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Disruptions to ecosystems

Causes and trends

Prairie restoration on the bluffs above the Minnesota River in Eden PrairieHennepin County has an abundance of natural areas and diverse landscapes that provide critical habitat for wildlife, protect water quality, offer recreational opportunities, and serve as the foundation for the region’s environmental wellbeing, economic prosperity, and collective quality of life.

These ecosystems are already threatened by invasive species, population growth, and development. Climate change will further disrupt our ecosystems since native wildlife and plants are extremely sensitive to climate change impacts.

Threats and impacts

Warming lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands and an increase in algae blooms impact fish habitat and recreation.

Our tree canopy already faces many threats from pests, such as the invasive emerald ash borer, and climate change will only worsen those pressures by enabling more pests to survive.

A warming climate is also changing the types of plants and trees that can thrive in our area, with northern species struggling while new species adapted to warmer climates start to take their place.

Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will also disrupt the delicate balance of ecosystems and the species that depend on each other. Shifts in food availability, migration timing, and breeding seasons will impact survivability for many species.

Tree planting priority areas

The county’s tree planting priorities map factors in both environmental and demographic data to understand areas that have lower tree canopy and higher need. Information used includes land cover data and disparity data such as income, housing, and health.

Darker areas the highest priority for tree planting due to lower tree canopy cover and greater disparities.

Who is most at risk

Healthy ecosystems play a vital role not only in the health of plants and animals, but of people, too.

The trend toward a wetter climate has already added uncertainty and increased the challenge of producing food in a rapidly developing county.

Working with residents to preserve open space and improve agricultural practices represent some of the best opportunities to sequester carbon, manage increased precipitation, connect habitats, and improve access to nutritious, locally produced food. However, the added business risks that climate change poses to farmers will make it increasingly challenging to realize those benefits, and the incentives to develop open space will only increase.

Natural areas in Hennepin County

Hennepin County has a diversity of habitats, including forests, prairies, oak savannas, wetlands, and lakes. The remaining natural areas in the county are important for capturing carbon, providing habitat for wildlife, and improving our collective well-being. But these natural areas are threatened as development pressure increases, making it critical to protect these areas now.

This map helps to guide priorities for protecting natural areas in Hennepin County. The darker areas on the map are ecologically significant natural areas, which are areas of unique, high-quality ecosystems and habitat. Natural resources corridors. shown in lighter purple, help to connect natural areas and allow for movement of wildlife.

The stars are established conservation easements in the county, which are areas of private land that are permanently protected. The county's goal is to acquire 6,000 additional acres of conservation easements by 2040.