Not-so-great expectations: a vulnerability assessment for terrestrial ecosystems in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

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How might climate change affect Apostle Islands National Lakeshore? It’s a simple question with lots of potential answers! This presentation will describe a recently published climate change vulnerability assessment for the terrestrial ecosystems throughout the park.

Peggy Burkman will describe why the park felt it was necessary to complete this vulnerability assessment, and she’ll also cover some of the important context of the Apostle Islands landscape that might cause climate change to play out differently than on the mainland. Stephen Handler will explain how the assessment was completed and share some of the results and remaining questions. 

Click to access Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Terrestrial Ecosystems at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Click to access Park Service page on climate change.

Additional reading

Click to access Invasive Plant Management in the Apostle Islands

Click to access Formation of the Stockton Island Tombolo; A 6,000 Year Process

Click to access Bees on the Brink Research at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Presenter biographies

Stephen Handler, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science

Stephen Handler is a climate change specialist with the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station and Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science.

His main role with NIACS is to coordinate the Northwoods Climate Change Response Framework, which involves building partnerships, assessing climate change risk, and working with forest managers and landowners to develop real-world projects to adapt and prepare for future change. Stephen moved to Houghton, MI, in 2011 and loves being a Yooper. 

Peggy Burkman, Apostle Islands NL

Peggy Burkman is the Biologist at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (2002) with former experience as a wildlife biologist, fire ecologist, and landscape ecologist in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service.

Peggy coordinates several long-term monitoring projects in the park, works with researchers to address various questions, and maintains healthy vegetation through exotic plant management and restoration efforts. She fell in love with Lake Superior during her youth and has spent her life in the Great Lakes.

Questions and anaswers

“If you could look into your crystal ball, 50 years from now, what major differences would you expect to see, given that the lake is warming and shorelines are being reshaped faster.”

I tend to think first about the on-going trend toward warming winters, so that’s what I imagine when I look into my crystal ball. Right now, the Apostle Islands and other areas in the lake-effect snow belt are still consistently cold enough during the winter to receive plenty of lake-effect snow. In fact, as the lake has warmed over the past 40 years and lake ice has declined, areas like the Keweenaw Peninsula and northern Wisconsin are actually experiencing more total snowfall during the winter. But this feels a bit like Wiley Coyote running out over the cliff edge. At some point we will cross that threshold where more of our winter precip is delivered as rain and sleet, and consistent snowfall will most likely be constricted to the middle of winter. I hope I’m wrong about this because I love winter and northern ecosystems depend on winter. But that’s what I expect, and we need to be thinking about this change when we plan for the future.
Stephen Handler

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