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Long-awaited climate resilience report released
In Monroe County
Fred Clark addresses CCTF
FRED CLARK, Executive Director of Wisconsin's Greenfire, was part of the team that led the Monroe County Climate Readiness and Rural Economic Opportunity assessment. The report released is meant to serve as a template for other counties that are seeking a process to evaluate threats and opportunities from climate change.

DRIFTLESS - After almost a year of work by Monroe County Land Conservation Department and Wisconsin’s Greenfire team members, and more than 40 members of technical teams, the long-awaited ‘Monroe County Climate Readiness and Rural Economic Opportunity Assessment’ final report was released. 

The final report, and executive summary, various appendices, and recommendations for agriculture, forestry, infrastructure, watersheds, and federal and state policy can be found at the Monroe County Land Conservation Department (LCD) web page, on the climate change task force page, clicking the Greenfire link. All of the documents are available in a downloadable PDF format.

The report was presented at the April 4 meeting of the Climate Change Task Force, and representatives from Wisconsin’s Greenfire, the LCD, Wisconsin Land + Water, Wisconsin DNR, U.S. Army Fort McCoy, Monroe County farmers, Monroe County Board supervisors, and other interested citizens were on hand to hear about the report’s conclusions.

“This report is an independent assessment that was the result of a collaborative project,” Wisconsin’s Greenfire Executive Director Fred Clark told the group. “The report stands on its own, and the county is free to use it and expand upon it as you see fit. The report is a pilot to help template a process for doing these kinds of rapid assessments that we hope will be useful to Monroe County, and to other counties in Wisconsin as well.”

Clark explained that there were very important climate readiness topics that the report did not address, including public or human health, environmental equity, and energy policy and renewable energy. He said that the team also had not had time to explore as much of the economic opportunity aspect as planned.

“The carbon offset markets are still evolving, and it remains a little bit of the wild, wild west out there in this area,” Clark said. “There are still too many unknowns at this time for us to really be able to do a good job of treating this topic in our report.”

Report overview

Clark explained that in total, the report put forth 80 different recommendations. These, he explained, are represented in 18 different buckets. In the recommendations, the responsible or lead party, as well as the secondary party is specified. It is also specified whether the recommendation relates to any or all of four categories of goals: public safety, resiliency, soil/air/water, and carbon.

1. Enhanced floodplain risk assessment

2. Improve assessments and reduce risk with dams

3. Improve assessments and reduce risk with stream crossings

4. Increase capacity for water storage to reduce flood risks

5. Improve aquatic connectivity to reduce barriers to fish and aquatic organisms

6. Ensure viable fish habitat and a robust county fishery

7. Maintain and improve watershed resiliency

8. Increase conservation practices to reduce flood severity and soil disturbance

9. Manage farm carbon

10. Farm producer education and outreach

11. Maintain and restore forests

12. Climate smart forest management

13. Protect forest cover and maintain forest carbon stocks

14. New forests

15. Increase infrastructure resiliency investments

16. Increase support for soil and water conservation and climate resiliency

17. Tax policy to support soil and water conservation and climate resiliency

18. Facilitate market-based and private sector opportunities for conservation funding

Clark explained various other features of the report as well. He said that sections in blue in the report are sidebars, providing more in depth information on a particular subject, for instance, dam hazard ratings. Some section are in green, and these Clark said are where readers can find the assessments most important findings.

“For our future climate change assessment, we used data from scientists at UW-Madison,” Clark said. “We consider that data to be excellent state-of-the-art modeling, but nevertheless there remain wide uncertainties in the models. The upshot of it all, though, is that we understand that conservation practices matter in terms of reducing flood risk and intensity.”

Clark said that all of the teams on the study had looked at climate vulnerabilities from different standpoints. He explained that the report did not reflect a lot of field assessments, and relied mainly on existing datasets, technical expertise and professional judgment.

“Perhaps the most important thing in this report is the ‘Paths to a Resilient Landscape’ section,” Clark said. “If you read one thing in this report, then read that.”

Resilient landscapes

In the report, in the Paths to a Resilient Landscape’ section, resilience is broken down into three buckets: infrastructure, conservation and restoration.

Pathways included in the infrastructure bucket include:

• Structure evaluation

• Reduce risk to people – remove homes at high flood risk, consider early warning systems and automatic road closure systems

Pathways included in the conservation bucket include:

• Increased carbon and water storage

• No-till and cover crop practices

• Managed grazing

• Preservation of natural systems

Pathways included in the restoration bucket, which together prevent erosion, absorb floodwaters, break down pollutants, provide habitat, and more, include:

• Restore wetlands in floodplains and on marginally productive lands

• Restore natural or permanent vegetation to streambanks and slopes

• Restore forests, particularly to slopes and streambanks

Lastly, Clark described the report’s high priority lands assessment.

“Our assessment identified the highest benefit conservation locations in the county,” Clark said. “Our goal was to identify where conservation investments would yield the highest return on the investment.”

Clark was quick to explain that the report simply presented information that could be used to guide prioritization. He said that the report does not make any suggestions that any particular lands should be taken out of agricultural production.


One farmer at the meeting took issue with the temperature data presented in the report as one of the bases of supporting the assertion that we are currently experiencing human-caused climate change. His allegation is that using data that only goes back to 1950 skews the analysis because the 1950s were a very cold period.

“The temperature data is a subject of debate,” the farmer said. “There is too much climate change rhetoric in this report, and it shouldn’t be political.”

He also took issue with some of the runoff modeling presented in the report, and in particular with a chart on Page 18 of the report depicting runoff potential under different land use treatments – cropland, pasture, and forests.

“This report needs more real data from what is actually happening on the farm,” the farmer said. “For instance, some of the experts that I’ve worked with suggest that the runoff potential of no-till cropland is the same as for grassland.”

Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel responded to the farmer about runoff in the county with two comments. First, he said that UW-Madison’s Dr. Eric Booth had done some studies of the water infiltration capacity of different land treatments, such as grasslands and no-till fields, but that more needed to be done. Second, he pointed out that Monroe County does a soil transect survey every year, and that soil erosion is increasing in the county.

Last, the farmer expressed disappointment that the report had not taken on the economic analysis. He asked why UW-Extension had not been involved to help with that part of the work.

Fred Clark responded to the concerns the farmer expressed with the report.

“Our data comes from UW-Madison climatologists,” Clark said. “You can certainly dispute that data, or suggest that the data set used should go back to 1910, but the fact of the matter is that between 1910 and 1950, there weren’t very complete or accurate records kept.”

Clark also said that many of the farmers concerns were a great segue into the “what to do next” question. Clark reminded the participants that the next step in the assessment is to get out onto farms and conduct field tours, and put demonstration projects on the landscape.

Dan Baumann, WDNR Secretary's Director West Central Region, also had some wisdom to share from his 30 years of experience in conservation.

“There is enough data here to show us that there are things that we can do that would help reduce risk – a lot of this stuff dates back to the old ‘Priority Watershed’ work in the county,” Baumann said. “The recommendations in this report are geared to protecting public health and safety, and most of the recommendations are basically as old as the hills.”

Baumann said that he saw the assessment as a good tool for Monroe County, and a tool that other counties would likely value.

Monroe County Board Supervisor Jen Schmidt thanked the team for producing the report, and said that she really appreciated the recommendations from a disaster resilience perspective. She said that the recommendations are also pertinent to several of the committees she sits on, for instance Health & Human Services, and Solid Waste/Natural Resource/Extension.

Vernon County Board Supervisor Mary Henry also weighed in on the value of the report.

“I am really excited to see the results of this process because, as we know, everything from Monroe County seems to flow down into Vernon County,” Henry said. “As far as ways that this report, and its recommendations, could be improved, I see this as a living document that can change and grow, and as a good place to start.”

Heather Stricker, who is part of the Greenfire team that worked on the report, agreed with Henry that it is, indeed, a living document.

“One of the things that we can do to build on this report is to carry it forward into an interactive, ARC-GIS, story map format,” Stricker said. “Then, the public could click on any property in the county and be able to see a variety of things about that location. The possibilities are endless with this, and the sky is the limit.”

Wisconsin Land+Water Christina Anderson was also part of the Greenfire team that worked on the report. Anderson led the climate and agriculture subgroup. 

“Land+Water is currently doing carbon farm training for conservation districts across the state,” Anderson said. “We are using carbon as a proxy for soil health, and we are focused on how to best support farmers in capturing the emerging opportunities with carbon markets.”

Anderson pointed to one approach that some companies like Organic Valley are taking to the climate change and carbon sequestration task. She said that instead of the model of large companies ‘offsetting’ their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits from farmers or foresters, some companies are pursing an ‘insetting’ model. 

“So, instead of looking outside the company for carbon savings, Organic Valley is looking to pursue on-farm carbon sequestration projects,” Anderson explained. “Those projects will help the company in achieving their ‘carbon neutral’ goal, while also rewarding their producers for the initiatives.”

The farmer who spoke earlier in the meeting asked Anderson how farmers “who are already doing the right thing” can be rewarded for their efforts. He pointed out that most of the rewards are geared toward producers that implement new practices rather than toward those who have been doing the right thing all along.

“We are working on a system of rewarding farmers for existing practices based on achievement of performance standards,” Micheel said. “I like to refer to that as a standard for caring for the land, and we envision it as a way to reward people for doing the right thing.”