Despite the fact that the final day of the Itasca County Climate Dialogue fell on a Saturday, participants reconvened refreshed and excited to synthesize the information they had gathered over the first two days. Days one and two of the Dialogue were information-heavy, presenting the participants with local experts who provided information on climate impacts. Day three, however, was exclusively for discussion and deliberation.
The goal of the day was for participants to streamline the information they had received over the first two days into a digestible report that they could share with the rest of the community. This report would include the top challenges, opportunities, and actions for Itasca County to address climate impacts, as identified by the participants. After several hours of voting, wordsmithing, and debating the information they had gathered, participants had honed in on their decisions.
Top challenges identified for Itasca County were:
- Extreme temperature variations and severe flooding conditions reduce the life of capital assets and increase operational disruptions for public infrastructure. We need to consider new design standards for our storm water systems to address larger precipitation events and new regulations. There are significant economic costs associated with future designs.
- We need to emphasize management of natural resources from a long-term perspective (such as 50 years or more) and use a systems approach (recognizing that everything is interrelated) to more effectively manage and protect natural resources.
- Storm water runoff can increase sediment and phosphorus load in waterways, which can reduce water quality.
Top opportunities identified for Itasca County were:
- We can manage forests so that they’re more adaptable for changing conditions:
- Manage forests for diversity so that they contain their full array of native tree species, some of which may be adapted to future climate conditions and evaluate tree species southwest of the Itasca area for suitability to future climate conditions.
- Thinning overly dense pine forests on a regular basis can increase soil moisture and tree growth, to improve pine resistance and resilience against drought and to produce a marketable supply of good-sized pines to timber mills.
- Address the potential loss of ash trees (due to Emerald Ash Borer) by managing forests to ensure growth of new species, using small patch cutting to create suitable habitat for new species and by evaluating the species best suited to replace ash trees.
- Information is power. We can ensure information is accessible. Decision-makers at all levels – including individuals government, and businesses – need to be informed and engaged concerning how changes in climate affect our natural resources and economy. It’s important to adapt present practices based on new information.
- We can accept changes to natural systems and change the way we manage these systems. Move natural resource management into a long-term planning and sustainability mode, which includes empowering citizen interests in the planning process and being adaptive but realistic about changes.
Top individual actions identified for citizens of Itasca County were:
- Actions by individuals add up! We can insulate our homes, use efficient bulbs and appliances, use solar power, travel by bike, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, travel less, increase energy efficiency, and pursue alternative energy sources.
- We can change the way we manage our individual properties to protect wildlife habitat and water quality.
- Create more natural or wild areas so that birds and insects have more habitat.
- Build birdhouses to provide habitat for birds.
- Leave dead trees and snags on our property (if they don’t threaten our structures).
- Plant flowers and native plants on our property (without diminishing our property values).
- Plant early blooming plants on our property to provide more food sources for insects.
- Encourage attitude shifts away from highly manicured “Home and Garden Magazine” lawns (which remove habitat for insects and birds and add carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to maintain) to “wilder” properties.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides to protect insects.
- Raise our own bees.
- Address storm water runoff and noncompliant septic systems (if you own waterfront property).
- We can participate in public decision making meetings related to our infrastructure systems. Get involved by asking what you can do on your property to address storm water and infrastructure issues. To understand and be involved in managing our public infrastructure, we can get educated on local regulations, the latest research and trends, and the consequences of pursuing different public policies, and we can share knowledge with our friends, peers, and neighbors.
By the end of the day, participants voiced a sense of accomplishment about having come together with their neighbors to create a document of actionable steps to empower their community to act on climate change. One participant said, “I look at the last three days as hopefully a new beginning for this information to get out there for the general public. We have a lot of education that needs to be done in the community and surrounding areas. I’m glad I got to be a part of this.”