Building momentum for tackling climate change in the Northwest

By: Gabrielle Roesch McNally

Eagle Creek Fire: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Curtis Perry

2017 has certainly been a year of extremes, from record breaking rain and snow events to a long and dry summer across much of the Northwest. Dry and hot summer conditions were accentuated by massive forest fires across the West, many that impacted urban areas in ways not recently experienced  (e.g., Eagle Creek Fire outside Portland, OR), costing the country over $2 billion in suppression costs this year alone. Add in the catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria and you know how much extreme weather is on everyone’s minds.

Many scientists are reporting on the ways that climate change is influencing the severity and frequency of these kinds of events. For example, climate scientist John Abatzoglou from the University of Idaho was recently interviewed by National Public Radio regarding how forest fire suppression efforts, coupled with climate change, have led to more extreme fire activity in the West. While we can’t necessarily link one extreme climate event to climate change, it is clear that climate change is influencing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events experienced in our region and beyond (NAS, 2016).

While it might be easy to be lulled into a sense of hopelessness given all the depressing news lately, it is also important to point out all the positive momentum building in the Northwest to address climate impacts. In particular, three recent and upcoming conferences highlight how much extreme weather and climate changes are on the minds of managers and researchers across the region.

  1. The 8th Annual Northwest Climate Conference kicked off on October 9th this year in Tacoma, Washington. This conference brought together hundreds of researchers as well as managers from around the Northwest to discuss the latest research and management solutions for tackling climate impacts to communities, natural resources, and infrastructure. Next year the conference will be in Boise, ID at the end of October. A few sessions from the agriculture track are worth highlighting here:
  • A presentation by net contributor, Sonia Hall, explored the use of decision support tools among agricultural professionals and suggested that available climate decision support tools are not always what managers need to make decisions in a future where more extreme and variable weather will be the norm. Yet we have lots of relevant science, and a strong interest in making it useful to producers and agricultural professionals.
  • Laurie Houston from Oregon State University, also an net contributor, highlighted lessons learned about how best to incorporate climate scenarios with grower financial information to improve decision making. The AgBizClimate tool enables growers to see projected climate trends in relation to the productivity of their crop(s).  The tool also offers options for growers to modify their budgets and management options based on information from climate models and available input from grower focus groups, helping them make informed decisions for that longer range future characterized by more frequent extreme events.
  • Kristin Trippe from the USDA Agricultural Research Service presented on the Pacific Northwest Biochar Atlas, which is a tool that helps translate biochar research into useful and usable information for growers in the Northwest. On the website users can learn about biochar, read relevant case studies, and find biochar suppliers. Users can also identify which biochar products best meet their needs (while also capturing carbon in their soils).
  1. Coming up on November 16-17th, a diverse group of business leaders, scientists and community members are gathering in Boise, Idaho for the 1st Annual Idaho Climate Summit. During this participatory meeting, land managers, researchers and government officials will be discussing how the changing climate in Idaho can be addressed with market-based solutions, with particular interest in natural resource, public health and business sectors.
  2. On December 13-14th, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians will be hosting a Tribes and First Nations Climate Summit at the Tulalip Resort & Casino in Washington State. Tribes and First Nations are coming together in the region to learn from each other, and their past work and traditions, in order to tackle the challenges of climate change, to create greater resilience within their communities, ecosystems, and natural resources in the face of more frequent weather extremes and new baseline conditions (e.g., sea level rise). The summit is being led by Tribes and First Nations but they welcome appointed leaders, resource managers, health specialists, traditional elders, scientists, students and practitioners to attend the conference. contributors and our partners are involved in actively supporting these events. We hope to improve the ways that regional meetings serve the unique needs, interests, and concerns of natural resource managers in the Northwest working to address climate change and incorporate climate change into their decisions. Please reach out to us with your thoughts about how we can improve resources and tools so you can better adapt to our changing climate.

Point of contact:  Gabrielle Roesch-McNally

While you are at it, check out the new USDA Climate Hubs website, perhaps the tool or resource you are looking for is there!

Windmills in Lower Snake River, WA
CC BY-NC 2.0


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Attribution, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies. Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2016.  Print ISBN: 9780309380942. E-book ISBN:9780309380973.

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