Climate Change Already Playing Out in West: New Report

bar beetle view

Terry Seyden also sent this link, to an article about a new report on climate change.

Here’s a link to what I think is the report (note to media folks, if you write an article about a report, it would be helpful if you would provide a link).

Here is a quote from the news article.

The study points to strides and real progress on the ground that demonstrates that government can be responsive and smart in the threat of climate change, and the public-private partnerships out there to curtail its range of potential consequences.

An example is a tree-thinning program instituted in Arizona, which experienced its largest wildfire on record in 2011. Still, the fire did not burn ridges where the thinning had happened. Such strategy invoked in advance of catastrophic wildfires can help reduce other threats, such as flash flooding that can imperil drinking water supplies, the report notes.
“The nexus of climate and forest fires is a flashpoint for several other degraded ecosystems such as water supply and water quality,” the report said.

Here’s a quote on what the report itself says about fires (in Box 4.2).

Box 4.2. Climate Impacting Fire Risk, Water Supply, Recreation,
and Flood Risk in Western U.S. Forests

Authors: Evan Girvetz, Dave Goodrich, Darius Semmens, Carolyn Enquist
The 2009 National Climate Change Assessment (CCSP, 2009) documented the broad-scale forest dieback as a threshold response to climate change in the Southwestern United States (Fagre and others, 2009) and noted this can be a precursor to high severity wildfires. Since that assessment, in the summer of 2011 the largest recorded wildfires in Arizona (Wallow – greater than 538,000 acres with 15,400 acres in New Mexico; greater than$100 million in suppression costs) and New Mexico (Las Conchas – ~156,600 acres) occurred. Both fires had significant impacts on a range of ecosystem processes, individual species, and a number of ecosystem services provided by these systems.

The Las Conchas fire in northern New Mexico burned over 63 residences, 1100 archeological sites, more than sixty percent of Bandelier National Monument (BNM), and over 80 percent of the forested lands of the Santa Clara Native American Pueblo (16,600 acres), and was severe enough to cause forest stand replacement scale damage over broad areas. Following the fire, heavy rain storms led to major flooding and erosion throughout the fire area. Scientific modeling found that this type of storm (25-year event) would lead to river runoff approximately 2.5 times greater and sediment yield three times greater due to this fire in the main canyon of Bandelier National Monument (Semmens and others, 2008; Table 4.1).
Climate change a likely contributing factor: There is good evidence for warmer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and earlier onset of springtime leading to already observed increased wildfires in the western U.S (Westerling, 2006). The National Research Council (2011) projected 2 to 6 times increase in areas in the West burned by wildfires given a 1°C increase. Recent research employing paleodata and an ensemble of climate models projects that the frequency of droughts, which cause broad-scale forest die-back may occur approximately 50 times per century by 2100, far beyond the range of variability of the driest centuries in the past millennium (Williams and others, 2012).

Other Stressors Exacerbating Fire: Forest management practices and invasive insect pests contributed to catastrophic wildfire occurring in these systems. Even-aged second growth forests much denser than natural occur in the West, remove more water out of the soil and increase the likelihood of catastrophic crown fires. In addition, naturally occurring bark beetles breed more frequently and successfully under conditions that are projected to become more frequent with climate change (Jonsson and others, 2009; Schoennagel and others, 2011). Outbreaks of bark beetles and associated tree mortality have increased in severity in recent years, suggesting a possible connection between large fires and the changing fuel conditions caused by beetle outbreaks. In turn, the dead trees left behind by bark beetles can make crown fires more likely (Hoffman and others, 2010; Schoennagel and others, 2011).

Impacts to species and biodiversity: The catastrophic crown fire conditions during the Las Conchas fire undoubtedly had a devastating impact on above-ground wildlife (McCarthy, 2012). Relatively few animals living above ground likely survived. In addition, the mid-elevation areas of all the major canyon systems of Bandelier National Monument experienced extensive to near complete mortality of all tree and shrub cover while leaving dead trees standing. Mexican Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis lucida) nesting and roosting habitat has been altered, potentially affecting its suitability for this species (Jenness and others, 2004). The Jamez salamander is an endangered species whose population was put in further danger due to this fire (McCarthy, 2012).

Impacts to recreation: Post-fire localized thunderstorms on a single day resulted in at least ten debris flows originating from the north slopes of a single canyon in Bandelier National Monument. Popular recreation areas in the Monument were evacuated for four weeks and flash floods damaged the newly-renovated multi-million dollar National Park Service visitor center. In addition, other recreation areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Land Management closed down recreation areas due to the fire, and associated flooding and erosion.
Impacts to Urban water supply: The increased sediment and ash eroded by the floods in the wake of the fire were transported to downstream streams and rivers, including the Rio Grande, a major source of drinking water for New Mexico and 50 percent of the drinking water supply for Albuquerque. The sediment and ash led to Albuquerque’s water agency to turn off all water supplies from the Rio Grande for a week, and reducing water withdrawals in the subsequent months due to increased cost of treatment (Albuquerque Journal, September 2, 2011

An adaptation effort is needed: Safeguarding against fire related impacts and adaptation to change will require innovative solutions, large-scale action and engagement among a variety of different stakeholders. The Southwest Climate Change Initiative (SWCCI), led by The Nature Conservancy, is an example of this type of adaptation planning effort. SWCCI is a public-private partnership developed in 2009 with the University of Arizona Climate Assessment for the Southwest, Wildlife Conservation Society, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Western Water Assessment along with government agency partners with the goal of providing information and tools to build resilience in ecosystems and communities of the southwestern U.S. The SWCCI is currently leading efforts across the Southwest, including adjacent to the Las Conchas fire area, to identify and implement adaptation solutions that help prevent these types of catastrophic events. Some of the solutions being considered include forest restoration activities such as non-commercial mechanical thinning of small-diameter trees, controlled burns to reintroduce the low-severity ground fires that historically maintained forest health, and comprehensive ecological monitoring to determine effects of these treatments on forest and stream habitats, plants, animals, habitats and soils.

Also I agreed with this..

Projecting climate change impacts on biodiversity involves many uncertainties (Pereira and others, 2010; Bellard and others, 2012) stemming from variability in climate projections (particularly precipitation patterns), uncertainties in future emissions, and assumptions and uncertainties in the models used to project species responses and extinctions (He and Hubbell, 2011). Some of these uncertainties are inevitable given that we are trying to predict the future; nonetheless, techniques and modeling approaches are becoming more sophisticated and able to evaluate myriad influences such as biotic interactions and dispersal abilities that were previously deficient. Projections are also complicated by uncertainty about where and how human responses to climate change are likely to impact biodiversity. Sustainable energy development and infrastructure, changes in agricultural practices, human migrations, and changes in water extraction and storage practices in response to climate change are all very likely to have impacts on biodiversity. Predicting where these mitigation and adaptation responses will occur, and how they will impact biodiversity will be a critical step in developing credible future climate change impact scenarios. Although many tools for forecasting climate change impacts on ecosystem services exist (Kareiva and others, 2011), fewer methods for anticipating how people will respond to those impacts have been developed or incorporated into projected impacts on biodiversity.

Except that I think “predicting what people will do” is a less valuable use of resources that “figuring out what is the best thing to do.” Which was actually very difficult to get funding for, comparatively. Just sayin’

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