- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

CLEARWATER, Minn. (AP) - Cardinals tuck into the dark wall of Norway spruce, finding shelter in the tall trees. Prickly, round seed balls dangle from a slender sycamore like tiny Christmas ornaments. A dawn redwood, native to China and found in fossil records dating back about 150 million years, drops flat rust-colored needles on the deep March snow.

When Steve and Jeanne Dirksen moved onto 40 acres outside Clearwater in the early 1970s, the yard was a cornfield and the 20-acre woods held a lot of oaks.

“There were two stunted little bur oaks in the middle of the field, in the middle of a rock pike,” Steve Dirksen said during a recent walk-through that was a bit like flipping through a field guide. He pointed to European horse chestnut, whose showy buds more than compensate for the large, prickly seed pods that follow. Firs, pines, ornamentals, berry producers, shade trees.

“At the time, I wasn’t trying to prepare myself for anything. On trips to Missouri and Iowa I would see trees that were absolutely gorgeous,” Dirksen told the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1jyHlUc).

Many of the 40-plus planted species are strictly for enjoyment. But it turns out some of the seedlings collected from southern latitudes might be more likely to survive a warming climate.

A trained forester whose philosophy is tempered by his role as a volunteer Minnesota Master Naturalist, Dirksen takes a different approach with his 28-acre forest. There, he plants native species more likely to adapt because their natural range extends farther south.

“The biggest thing that we don’t know is what is natural. We only know what we see. It’s only been 10,000 years since the last glacier’s retreat. If nature can take care of itself without our help, I don’t see a reason why we have to help nature,” Dirksen said. “The other side of it is, I will help with nature for my own pleasure.”

Some scientists predict Minnesota in 100 years will look more like Kansas, with the dominant trees species becoming those that we’re more likely to see now in our river bottoms - things such as silver maples, willows, cottonwoods, hackberries.

The June 2012 Climate Central report “The Heat Is On: U.S. Temperature Trends” stated Minnesota’s climate has warmed about 0.23 of a degree per decade during the past 100 years. Since 1970, the rate has been 0.62 of a degree per decade - partly because the ‘70s were cooler than average, partly because the past 20 years have been warmer than the long-term average.

The Nature Conservancy’s Climate Wizard, which is based on weather-station data, found the biggest changes occurred in the form of increased precipitation and warmer winters.

“I think that people are a little bit overwhelmed by the enormity of climate change, and they don’t necessarily know how to tackle such a big question and how to prepare for it,” said Leslie Brandt, St. Paul-based climate specialist with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science.

Convincing people that climate change is real is one thing her colleague, Stephen Handler, a Houghton, Mich.-based climate change specialist with NIACS, does not do. Instead, he works with forest owners and land managers to put information into practice.

“What’s at risk and what can we do to start adapting and preparing?” Handler said. “That’s what we focus on.”

He usually starts by prompting landowners to ask some of the questions Dirksen already has answered.

“Figure out what’s important to you and what sort of values you want your woods to provide for the long term. Once you have a good picture of that, then there’s going to be some adaptation choices that will make sense for you. That’s not saying that it’s a guarantee.”

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