Is this the new normal?

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.


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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.

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.

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia: a Regional approach with the Pacific Coast Collaborative

Coastal Oregon and the west coast are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA) and hypoxia. Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are absorbed into our oceans and change the ocean’s chemistry by decreasing the pH, causing increased acidity. Naturally occurring seasonal upwelling of waters from deep in the ocean bring CO2 rich waters to the surface and exacerbates this acidification phenomenon. In these highly acidic environments there is less carbonate, a component of seawater, for many sea animals to use in their formation. Some examples of impacted sea animals include oysters, clams, mussels, corals and some plankton. OA is already negatively impacting Oregon’s economy due to failed shellfish larval production, namely at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. With significant impacts already occurring to larval shellfish and plankton species, scientists are also concerned about amplified impacts to species higher in the food web that prey on these organisms. While wild fishery population impacts have not yet been linked to OA, as OA and hypoxic zones increase in frequency and intensity, experts anticipate that linkages will emerge.

It is with this knowledge and understanding that managers and scientists from Oregon joined their counterparts from Washington, California, and British Columbia in Seattle in mid-April. The meeting, convened by the Pacific Coast Collaborative, was intended to build lines of communication and collaboration among ocean decision makers in state, federal, and tribal governments and scientists on the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel. Meeting attendees worked together to identify the state of the science from across the region, and to join forces to address OA. The meeting included science presentations and management brainstorming about OA impacts and adaptation strategies. Between June and October 2015 the West Coast OA and Hypoxia Science Panel will be releasing their findings for OA and hypoxia on the west coast. Moving forward, meeting attendees have agreed to translate these findings into actionable management decisions to build a more robust and effective state, federal, and tribal effort to understand, adapt, and build resiliency to OA and hypoxia and to determine additional needs for research and monitoring at a regional scale.

I was able to not only attend this meeting, but assist in the planning, conducting, and post-meeting follow-up actions. It was clear at the meeting that all attendees have a deep concern for the causes of OA and its impacts. Changing ocean chemistry will undoubtedly continue to be a focus for ocean resource managers and scientists in the coming years as CO2 concentrations increase in the atmosphere and the ocean, and pH continues to drop.

Welcome to the GNRO

Hello again! For everyone who has been following this blog over the past year, welcome to the official “re-branding” of my blog-spot as an Oregon Natural Resource Policy Fellow in the Governor’s Natural Resources Office. For those who have yet to read this blog, a little background: I am a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Management program in the Department of Environmental Management at Portland State University in Portland, OR. My graduate research focused on evidence-based decision making in coastal and marine management and policy in the Pacific Northwest. At a high level, this work tested a 2 phase methodology for bridging the gap between academic research and policy and management practice: The 1st phase included an interviewing process to gather primary qualitative data and determine scientific data needs of ocean relevant decision makers. In the 2nd phase, I conducted a workshop to bring together academic scientists and decision makers to disseminate phase 1 findings and begin to foster the development, communication, and use of policy relevant research. I have resolved to continue focusing on understanding how best to bring scientific knowledge into policy action through my career in coastal and marine policy creation and management implementation.

My graduate research was funded by the Oregon Sea Grant Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship, and I feel very fortunate to continue to work with Oregon Sea Grant as well as other Sea Grant scholars over the next year. I anticipate gaining an incredible wealth of knowledge over the next year working in the Oregon Governor’s Natural Recourses Office. As a neophyte walking around this Office, I often find myself with eyes open wide and full of excitement. Oregon Sea Grant has provided me this incredibly rare opportunity to be placed in the heart of ocean and coastal policy in such a critical coastal state, and I intend to take advantage of every moment. I welcome you to follow me along this journey over the next year!

Closing Remarks

It’s hard to believe that this will be my last blogpost as a Malouf Scholar. The past year has been amazing, and would not have been possible without the support of Oregon Sea Grant. I have completed my graduate research, compiled the findings, and graduated from Portland State University this summer. Through my research I proposed and tested a method to overcome institutional barriers and build cross-sector communication capacity between decision makers and scientists that mutually benefits those involved while promoting their respective roles in society. Preserving and protecting critical coastal and marine resources becomes ever more important as climatic, land use, and socio-demographic shifts occur. Doing so will require effective and efficient policy and management schemes that include the best available science, i.e., evidence-based decisions. My research engaged decision makers and scientists to begin a collaborative approach to extract, design, and integrate relevant information into evidence-based policy and management practices. This integrated approach maximizes use of information to prevent, and in some cases reverse, the negative effects of human practices.
Though, I want to emphasize that this work has been just the start in a long and sustained process. Further workshops, dedicated interactions, and the stimulus from funding agencies should all be used to sustain the connection between decision-makers and scientists. A clear linkage between decision makers and scientists, electronic networks, decision support tools, and ecological models can all support long-term engagement as well.
Increasing communication between scientists and decision makers results in an impressive return on monetary investments, generating greater value for research dollars spent by developing more effective research. By enhancing social capital through communication, decision makers can better protect natural capital. Since there are real economic and ecological costs associated with continued consumption of finite resources, the interactions established during my research (and ideally beyond) should be a high priority for decision-makers and scientists alike.
While I have recently accepted a Natural Resource Policy Fellowship with Oregon Sea Grant at the Governor’s Natural Resources Office (and my attention will naturally shift to this program’s requirements), I intend to continue to follow-up with the work I have done with evidence-based decision making. Fortunately, there is a strong desire in the Governor’s Natural Resources Office to do just that! I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to continue these efforts, and embrace new ones in my role, as well as continue to work with the amazing caliber of people at Oregon Sea Grant. As I move on to this next stage, and pass along the torch to the next cohort of Malouf Scholars, I look forward to reading about what fascinating and promising research they conduct! Stay tuned everyone!

Communication for the Win

Last Friday, on a beautiful sunny day in Corvallis, decision makers and researchers came together in communication. The workshop was a great success! Through a series of mini-presentations, open group discussions, and one-on-one meeting opportunities, members from a variety of organizations worked to open lines of communication, share information, and generate applied research projects. There was an overall excitement in the room in working towards a common goal of mutual understanding.

The workshop team learned quite a bit about what went well, and where we can improve to make events such as this an even greater success. Of course, one workshop can only start this process, we are excited to explore ways to continue this work and further foster communication within and between the decision making and research sectors.



It’s Workshop Season

The sun is starting to emerge in western Oregon, and that makes this the perfect time to have a workshop on inter-sector communication…Right? Well that’s what those of us on the INACaMMP project team believe anyhow. It has been in the making for more than a year, and now the workshop is less than 2 weeks away! With the intended goals of coordinating and opening lines of communication to initiate iterative research project development between decision makers and scientists, we will be conducting a series of interactive activities during this 1 day session.

While the workshop has been designed around research results from initial phases of the INACaMMP project, there will also be ample opportunity for participants to discuss various issues most pressing to coastal and marine policy and management. In conducting this workshop, the project team aims to address decision makers’ needs to 1) Infuse research into their policy and management decisions and 2) Use this scientific data to communicate the reasoning behind their decisions with the public. We will also be working to fulfill scientists’ needs to 1) Demonstrate stakeholder and societal relevance in their research and 2) Translate basic research in a way that can be used in policy and management decisions. Finally, we will be addressing the national and state commitments to work with an Ecosystem Services framework in attempts to approach natural resource management in a more holistic manner.

By exploring a variety of interactive opportunities, we will investigate how to best design a workshop intended to generate applied and inter-sector research projects. I am very much looking forward to understanding participant feedback from the workshop and posting some of the findings to this blog. Most excitingly, I am anxious to see what projects and connections might begin at the workshop!

I now know what I wanted to know

In my last post I mentioned that I was deeply entrenched in data analysis. I am now happy to report, that I made it through the trenches! What a great feeling it is to have taken pages and pages of transcribed words, to work with it and mold it like play dough until I come to some understanding of what all those interviews were telling me. That being said, I have found that qualitative data analysis is an iterative process, and as I begin the write-up for this project some elements are still evolving.

While I don’t want to get too deep into detail, interviewees reported fascinating preferences regarding important ecosystem services and scientific data needs that I would be remiss not to at least touch on here. Overall interviewees reported 20 ecosystem services as being important benefits provided to the community and state through ocean resources, four of which rose above the rest as they were expressed by 50% or more of participants. These services included a broad concept of recreational opportunities, broad level economic prospects, commercial fishing, and tourism. A telling pattern emerged from these important ecosystem services when they were analyzed by exploring interviewee proximity to the resources. This pattern portrays a relationship between place based ways of knowing ocean resources and perceptions on importance of services.

A similar pattern can be seen in the stated scientific data needs of policy and management decision makers interviewed. Overall, interviewees stated that current scientific data needs related to:
• Ecosystem services analysis
• Updated information for estuarine ecosystems in the state
• Local baseline habitat information
• Spatial mapping studies
• Stock and fisheries data
• Effects of renewable energy on ocean resources

However, a closer look at proximity to ocean resources revealed further emphasis on certain data needs for coastal decision makers, and certain needs for decision makers located geographically inland. Analysis of other interview descriptors revealed some interesting, though less widely prominent, patterns regarding preferences and correlation to entity affiliation as well as years in the field. I hope this teaser of results as successfully enticed you to read the unabridged results and discussion in the final project report when it is completed this summer.

These results of the interview analysis will be used to feed into a data Synthesis Session to be conducted this coming spring. From the beginning of this project I wanted to work with some tool meant to bring stakeholders together around this issue of effective ocean resource management and policy based on data driven decisions. For this reason, the Information Needs Assessment for Coastal and Marine Management and Policy in the Pacific Northwest project will be conducting a Synthesis Session of the results from interview analysis. This Session will bring together coastal decision makers and policy practitioners with academic scientists from a range of institutions. Various structured and semi-structured interactions will be used to communicate data needs and scientific research interests among parties involved. The Synthesis Session will try to generate the basis for evolving-mutualistic relationships in which policy practitioners and academic scientists work together to define research projects oriented around informing a pressing policy or management decision. Ultimately, some understanding will be garnered from this experience regarding how well relationships may be formed in this setting. With the significant threat to ocean resources, understanding various perspectives and related scientific data needs is crucial is creating more effective policy to protect, enhance, or restore coastal and ocean ecosystems in the state.

Plans are forming now about where (Corvallis), when (May 30th), and how the Synthesis Session will be conducted. Interview results regarding how policy and management decision makers find data transfer most effective are being used to formulate the types of interactions to be had during the Session. I am very much looking forward to seeing what may evolve from the next portion of this project, and will happily report back in posts to come!

I have reached the point where I know exactly what I don’t know.

This being my first blog post, I thought it would be appropriate to start with a little about me. I’m originally from Massachusetts, but find myself in the beautiful state of Oregon working towards a Masters of Environmental Management. I am a candidate at Portland State University under the excellent guidance of my advisor, Dr. Elise Granek. I came back to school after some time working in the solar energy industry in order to better understand how best to bring scientific knowledge into policy action. In doing so, I study coastal ecosystem services knowledge gaps in the policy and management community in Oregon. My research will form a framework for connecting data needs of coastal policy makers and managers with scientific research with matching interests in the near future and long-term. I hope this will provide a methodology for effectively connecting the scientific community with policy makers and managers in other coastal states. I suspect that due to its strong focus on outreach in the marine environment, I was fortunate to be awarded the Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship for this work! I look forward to applying my background and education to a career in coastal and marine policy creation and management implementation.
That being said, I’m a year into my work and I’ve hit what seems to be the most critical time, analysis! Since last May I have been interviewing and focus grouping various decision makers on the Oregon coast and have collected a significant amount of qualitative data to work with. Aided by the vast knowledge of Amy Lubitow PhD, an environmental sociology associate professor at Portland State University, and Max Nielsen-Pincus PhD, an environmental public policy and management associate professor at Portland State University, as well as the use of advanced qualitative data analysis software, I will be coding data and evaluating the emergent themes of ecosystem service priorities and research needs in coastal Oregon public policy and management.
Conducting the interviews and focus group research for this project was a learning experience in itself. Every person I spoke with had a unique perspective on marine policy and management practices. Since I was relatively new to this form of data collection, it seemed that the more interviews and focus groups I conducted the better I became at digging deeper into those perspectives. Unfortunately, that also meant that the audio files recording these qualitative data interactions became progressively longer as the project progressed. This made transcribing the data a much more significant task than I ever realized! The length of time required for the transcriptions was longer than I had anticipated, but what’s a master’s thesis without a glitch in the originally planned timeframe?
Now that the transcriptions are finally complete and I have read through them, I am feeling very good about the data that has been collected. The questions are all asked, and the data is all there, now the key is matching qualitative data with questions to come to some conclusions. In short, I am at the stage now where I know exactly what it is I don’t know; but I’m moving in the direction of knowing. This seems to be the most exciting and daunting my project has been since inception.
Where do I go from here? Well, the exact answer to this question depends on the data analysis. Coding and analysis of the data will determine the kinds of scientific informational needs that exist on the coast. From there the synthesis session will, simply put, be planned according to identified needs in order to reach out to the scientific and decision making communities to be the basis for a more iterative process of interactions. However, this is actually not quite as simple as it may sound. There remains a significant amount of work to achieve in a short period of time, but first things first: Analysis!