Author Archives: sonia.hall

Community Learning and Social Resilience – An Example of its Importance

By James Ekins, Ph.D., University of Idaho Extension

Citizen science workshop participants learning to collect water quality data in a gentle stream.

IDAH2O citizen scientists learning how to collect good stream data. Participants return home with a more sophisticated understanding of stream processes and are better prepared to explain stream health to neighbors and elected representatives, contributing to community learning. Photo: James Ekins.

Understanding and managing natural resources and agricultural processes are complex tasks, especially in a rapidly changing world. Community resilience has been described as the “existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability and surprise (Magis 2010).” One important ingredient for achieving community resilience is community learning, the idea that groups of people build and share norms, values, beliefs, and understandings of the world around them. Overall, the better a community communicates, the greater its ability to develop values and norms that lead to adaptive capacity (the ability of people to engage in activities that influence resilience). Different ways of knowing enable different capacities; communities assemble knowledge from multiple sources, along with local (place-based) cultural adaptations, to adapt to change.

As an Extension educator, I wonder how social learning increases a community’s capacity to react and adapt to socio-ecological change. Are we as non-formal educators making a difference? Are our communities more resilient with long term educational processes like multistakeholder collaborative groups, field tours, and public education workshops? How do they result in a community that is better connected, with a broader base of knowledge and common understanding to draw from? Continue reading

Managing for Washington’s Future: A Bigger Player in Veggie Production

By Fidel Maureira, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Washington State University

Cartoon of hilly landscape with rows of vegetables.

Cartoon adapted from https://pixabay.com (free for commercial use; no attribution required).

A few months ago I wrote an article that gave a preview of the work we were conducting, to explore whether Washington State could become the new California in vegetable production as the climate warms. Results from this work are now in, and the answer is… yes, the potential is definitely there. Continue reading

Climate Change and Downy Brome in Pacific Northwest Dryland Agriculture

 Q&A with Weed Scientist Dr. Ian C. Burke

Two headshots

Ian Burke (top) and Doug Finkelnburg (bottom).

By Doug Finkelnburg, Area Extension Educator, Cropping Systems, University of Idaho Extension

In the book “Advances in Dryland Farming in the Inland Pacific Northwest”, the common weed downy brome or “cheatgrass” is identified as potentially problematic for wheat producers as the climate changes. Downy brome is projected to head earlier in the season and expand its present occupied acreage. Such changes are happening concurrently to broader herbicide resistances being found in Pacific Northwest downy brome populations, a combination that puts increased pressure on weed managers. Curious how these issues interacted, I asked Dr. Ian Burke, Washington State University Weed Scientist and lead author of the Advances chapter “Integrated weed management” about how climate change and herbicide resistance will affect downy brome management. Continue reading

Announcement: Restoring the Narrative – Wildfires of Eastern Washington

Join WSU Extension Forester Sean Alexander, US Forest Service research scientist Dr. Paul Hessburg, author of the acclaimed TED Talk Living (Dangerously) in the Era of Megafires, and Dept. of Natural Resources wildfire protection specialist Guy Gifford (DNR) to discuss the history of fire on the landscape, how it shaped our forests, what we are doing today to manage these forests, and what landowners on the dry Eastern side of the state can do to protect their homes and resources.

Tuesday, July 21st 6:30 pm

Register Here  (https://bit.ly/2OkWzU7)

Firefighter in an open, meadow-like area, looking towards trees and a fire truck surrounded by smoke, with flames close to the ground in places

A prescribed burn project near Leavenworth, Washington in May 2020. Photo: Sean Alexander

Source Contact

Sean M. Alexander, Extension Forester – NE, Washington State University

Email: sean.alexander@wsu.edu. Phone: (509) 680-0358 (cell).

Boutique Biochars: Exploring Engineering Strategies to Increase Phosphate Adsorption

By Karen Hills

This is part of a series highlighting work by Washington State University (WSU) researchers through the Waste to Fuels Technology Partnership between the Department of Ecology and WSU during the 2017-2019 biennium.

Researcher in lab.

Figure 1. Michael Ayiania is a Postdoctoral Researcher working on approaches to engineering biochars at Washington State University. Photo: R. Esquivel-Garcia.

Biochar is produced by pyrolysis of woody (technically, lignocellulosic) materials. By controlling the conditions under which it is produced, researchers can engineer biochar to be more effective for particular purposes. In previous articles, I explored work looking at the potential for biochar to draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide and increase water holding capacity in soils. Michael Aniayia (Figure 1) and his colleagues in the lab of Dr. Manuel Garcia-Perez at Washington State University, engineered biochar for a specific purpose – adsorbing phosphate, a nutrient that, because it is also common in wastewater and manure, can pollute waterways. Aniayia’s objective was to evaluate strategies for producing biochar in order to improve its ability to remove phosphate. Continue reading

Check it out: Engagement as a Path Towards Greater Resilience to Climate Change

By Sonia A. Hall

Two people on horseback rounding up cattle

Our most recently published case study on resilience to climate change describes Brenda and Tony Richards’ family cow-calf operation in Murphy, Idaho.

Over the last few years at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources we have developed a range of case studies highlighting individual farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest that are implementing practices or strategies that provide ecological and economic benefits now in addition to increasing resilience to climate change. We’ve discussed some of these case studies in previous AgClimate articles (see those on the use of stripper headers and precision nitrogen). Our most recent series is the Rancher-to-Rancher series, which explores innovative approaches three Pacific Northwest ranchers are using that increase their resilience in the face of a changing climate. Though each case study is specific to the conditions of the particular rancher being profiled, insights and strategies from each case study may be applicable elsewhere.

Check out the most recently published case study, that describes Brenda and Tony Richards’ family cow-calf operation in Murphy, Idaho. Continue reading

Announcement: Northwest Drought Workshop – July 28 and 30

Panel of four photos, showing a horseman herding cattle, an alpine meadow overlooking a creek, a green field with woodland in the background, and a wheat field with a flowering canola field in the background.

Photos provided by the USDA Northwest Climate Hub.

The USDA Northwest Climate Hub and National Drought Mitigation Center are hosting a Northwest Drought Workshop via three virtual sessions on 28 & 30 July 2020. This event is for aimed at USDA agency staff (NRCS, FSA, RD, RMA, FS, etc.) and Federal Partners, including Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Watershed Councils, Tribes, University Extension, and other State and Federal Agencies.

The objectives of these workshops are to get a better sense of drought and how it’s monitored, impacts of drought and interconnections in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, as well as share information and resources to raise awareness about drought and lead to changes in response to dry conditions in the region.

Intended outcomes include: Increasing drought impact reporting; remaining informed on drought status; developing a summary of information shared for adapting to drought conditions; and identifying participant-driven next steps and needs.

The first session will be held on 28 July from 8 am – 11 am PT. Participants will:

  • Learn about the U.S. Drought Monitor, including how it is made each week
  • Hear from local experts about drought in Oregon, Washington and Idaho
  • Learn how to report drought impacts
  • Discuss how drought affects USDA programs

The second session will be held on 30 July 8 am – 11 am PT. There will be an east-side focused session with a panel discussion and peer-to-peer learning about drought adaptation practices for lands east of the Cascades (Eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and Idaho). Panelists and peer-to-peer learning will include agriculture, forestry, and rangelands.

The third session will be held on 30 July 1 pm – 4 pm PT. There will be a west-side focused session with a panel discussion and peer-to-peer learning about drought adaptation practices for lands west of the Cascades (Western Oregon, Western Washington). Panelists and peer-to-peer learning will include agriculture, forestry, and rangelands.

Register via this link. You are welcome to register for as many of the workshops as you’d like, however, attendance is limited, so sign up as soon as possible to secure a spot.

The Lasting Impacts of Wildfire

Re-posted from Water Current News, WSU Extension

Hillsolope with trees in the foreground, and rockier slopes with a forested patch in the background

The Entiat Experimental Forest 40 years after a wildfire. Photo Marketa McGuire.

In 1970, when a large lightening caused wildfire started in the Entiat Experimental Forest in north-central Washington, researchers had already collected 12 years of baseline data on three watersheds. Weather and streamflow (including quantity, quality, and timing of water discharge) had all been recorded. This provided a unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of post-fire recovery efforts on hydrology.

Decades after the fire occurred, Ryan Niemeyer, an adjunct professor in Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, along with his colleagues Kevin Bladon and Rick Woodsmith, began examining the long-term impacts the fire had on the hydrologic system. His findings, recently published in the journal Hydrological Processes, reveal that fire can affect annual stream discharge, peak flows, low flows, and evapotranspiration even 40 years after the burn. Continue reading

Are There More Multiyear Snow Droughts in Our Future?

By Adrienne Marshall

Hiker in a high elevation area, with a small lake and ridges with patchy snow in the background

Late May in the Sierra Nevadas in 2015, a low snowpack year that enabled spring recreation in the high country. Photo: Darren Bagnall.

As an environmental scientist, I’ve done plenty of hiking in the western U.S., always with a map, water bottle and list of water sources. In dry areas it’s always smart to ration water until you get to a new source. Sometimes a stream has dried up for the season, or a pond is too scummy to drink from, so your supply has to stretch further than planned. On one memorable hike, I found that a water source was dry. The next one, three miles later, was dry too. And the one after that had a dead bear carcass in it. While one dry water source was tolerable, several in a row created a serious problem.

Something similar is happening to snow resources in the western United States. Scientists have long known that the warming temperatures associated with climate change are diminishing the region’s snowpack, with more precipitation falling as rain, rather than snow. That’s a problem because snowpack is a critical resource, acting as a natural reservoir that stores winter precipitation. Are we likely to face several low snowpack years in a row? Continue reading

A New Method for Measuring Plant Available Water Capacity Helps Document Benefits of Biochar-Soil Mixtures

By Karen Hills

This is part of a series highlighting work by Washington State University (WSU) researchers through the Waste to Fuels Technology Partnership between the Department of Ecology and WSU during the 2017-2019 biennium.

Five panels showing equipment, from small tubes to psychrometers.

Figure 1. Apparatus used to measure plant-available water holding capacities (PAWC) by conventional and centrifuge methods. A) pressure-plate apparatus for conventional field capacity measurements, B) soils in cups on top of pressure membrane, C) dew-point psychrometer for conventional wilting-point measurements, D) assembled centrifuge filter tube showing removable filter top containing soil to right, and E) rack containing large number of assembled and loaded centrifuge tubes. Source: Amonette et al., 2019.

Biochar has potential to draw down atmospheric carbon when applied to agricultural soils (as discussed in my previous article on this topic). There is currently not a robust way for farmers to be directly compensated for the benefits to society such drawdown provides. However, researchers have been exploring other co-benefits of using biochar as a soil amendment. One such co-benefit is biochar’s ability to increase the water-holding capacity of agricultural soils, and thus increase plant productivity in situations where water is limiting. However, documenting this effect has been limited by how time consuming and expensive it is to measure plant-available water-holding capacity (PAWC) by standard methods (See Figure 1 A, B, C). In an effort to alleviate this barrier, Jim Amonette at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources led the development of a new, inexpensive, rapid method for measuring PAWC of soil-biochar mixtures (See Figure 1 D, E), based on applying a specific level of water potential to a sample using a centrifuge. The sample is supported by a filter membrane fixed midway in a centrifuge tube, thus allowing drainage into the bottom of the tube to occur. Continue reading