Climate conversations

By Sarah Hansen
April 11, 2018

Conservation, climate change and clean energy were issues in the spotlight this week at several events across Red Wing.

Monday, April 2

In the midst of a light snow on April 2, which led to a larger snow and school closing the next day, over 30 people gathered at the Colvill Park Pavilion in Red Wing to discuss climate change.

The event was led by the Sustainability Commission by request of the Red Wing City Council to improve community education on the topic of climate change.

Guest speakers included Bruce Ause, who directed the Environmental Learning Center for 30 years, and representatives from Climate Generation, a nonprofit organization focused on climate education and advocacy based in the Twin Cities. The speakers discussed phenology (or the seasonal life cycle of plants and animals), the evidence for man-made climate change and ways to promote a greener municipality and world.

For his presentation, Ause selected three photographs in the Red Wing area for each month of the year and discussed ways that climate change is being evidenced in nature and some instances where nature is riding out climate change unphased.

“It used to be the first harbinger of spring was seeing a robin,” Ause said. “If there’s open water and a food supply, now we can have robins all year long.”

A favorite hobby of Ause’s is collecting black raspberries around July 4 and he said those still come out at the same time. He said one thing we have far more of today are mayflies, responding to cleaner water conditions.

One issue that stands out to Ause is the false starts of spring that confuses sap to run before its time or encourage birds to start nesting early.

“Then all of a sudden you get a week with this kind of weather and either the birds can’t incubate the eggs properly or, if they’ve hatched, the birds feed their young insects but no insects are available,” Ause said. “So many times down in Frontenac Park we have a number of bluebird boxes where you’ll find dead bluebirds that have hatched that can’t be supported by the parents.”

Climate Generation Executive Director Nicole Rom and Senior Programs Coordinator Megan Van Loh then gave their presentation on climate change.

Rom kicked off the presentation by saying, “We’re hoping to provide some grounding context for a lot of the leadership you’ve already taken on, and we want to start by really applauding and acknowledging what a leader Red Wing has been around climate and clean energy. From being a Green Step city to a participant in the partners in energy program with Xcel Energy to prioritizing solar energy, you’ve already been taking a lot of steps, and we’re really thrilled to see that and know that Red Wing can and should do more.”

Their presentation addressed worldwide evidence for man-made climate change which has led to an increase in mosquitoes, higher than average temperatures and an increase in atmospheric CO2, among other things. An attendee shared that he’s observed on his farm that horses and goats are also shedding earlier by a month.

“Minnesota’s clean energy sector is growing substantially,” Rom said. “We now have 57,000 jobs in the state in clean energy … much of the community is looking at how do we get as much carbon out of the economy as possible and electrify on clean renewable sources.

“And we’re seeing this across the country, there are over 2 million jobs in the solar, wind and energy efficiency sector now, we’re seeing wind turbine technician is the fastest growing job and they’re good paying jobs. … It basically shows that the clean energy is better, cheaper and inevitable. That it’s happening and there’s no going back.”

Tuesday, April 3

A people’s hearing on clean energy and climate justice, scheduled to take place at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing on April 3, was canceled due to an unseasonably large amount of snow. The weather also shut down Red Wing Public Schools and forced a 5 p.m. meeting of the Goodhue County Board to be canceled.

Wednesday, April 4

The Laurentine Room at the St. James Hotel was standing room only with over 120 people ready to discuss the upcoming dredge project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which will help divert and reduce the amount of sediment pouring into Lake Pepin for a minimum of 50 years.

“We’ve done a lot of work to address the amount of sediment coming into Lake Pepin from the Minnesota River, which is about 90 percent, and it’s about a million metric tons per year,” said Rylee Main, executive director of the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance. “It’s about a full city block raised to the height of the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis that’s coming into Lake Pepin every year.”

Agriculture along the Minnesota River is responsible for much of the sediment flowing into Lake Pepin, but those enterprises do not need to follow the same guidelines as other mixed use land parcels.

Representatives from USACE, Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources and LPLA were on-hand to answer the public’s questions for a full hour after the USACE presentation on its dredging study and the potential outcomes. Basically, sediment dredged from around the Catharine Pass will be redistributed to form plugs, dikes and peninsulas in that area which will help improve water depth and velocity there and downstream. The biggest structure will be filled with sand and covered with topsoil and a forest of oak trees will be planted on top.

Experienced regional boaters, sportsmen and teachers questioned the speakers on everything from lake access out of Bay City, historic records of the lake, impact on spawning and the potential for invasive species as an outcome of this project.

Increasing habitat for invasive species such as the Asian carp is not a likely outcome of this project, they said. Areas that will be dredged should result in more depth for aquatic species, potentially creating more areas for ice fishing.

Many attendees noted negative changes to the waterway since the 1980s which has reduced flow and access to the river, especially from Bay City. Wisconsin DNR representatives and the LPLA agreed that getting this project off the ground and proving its success could lead to additional funding for future improvement projects down the road.

“Right now estimates are that the entire lake will be filled in within the next 340 years,” Main said. “If we do this project it might be 339 years. So yes, we are moving more sediment but, proportionately, do we just let this area degrade and let further areas degrade over time? Or do we show that we can get some benefits, protect the area and as a long-term vision start thinking about what our future areas are that we want to do projects on around the entire lake?

“This project is going to demonstrate what kind of benefits we can see, but Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance is certainly here longterm to think about the entire lake beyond just this project.”

Thursday, April 5

Ause shared his phenology observations with the Noontime Kiwanis Club.

Read the full article online here

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