install a tube or fence around it to prevent hungry deer from eating the tender saplings.

Site locations for the trees’ “forever homes” are chosen based on the individual species and the surrounding soil and canopy conditions. Areas with gaps in the canopy make for good locations because they let in sunlight to help new saplings grow strong quickly. After trees are planted, our Mississippi River Conservation Corps Crew returns to water and weed several times during the season. We are revisiting planting sites for at least three years to monitor and maintain the young trees.

When the flooding this spring started, we could not have imagined that the river would remain above flood stage in Saint Paul for 42 days, blasting the previous record of 33 days out of the water (literally). It seems that this pattern will continue, making flood mitigation through reforestation all the more important in keeping our park healthy and our city safe.

Growing takes planning. It is easy to plant a tree and walk away, but the chances for success are minimal. In growing, there are more setbacks. Growing takes more time, resources, and support – which means that we will continue to need the help of community even after the trees are planted. Yet it is our community: volunteers, donors, partners, colleagues, and friends that give us hope and help us build our resilience for the work that we have ahead of us. 

We support the students and young people around the world who are dedicated to taking action in the fight against climate change. We share in their commitment to building resilience in the environment for the long haul.