HomeGrantsIntroducing the 2020 Impact Goal Finalists

Introducing the 2020 Impact Goal Finalists

In 2018, IonE announced three concrete goals around which to rally its community from 2019 to 2022. These goals—safe drinking water for all Minnesotans, statewide sustainable land use, and a carbon-free Minnesota—have already formed the basis for many seminars, panels, and research efforts. Now, they’ve given rise to a brand new opportunity: IonE’s Impact Goal Grants. The 13 finalists were notified in late April.

Following another round of competition, five to eight projects will be awarded $50,000 grants to advance one or more of the Impact Goals. Teams must include both University of Minnesota researchers and one or more community partners with direct connections to these issuesor the people who experience themin Minnesota.  

IonE received 34 submissions for the first round of grants, and the work was nothing short of spectacular. “We were overwhelmed with the range and quality of the proposals,” says Impact Goal Manager Fred Rose. “They touched every corner of the state and highlighted the diversity of expertise across the University of Minnesota system.” Choosing a select number of finalists from such a qualified group was a difficult task, he notes, but a panel of interdisciplinary experts helped to narrow the field to 13. 

“One of the key aims of the Impact Goal program is to encourage research that strives toward a sustainability outcome,” says IonE Director Jessica Hellmann. She’s excited to see that coming to fruition. “All of our finalists teams are addressing specific problems that have to be overcome to move the needle on sustainability.” 

In early June, the finalist teams will give virtual presentations to a round of reviewers, and between five and eight will be selected to receive funding. Abstracts from each finalist’s proposal are included below.

The 13 finalists for IonE’s first round of Impact Goal grants are:

Adapting soils to a changing climate through farmer-driven management approaches

Julie Grossman, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Intensive agriculture is degrading the Earth’s soil resources and reducing global capacity to sustainably produce food. Negative effects of climate change exacerbate these challenges, and disproportionately impact farmers. Extreme weather events decrease soil resilience, causing soil loss via erosion, and severe water-logging in increasingly wet Minnesota springs, inhibiting timely planting of vegetable crops. Organic producers are innovators, and use a range of approaches to increase soil health via addition of plant biomass to soils. This farmer-driven project will assess innovative biomass-addition approaches, such as mulching, to create soils that are resilient to a changing climate. The team will summarize scientific and farmer data about such practices, and organize farmer-to-farmer gatherings to discuss soils and climate change adaptation strategies. Outcomes will include improved understanding of the degree to which such approaches can positively impact sustainable management of the Minnesota landscape, and beyond.

Building climate resilience: From model outputs to changes on the landscape

Ryan Noe, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Jen Kader, Freshwater Society

Models can be effective tools for understanding Minnesota’s water and the different things that impact it, but only if they are both useful and used. Similarly, efforts from the University of Minnesota to produce high resolution climate change projections have the potential to influence how communities around the state plan for the future of their surface and groundwater, but only if the projections are understandable and actionable at a local scale.

This project will pair UMN’s climate change research expertise with Freshwater’s convening and facilitation prowess to engage local planners and natural resource managers from organizations statewide. Through a survey and workshop, the team will learn what obstacles they face when including climate change in their decision making. UMN researchers will iteratively create data products responsive to those needs, and leverage Freshwater’s network of stakeholders to ensure the results are widely distributed and included in planning processes.

Can green bonds finance greenhouse gas mitigation in the Minnesota dairy industry?

Susanna Gibbons, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Jennifer Schmitt, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota; Nathaniel Springer, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota

This project will explore how green bonds can bring much needed investment dollars to carbon-neutral solutions in the Minnesota dairy industry. Green bonds have the potential to spread the cost across supply chains, facilitate significant production changes to bring about greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, and catalyze novel environmental and economic solutions in the dairy industry.

Community Land and Food Gatherings: Relationship-based translation and application of ecosystem service research to urban agriculture land use and management in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Nicolas Jelinski, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Mary Rogers, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; K. Valentine Cadieux, Environmental Studies Program, Sustainability Program, Hamline University; Gaston Small, College of Arts and Sciences, University of St. Thomas

Urban agriculture (UA) in Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), MN, has rapidly expanded in the past decade and includes farms and community/home gardens with diverse goals and growing practices. Community-engaged participatory research projects have generated rich data sets to quantify the impacts of UA on metrics of ecosystem service provision. This project proposes conducting participatory translation and application activities to integrate research findings with UA management practices.

Through regular and yearly events, the team will facilitate the convergence of multiple knowledge systems to 1) co-create data analysis and place-based application strategies, 2) facilitate grower networks to support practice implementation, and 3) identify drivers of UA management and land use decisions. Ultimately, these outcomes will be used with ecosystem service data to generate models of the impact of UA under different land use scenarios, which will be a valuable decision-making tool for communities and cities to integrate UA in their food/climate resilience actions.

Farm Resiliency Plans – Development and Engagement with Minnesota Farmers

Michael Reese, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Fritz Ebinger, Clean Energy Resource Teams, Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, University of Minnesota Extension

Agriculture is a leading industry in Minnesota with over $18.4 billion in sales (USDA, 2017). Unfortunately, the industry is also a leader in greenhouse gas emissions, ranking third behind transportation and electric utility industries. Globally, agriculture makes up ~24% of greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2019) and faces significant challenges in decarbonizing energy consumption and developing resiliency in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

In 2010, the UMN WCROC embarked on a goal to reduce fossil energy consumption in production agriculture. Concurrently, CERTs has engaged citizens across the State in developing clean energy alternatives.

Farming operations, much like the communities they feed, have asked for help in the face of existential challenges. Though initiatives for developing climate change resiliency in population centers are abundant, no such resiliency initiatives and tools exist for farmers. To address this problem, this project proposes the creation of user-friendly resiliency tools and templates specifically for agriculture.

Forest Carbon Markets:  Empowering Access for Economically Marginal Landowners

Christopher Wright, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth;

Paul Sandstrom, Laurentian Resource Conservation and Development; Marissa Schmitz, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minnesota Forest Resources Council; Forrest Fleischman, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; John Beckwith, Minnesota Association of RC&D Councils, Inc.

Improved Forest Management (IFM) has the potential to sequester vast amounts of carbon, delivering powerful Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) approaching 20% of greenhouse gas reductions required under the Paris Accord (Griscom et al. 2017). However, costs and complexity of joining carbon markets have limited IFM-NCS on non-industrial forest lands. This project proposes to lower these barriers through translational, engaged research on economically-marginal forest ownerships in Minnesota. The team will 1.) Translate complex forest carbon markets and trends into actionable information for landowners and policy makers and share these materials with the help of the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, 2.) Explore case-studies of in-progress Minnesota industrial forest carbon projects, and 3.) Partner with the Minnesota Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils (MARC&D) to convene workshops and follow-up meetings with local, state, and federal conservation partners with the goal of establishing MARC&D as the lead facilitator of low-cost carbon project implementation in Minnesota.

Minnesota Forest Ecosystem Services: Land ownership case studies, land manager knowledge, and building shared understanding

Eli Sagor, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Stephen Polasky, CFANS & CBS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Lucinda Johnson, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth; George Host, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth

This practical, applied project has four components: 1) Engage 4-7 public and private landowner partners, each of which owns and manages thousands to millions of acres of northern Minnesota forest land. 2) For each partner, apply the Natural Capital Project’s InVEST Model and the Forest Optimization Model to quantify ecosystem services under current and modified scenarios. 3) Survey northern MN natural resource managers about forest management and ecosystem services. 4) Present case studies and survey results at a large symposium targeting Minnesota resource managers.

This project has potential to foster real change on the ground, at scale. In addition to the efficiency of applying existing models, its strength is the combination of ecosystem services data to familiar, well-known land bases, to build on existing local knowledge, delivered through a trusted and known UMN-based educational co-operative.

Northeastern Minnesota farmers grow climate-smart trees for forest adaptation and mitigation

Julie Etterson, Department of Biology, University of Minnesota Duluth, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota; Briana Gross, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth; David Abasz, Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, University of Minnesota Extension

Boreal forests of Minnesota are experiencing dramatic climate change, and many northern tree species are at risk of decline. Yet state forest regeneration practices are dictated by outdated seed sourcing policies which may result in the distribution of maladapted and genetically depauperate trees across the landscape. To address this issue, the team will couple research and intersectional entrepreneurship (forestry and agriculture) to create a network of tree growers that will produce genetically diverse, climate-forward seedlings for forest regeneration. Specifically, this project proposes to collect seeds using state-of-the-art best practices from species and populations that are predicted to thrive into the future, study climate-related population differentiation, and distribute the most suitable seeds to newly established farmer and nursery enterprises developed by the UMN Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership (NMSDP). This work will provide plant material for establishing sustainable, climate-adapted forests that support diverse ecosystem functions, including carbon sequestration, and will stimulate the local economy.

Saving biodiversity in a fragmented, rapidly changing ecosystem: the Minnesota Big Woods

Lee E. Frelich, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

The overarching goal of this project is to prevent loss of biodiversity and restore ecosystem function in the Minnesota Big Woods (temperate deciduous, maple-basswood-oak forests of southern Minnesota), an ecosystem that is severely fragmented, with impaired ecological function due to earthworm invasion. Previous research has established that restoration of the plant community is essential to prevent species loss, help the ecosystem sequester carbon, and create resilience to climate change. As the next step forward, this project proposes to compare the historic and current plant species richness in remnants with different types of ecological legacies: old growth, second growth, reforested agricultural land, and sites with varied recent restoration efforts. With the help of a community partner, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and stakeholders in government agencies and non-profit organizations, this research will allow its team to assess the effectiveness of current management techniques and devise strategies for future resilience in the Big Woods.

Social science and community engagement for drinking water protection in Greater Minnesota

Mae Davenport, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Gene-Hua Crystal Ng, CSE, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

This project addresses the grand challenge of ensuring safe drinking water for Minnesotans through social science research, community engagement, and partnerships. The project will increase awareness of, accessibility to, and confidence in source water protection and drinking water testing in two high risk areas: the Pineland Sands and Karst agro-eco regions of Minnesota. This project team is interdisciplinary and cross-sector in nature, bringing together University of Minnesota Social Scientists, Hydrologists, and professionals at the Minnesota Well Owners Organization (MNWOO) to improve safe drinking water communication and engagement. This work will support Source Water Protection Plans by developing and launching a new drinking water toolbox for the study areas. Through social science research on the constraints to drinking water testing, development of a practical communication toolbox, and community-based action, this project will empower private well-owners to take action to protect drinking water.

Solar development creating layered benefits for pollinator habitat and drinking water protection

Jessica Gutknecht, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Dave Mulla, CFANS, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

The area underneath ground-mounted solar arrays has space available for native and/or pollinator-friendly plantings. This co-location of solar with deep-rooted prairie vegetation has the potential to provide both drinking water source protection and pollinator habitat. This project aims to better understand how location and plant species selections for solar development can be optimized to benefit land use and drinking water when intentionally designed for multiple value streams and environmental outcomes.

Yet the benefit of solar+habitat installations to groundwater protection is still anecdotal. Does existing research support the hypothesis that plant species mixtures optimized for beneficial habitat also provide nitrate protection?

This project lays the scientific foundation for creating drinking water quality benefits in solar design. The team will create implementation pathways and plant species recommendations that meet carbon neutrality goals and restore rural water quality by leveraging a team of researchers and community organizations, and a large existing solar implementation project.

Source Water Protection in A Changing Climate: Mississippi Headwaters Protection and Restoration

Christina Locke, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Kristen Blann, The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has a priority mapping strategy for source water protection in Minnesota, but so far the strategy has been undertaken with incomplete data. The goal of this project is to integrate data produced by University of Minnesota (UMN) researchers into TNC’s source water strategy, including: 1) downscaled climate change predictions, and 2) the risk of land conversion to agricultural or developed uses. Project outputs will include updated, comprehensive maps of risks to source water across Minnesota, with a specific focus on the Mississippi Headwaters region. TNC will use these maps to adjust clean water targets for nitrates and other contaminants, and prioritize aid in highly vulnerable areas. TNC and its partners will use this data to develop strategies to protect shallow aquifers and surficial groundwater, and to understand the interrelated impacts of climate change, infrastructure, and land management on surface and groundwater quality and quantity.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Working Ranch

Dave Wilsey, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Jon Houle, Department of Natural Resources, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe; Molly Zins, Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota Extension

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (MLBO) owns an abandoned, 600-acre property that was once a thriving livestock ranch with a 1-plus mile long airstrip, a farmhouse, barns and buildings, pastures, a silo and several outbuildings. This project envisions the MLBO Ranch project as a restored and working agricultural ecosystem at the center of the state-of-the-art, nationally recognized Native American Agriculture Learning and Rehabilitation Center. The Working Ranch will feature a combination of traditional and modern farming and land management practices, generating ecosystem products and services as well as unique experiences for students and organizations. The Learning Center will have classrooms, demonstration halls, laboratories, commercial grade kitchens, office space, and include therapist and consultant rooms. Finally, The Ranch Reentry and Recovery Program (RRRP) will offer a unique pathway for clients to transition from prison or in-patient treatment programs into the community, while learning new skills to promote individual and community healing.

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