Mapping Michigan's most climate-resilient landscapes


  • Shriram Patki, Skutterstock

Because animals in Michigan need safe places to go when temperatures surge or flood waters rise, experts have mapped out these climate-resilient landscapes throughout the United States.

A team of 150 scientists spent the past decade analyzing geology and topography, and compiling the findings into a mapping tool. The Nature Conservancy led the effort, and project manager Shaun Howard said the tool shows areas with habitat and ecosystems that can adapt to allow native species to thrive. He said it also highlights connecting corridors that would allow species to move safely within and between these climate-resilient areas.

"Which is critical," Howard said, "as climate will change and we'll see warming trends and species will need to be able to move — largely north-south in Michigan — to be able to find new areas that are suitable for them, in terms of year-round climate."

Among the landscapes mapped in Michigan are the Upper Peninsula's Michigamme Highlands and several sites in the southwest and the western Lower Peninsula, such as Allegan State Game Area.

Doug Pearsall, one of the scientists who worked on the mapping tool, said research shows species are moving an average of 11 miles north and 36 feet higher in elevation each decade. However, nearly 60% of lands and waterways in the state are fragmented by human development, from urban areas to farmland.

"A challenge in the future is, how do we stitch together those resilient lands that remain in highly fragmented areas, like much of the Midwest? And the resilient land-mapping tool can help us by identifying where those opportunities might be," Pearsall said.

Howard said The Nature Conservancy is working with agencies and land trusts to incorporate the data into conservation planning. He said efforts are already under way to connect resilient sites along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

"We're trying to figure out ways that we can protect, restore and/or manage some of the interstitial lands between areas that are already protected," Howard said, "with ultimately the goal of providing a climate corridor that would extend throughout the entire Western lower peninsula."

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