City of Lake Elmo: Sunfish Lake Park


NIACS staff completed the Adaptation Workbook on a site visit with consulting forester Steve Kunde at Sunfish Lake Park in April 2015. Mr. Kunde presented the forest management plan for Sunfish Lake Park to the City of Lake Elmo in the winter of 2015-2016. The Minnesota Land Trust and the City of Lake Elmo formally adopted the plan in late 2016. 

NIACS worked with a consulting forester to review climate change impacts and potential adaptation actions for a large, forested park in an urban landscape.

Project Area

Sunfish Lake Park is 284-acre natural area on the outskirts of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This large park is recognized by the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources as a “Regionally Significant Ecological Area,” and the Minnesota Land Trust manages a Conservation Easement across the property. Sunfish Lake Park is mostly forested with rolling topography, with mixed oak being the primary forest cover type on the uplands. There are smaller pockets of aspen/birch and also a pine plantation. The park features nine miles of mowed trails and sees heavy recreational use during all seasons of the year. This park experienced heavy damage in some areas from a strong windstorm in 2013.

Management Goals

Damage from a 2013 windstorm at Sunfish Lake Park.

The management goals for Sunfish Lake Park are "to protect and enhance the natural resources of the site, to improve the native plant communities, improve wildlife habitat, and improve the nature experience of park users who visit the site to hike, cross-country ski, go horseback riding, watch wildlife, and enjoy the open spaces."

The primary objective of the forest management plan (available below) is to provide a framework for long-term structured management of the forest cover type. Specific forestry goals are to:

  • Increase tree species diversity.
  • Increase tree age class diversity.
  • Mitigate wind damage caused by 2013 storm.
  • Reduce resulting fire danger from increased fuel load.

Climate Change Impacts

Consulting forester Steve Kunde considered climate change impacts for the park and incorporated these ideas into a new management plan.
For this park, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Oak wilt and other diseases may become more damaging
Invasive species like buckthorn may become even more challenging to eradicate under future climate conditions
Milder winters may increase deer browse pressure in oak stands in particular

Adaptation Actions

Steve Kunde worked with NIACS staff to use the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this property, including:

Entire Property
2.2. Prevent the introduction and establishment of invasive plant species and remove existing invasive species.
Create small control areas to remove buckthorn with brush saws and herbicide and create planting areas.
3.1. Alter forest structure or composition to reduce risk or severity of wildfire.
Remove downed trees and debris from recent blowdown events, focusing on hazard trees and combustible fuel.
1.2. Maintain or restore hydrology.
Identify vernal pools and wetlands and avoid active management on these sites.
Oak Stands
2.1. Maintain or improve the ability of forests to resist pests and pathogens.
Identify and treat existing oak wilt pockets throughout the park. Avoid damage to oaks from April-July.
5.2. Maintain and restore diversity of native species.
Within treated oak wilt pockets or buckthorn control areas, consider planting tree species expected to tolerate climate change scenarios for southern Minnesota.
Aspen Stands
5.1. Promote diverse age classes.
Within aspen blowdown areas, create patch clearcuts of 1 to 1.5 acres and allow natural aspen regeneration to out-compete the buckthorn.
3.3. Alter forest structure to reduce severity or extent of wind and ice damage.
9.2. Establish or encourage new mixes of native species.
In aspen blowdown areas near established trails, remove large aspen and hazard trees on a regular basis.
Interplant these areas with a mix of hardwood species to transition the stand slowly over time.

Project Photos

Click to enlarge photos

Small ponds within Sunfish Lake Park. Photo credit: Minnesota Land Trust.
The Minnesota Land Trust maintains a conservation easement across Sunfish Lake Park.
A mixed oak stand at Sunfish Lake Park.

Project Documents

Next Steps

The City of Lake Elmo formally adopted the updated forest management plan (available above) in late 2016. The city will now begin to refine and implement these management recommendations.

Learn More

To learn more about this project, contact Stephen or learn more at:


Invasive species, Diseases, Oak, Upland hardwoods, Management plan, Recreation, Urban

Last Updated

Tuesday, November 15, 2016