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Resources for County Soil and Water Conservation Districts

Soil, land, and water conservation districts across the Midwest and Northern forests region are beginning to integrate climate change into near and long-term planning. This process will look different for each organization, and the result of this effort will reflect the focus and values of the conservation organization taking this on. To help with this integration, the Northern Forests Climate Hub has prepared a list of related resources that might serve as a helpful starting point.

This page is split up into four key sections:

  • Understanding the issue

  • Climate change impacts and assessing vulnerability

  • Intentional climate-informed land planning

  • Communication materials

  • Integrating climate and carbon considerations into land stewardship and management activities is not a simple task. Before embarking on this activity, it’s helpful to acquaint oneself with the topics and issues at hand. Find several resources below:

    Learning modules on climate 101, climate effects on forests and carbon, and climate adaptation. NIACS and the USDA Climate change Resource Center created learning modules to help natural resource professionals better understand climate change and climate adaptation topics. These education modules are appropriate for all audiences. Each education module produces a certificate of completion. Prepare for 20-30 minutes of engagement. Find the education modules on the USDA CCRC (external site)

    Find education modules
  • Every location is unique with unique climate change vulnerabilities. County land and water conservation organizations may need to first assess the magnitude of projected change, and the effect this change may have on forests and agricultural areas in their area before taking climate-informed actions. Understanding and evaluating climate change impacts is an important first step in adapting lands to climate change.

    Browse several resources that summarize regional climate change impacts:

    Browse relevant resources for plants, trees, and ecosystems:

    • Ecosystems – Forests vary widely across the region, and vulnerabilities are strongly influenced by regional differences in climate impacts and adaptive capacity. Not all forests are vulnerable; longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures will increase suitable habitat and biomass for many temperate species.

      Learn how climate change can affect forests in the Midwest and Northeast

    • Trees – The Climate Change Atlas can be used to examine the current distribution of tree and bird habitats in the eastern United States, and how these habitat distributions might change in response to different climate scenarios. The USDA Tree Atlas is a great tool to use when developing tree sale or planting lists to identify native tree species better able to tolerate a range of conditions. Lists of synthesized model results describing tree species habitat suitability are available for regions within the Midwest and Northeast. External links:

      Tree habitat suitability lists
      USDA Climate Change Tree Atlas tool

      Conservation Districts can help private landowners begin to identify other considerations that can improve forest health and vigor using regional Climate Scorecards.

      Download a Climate Scorecard for your region

    • Plants – Heat and hardiness zone projections. Climate change is already having substantial effects on natural systems and the benefits they provide. It is important to understand and consider how climate change may intensify through this century in order to prepare for future changes. This application features three metrics that influence plant growth and survival: growing degree days, plant hardiness zones, and heat zones.

      Explore projected changes in heat and hardiness for your region

    • Wetlands – Association of State Wetland Managers and NRCS professional learning series module on Dealing with Changing Weather patterns in Wetland Restoration Planning. This module presents basic vulnerability information, site specific concepts to thinking about climate risks, and adaptation options. Relevant to the Upper Midwest, climate vulnerability assessments for non-forested wetlands and other natural ecosystems are available through the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI). External link is provided below.

      Explore vulnerability assessments for non-forested areas

    • Agriculture – Climate change and agriculture assessments for Midwestern states is coming soon!

  • There are planning tools available to professionals who may want to consider the potential effects of climate change on forests and agricultural lands. Considering climate vulnerability in planning may increase the effectiveness of management actions to sustain ecosystem function for years to come. Taking the time to think through intentional conservation actions that can be taken in response to climate change can help to ensure broader conservation goals and existing management plans are robust and resilient to potential risks. The actions we may decide to take to respond to climate change impacts will be unique and will reflect the goals and values of the landowner. Adaptation decision-support tools can provide a framework to assist practitioners in designing actions that can help ecosystems and farms cope with changing conditions. Find climate adaptation resources relevant to local conservation planning such as adaptation strategies and approaches and the Adaptation Workbook decision-support tool.

    Browse Adaptation Tools

    Trillion Trees. You may have heard of the Trillion Tree Initiative, which is committed to working toward the goal of protecting, conserving, planting and growing one trillion trees globally by 2030. Planting trees is one of many actions that we can take to address climate change that can also help to promote resilient, healthy and productive forests.

    Learn more about the Trillion Trees effort
  • County soil, land, and water organizations may find focused communications materials related to sustaining healthy and productive forests and farms in light of climate change helpful when engaging with key audiences (such as professional staff, private landowners, and regional partners). The resources below explicitly connect climate impacts to opportunities for adaptation in land conservation and stewardship activities.

    Climate communication materials that might be of interest to county soil, land and water organizations:

    • NRCS brochures – The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub and the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) have partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a series of brochures that describe options landowners and land managers have to adapt to climate change. The brochures describe how NRCS programs and practices can help landowners achieve their goals while supporting climate adaptation.

    • Browse climate-informed practices brochures
    • Climate Scorecards – The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub and the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) have partnered with the regional partners to develop a series of brochures designed to help private landowners consider climate change in the context of their woods. The brochures can also help landowners effectively talk with consulting foresters about their goals, potential risks, and actions they would like to take. Each booklet contains four separate "Scorecards" to help landowners think about forests at a property-level, focused on topics such as forest diversity, structure, regeneration, and other factors. Each Scorecard is accompanied by a list of Climate-informed Actions that might help landowners address the greatest risks.

    • Browse private woodlot owner climate scorecards
    • Case studies – Find climate-informed project case studies describing how real-world projects have integrated climate change into their project-level plans:

    • Browse ecosystem and forest adaptation demonstration projects Browse agricultural adaptation demonstration projects