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Is this the new normal?

Posted by: | July 8, 2015 | No Comment |

For my final blog post, I wanted to discuss a project I have been working on for the past 6 months about a topic that impacts not just ocean and coastal ecosystems but all ecosystems across the state of Oregon. This year, Oregon fresh water systems are seeing harmful algal blooms (HABs), which are toxic to animals and humans, earlier than normal. HABs in the marine environment for the first time caused a coast-wide shut down of the razor clam harvest. The fire season is already ramping up and is predicted to be more severe and last longer than the traditional season. Drought conditions are causing emergency drought declarations across the state. The list of unusual and severe climate conditions and their impacts to the state is growing. While climate is influenced by many factors, including El Niño and the Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and “the Blob”, some are asking if this is the new norm? Climate change research indicates that it will be. So how prepared is the state of Oregon to maintain economic and social systems in light of this changing environment?
In 2010, the state began to grapple with these changes by writing a Climate Change Adaptation Framework (the Framework) that Oregon natural resource agencies could use as a guide to put plans in place to prepare and manage our systems under changing climatic conditions. The Framework identified 11 risks associated with climate change, many of which we are currently experiencing in the state (table 1). As the state begins to experience the likely future in Oregon, natural resource managers are looking to this Framework to help the state adapt to this new normal. Over the past few months, I have been surveying state natural resource agencies to synthesize their efforts for climate change adaptation since the Framework was created. This status report of adaptation efforts will provide the informational groundwork for moving forward with adaptation work in a more coordinated and strategic manner.

 

Risk Key 
1Increase in average annual air temperatures and likelihood of extreme heat events
2Changes in hydrology and water supply; reduced snowpack and water availability in some basins; changes in water quality and timing of water availability
3Increase in wildfire frequency and intensity
4Increase in ocean temperatures, with potential for changes in ocean chemistry and increased ocean acidification
5Increased incidence of drought
6Increased coastal erosion and risk of inundation from increasing sea levels and increasing wave heights and storm surges
7Changes in the abundance and geographical distributions of plant species and habitats for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife
8Increase in diseases, invasive species, and insect, animal and plant pests
9Loss of wetland ecosystems and services
10Increased frequency of extreme precipitation events and incidence and magnitude of damaging floods
11Increased incidence of landslides

Table 1

Summary of risks identified in The Climate Change Adaptation Framework

 

From the momentum and direction established by the 2010 Framework, I have seen that many initiatives and efforts have taken place to address climate change adaptation. The North Coastal Climate Adaptation project is one notable project conducted by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development’s Coastal Management Program and Oregon Sea Grant. This proof of concept project seeks to establish an effective suite of landscape-scale objectives as a foundation for decisions to improve community adaptation. The project has brought together a variety of state and federal agencies, local managers, and NGOs to address climate change adaptation at the landscape scale in Tillamook and Clatsop counties. If this proves a success, a similar format can be used in other communities in the state to address climate change adaptation. I was fortunate to participate in the 3rd of 3 meetings in this project. It was exciting to see such a range of individuals and entities represented at this meeting, and to talk in very practical terms about addressing climate change adaptation in these two counties. Much work remains to implement the strategies established during these meetings, but I am optimistic that this project can have an impact in adaptation efforts at the landscape-scale.
Many other state agencies have taken significant steps toward climate change adaptation. A Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Regional Adaptation Framework is scheduled to come out early next year. This document will guide DEQ efforts to better integrate climate change adaptation into existing programs. In 2010, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) produced a Climate Change Response and Preparedness Action Plan. Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) staff have developed a Climate Change Workplan for the Board of Forestry to generate recommendations for climate change adaptation. Oregon Water Resource Department (OWRD) led development of the state’s first Integrated Water Resources Strategy, adopted in August 2012. This Strategy includes two recommended actions aimed at supporting continued basin-scale climate change research efforts, and helping assist water users with climate change adaptation and resiliency strategies. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) completed “Preparing Oregon’s Fish, Wildlife, and Habitats for Future Climate Change: A Guide for State Adaptation Efforts” in 2008. This Guide has outlined a set of basic guiding principles for managing fish, wildlife, and habitats in a changing climate. Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) developed an Adaptation Strategy, a high level assessment of risks and opportunities, in 2012. Oregon Health Authority (OHA) published a statewide report about the connections between climate change and health, the Climate and Health Profile Report, and works within their Climate and Health Program to better understand how Oregon can prepare for new health risks associated with a changing climate. The Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) created Coastal Erosion Hazard Maps for Lincoln, Tillamook, and Clatsop County as well as for Gold Beach, Nesika Beach, and Alsea Bay. These are just a few of the state adaptation efforts that have taken place since the establishment of the Framework in 2010 and included in my full synthesis report of Oregon adaptation efforts.
With several adaptation plans completed and many projects planned for the future, there were 2 common themes that emerged regarding climate change adaptation across state agencies. Research and monitoring are critical to decrease uncertainties about specific impacts from climate change for continued adaptation planning. Monitoring has been key in developing adaptation plans in the state. For example, the Coastal Beach Monitoring Network has monitored several locations since 2004 for coastal hazards, like erosion, to use the data and understand changes taking place on the coast and develop trends on the more rigorously monitored sites. The beaches are an integrated indicator of sea level rise, storm increase, and shoreline retreat. There is a need for more monitoring information through the coming decades to continue adaptation planning for all climate related risks. The other theme that emerged was the need to align adaptation efforts across natural resource agencies. Not only was this clear in the projects taking place, but also in the conversations I had. Natural resource managers want to learn about other state agency climate change adaptation efforts and work with other agencies to leverage resources and create comprehensive actions that address the climate change risks impacting a given landscape.
Ultimately, climate change adaptation efforts should and will continue to evolve in the state in the coming years. There is abundant scientific and anecdotal evidence that Oregon is already experiencing the effects of climate change (State of Oregon 2010). The Oregon Climate Assessment Report documents these effects and describes the more pronounced changes that are expected to occur in the coming decades (Oregon Climate Change Research Institute 2010). Climate change will affect all Oregonians, our communities, our natural resources, and our businesses. Adaptation is the Oregon tool for creating resilient and strong communities now and into the future that can withstand changing climate conditions.

References:
Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (2010), Oregon Climate Assessment Report, K.D. Dello and P.W. Mote (eds). College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
State of Oregon (2010) The Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework. http://www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/GBLWRM/docs/Framework_Final_DLCD.pdf

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under: Kaity Goldsmith, Natural Resources Policy Fellow
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