New College Course Uses Lake Superior as Climate Change Example

This spring, a new course will present college students who are interested in natural resources management with examples of climate change from the Lake Superior region. The two-part course, offered through the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) with funding by Wisconsin Sea Grant, is open to students from other campuses as well.

“Lake Superior: Climate Change, Culture and Natural Resource Management,” involves a two-credit online course in spring 2017, and a one-credit field experience in summer (Aug. 14-19, 2017). According to Nancy Turyk, a water resource scientist at UWSP, the coursework focuses on Lake Superior because of the changing environment and the diverse ways land mangers view climate change in the area.

“The differences between how the federal, tribal and state land mangers view climate change in that region will provide for an interesting cross-section of viewpoints for the students,” Turyk said. “Also, the Ashland Lake Superior Basin area offers some more obvious ecological impacts from climate change than does the area around Stevens Point.”

This past summer, Turyk and her team travelled to the Ashland area to meet with potential project partners from the Bad River and Red Cliff tribes, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the U.S. Forest Service, UW-Extension and Northland College.

They also wanted to figure out logistics for the field experience. “You can’t just go tromping up there with 20 students and move them around efficiently without some reconnaissance,” Turyk said.

The online course (Water 350 Section 1) will provide a general background about climate change in the basin through video clips, reading and presentations by faculty. Climate projections related to temperature, precipitation and changes to the ecosystem with be presented for both the land and the water. Students will learn how to access and use data sets. Turyk said there will also be sections on treaty rights, forestry and wildlife.

She describes the field experience (NRES 405/605) as a five-day whirlwind trip in August. “We’re starting at the top of the watershed in the Penokee Hills, and then we’re working our way down to the Bad River toward the Kakagan Sloughs. For the first part, we’ll speak with science and forest service people, and we’ll be doing field work that involves tree identification and a game that shows what tree species are subject to change under differing climates. We’ll sample streams for macroinvertebrates at the top of the watershed, and we’ll continue sampling on our way down.”

They also plan to collect fish and to interact with natural resource professionals, local elected officials, commercial fishermen and farmers along the way. “We’ll have discussions with

them about what they are thinking in terms of climate change – how they are preparing, what adaptation strategies they are using, what differences they are seeing,” Turyk said. One professional they hope to include is Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Fisheries Outreach Specialist, Titus Seilheimer.

After experiences in Ashland and Bayfield, the students’ coursework will culminate with a camping trip on Madeline Island, where they will present results of group projects.

This trial run for the course may lead to a continuing education course for natural resource managers in the future, or tweaks to when the course different sections are offered.

“We found very eager partners,” Turyk said. “The course should be a lot of fun and very useful, as well.”