Climate Change a Growing Threat to Society

March 2015

After the second winter straight of not having to shovel snow at the base of Mount Shasta, the warning signs of climate change are becoming more difficult to ignore.

Over the past century, Earth has experienced an increased concentration of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. Some of these greenhouse gases are natural and necessary to maintain temperatures conducive to living on planet Earth. Because greenhouse gases trap heat on the Earth’s surface, higher concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases lead to rising temperatures. Since the Industrial Revolution, GHG concentrations have risen from 280 – 400 ppm. Meanwhile average temperatures have risen by 1.4°F, and are projected to rise another 2 to 11.5°F over the next one hundred years.

Warmer air and ocean temperatures are driving changes to meteorological patterns locally and around the world. Even a slight rise in average temperature can melt large quantities of ice, causing a cascade of climatic changes including increased frequency and intensity of storms, droughts and rising sea levels. Climate models indicate that these trends will continue. As witnessed recently, locally, these trends pose significant risks to human health, forests, agriculture, freshwater supplies and other natural resources that are vital to our economy, environment and quality of life.

Climate Change Impacts in Siskiyou County

Even though the warming trend is global, regions experience climate change in different ways, depending upon the surrounding landscape. For this reason, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for adapting to climate change. This inherent aspect of climate change increases the need for stakeholders to convene at the local level. The broader diversity of interests that participate meaningfully in the climate planning process, the more effectively regions may respond to the growing challenges of climate change.

Primary climate impacts projected for Siskiyou County:

  1. Higher average temperatures
  2. Less precipitation falling as snow rather as rain

Primary climate risks in Siskiyou County:

  • Dwindling snowpack, rising snowline and melting glaciers
  • More frequent and extreme droughts
  • Increased incidence of catastrophic wildfire
  • Increased damage to infrastructure from floods and erosion
  • Warming rivers
  • Invasive species
  • Lengthening of the active season of pest infestation
  • Increased forest morbidity
  • Crop yield reductions
  • Keystone species extinction

After four years of record setting drought in California, Siskiyou County — an area accustomed to pristine and plentiful freshwater supplies – is being challenged to rethink the way we manage water. Recently found to be growing (according to a 2006 study), Mount Shasta’s glaciers are projected to begin melting more rapidly due to higher temperatures and less snowfall. Even Mount Shasta’s abundant springs lowered significantly in the summer of 2014. In September 2014, the Konwakiton glacier experienced so much glacial melt over the dry, hot summer that it caused a non-eruptive debris flow event in Mud Creek, causing major damage to rural timber roads and threatening damage to Hwy 89.

Mud Creek Debris Flow

(AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service – Mud Creek after Debris Flow event Fall 2014)

Siskiyou County’s economy has felt the impacts of climate change. Mount Shasta Ski Park and Nordic Center did not open at all in 2013-14 and had an extremely limited season in 2014-15 as a result of limited snowfall in the winter months. The Ski Park’s closure led to a steep decrease in the region’s tourism economy. In the summer months, drought and reduced snowpack at higher elevations have led to “tinder box” conditions in regional forests. Siskiyou County has recently endured the heightened risks of hotter, drier summers through multiple severe fires in the last few years. The Bagley Fire (2012), the Happy Camp Complex Fire (2014), and the devastating Boles Fire in Weed (2014), are among the more notable fires that posed serious threats to people, property and wildlife with high economic consequences in our region.

Wildfires in California

Wildfires in California 2012 NASA Earth Observatory

Adapting to Climate Change

Climate adaptation is the adjustments that society makes to limit negative effects of changing weather patterns on communities, economies and ecosystems. While the challenges to society implied by climate change can appear overwhelming, the opportunities of transitioning to sustainable economies are equally as exciting.

By addressing the risks, evaluating the opportunities and rising to the challenges of climate change, some potential adaptation benefits to Siskiyou County include:

  • Healthier forests
  • Reduced costs from fighting catastrophic forest fires
  • More secure local water and food supplies
  • Economic growth in sustainable industries
  • Happier citizens with higher levels of civic participation and trust in government

One way alpine regions are realizing the opportunities of climate change is through an economic instrument called “payments for ecosystem services”. By creating ways for downstream stakeholders to invest in upstream watersheds, rural communities can generate funds to manage high priority landscapes in ways that enhance ecosystem services, such as freshwater delivery and carbon sequestration. By valuing the incredible worth of natural assets financially, downstream stakeholders can effectively invest in their own freshwater security and relative climate stability.

Renew Siskiyou – A Roadmap to Resilience

In 2014, the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center took on an extensive yearlong climate risk assessment of forest and water resources to help Siskiyou County begin the process of climate adaptation in a proactive and locally relevant fashion. With guidance and funding through Climate Solutions University of the Model Forest Policy Program, our team developed a draft plan called Renew Siskiyou, A Roadmap to Resilience.

Adaptation Planning Framework

Climate resilience can be defined as the capacity to absorb stresses and recover from climate related impacts to the economy and environment. For example, forested, sub-alpine headwaters communities are adapting to climate change by evaluating the relationship between forest health and water yield, and employing forest management practices that reduce fire danger, increase water retention and increase carbon sequestration, all while improving wildlife habitat.

Renew Siskiyou is a 5-year collaborative planning process that builds upon existing efforts to restore ecosystems, and connects them with the need for sustainable economic development. The overall goal of climate planning is to build consensus, partnerships and capacities for local adaptation solutions. The draft plan includes several goals for enhancing climate resilience in Siskiyou County:

  1. Promote source water quality and quantity, through land use protections, river restoration and water conservation;
  2. Restore healthy forest ecosystems through prescribed fire, forest product diversification and sustainable timber management practices;
  3. Integrate climate preparedness, public health and resilient community building to accelerate sustainable economic development opportunities; and
  4. Build partnerships and organizational capacity to refine findings and implement this plan.

Some of the direct beneficial outcomes of implementing a Climate Adaptation Plan in Siskiyou County include:

  • Increased in-stream flow rates, water supply security, reduced flooding risks, less river sedimentation, protected wilderness refuge and improved water quality.
  • Vigorous forests that anchor snowpack and sequester carbon while providing habitat, sustained timber yield, clean air and freshwater quality and quantity (all potential sources of future income to our county through “payments for ecosystem services.”)
  • Reduced risk of catastrophic wildfire, cost savings and improved public health
  • More living-wage jobs in the restorative industries including forest, food, waste reclamation, recreation, renewable energy, public transit and community service sectors.

Community members and natural resource stakeholders are invited to read the adaptation plan, provide comments and become involved in our regional adaptation process. Renew Siskiyou is a ‘living document’ that will be periodically updated and adjusted in accordance with feedback from the local community in an iterative process. The plan will evolve as new information and partnerships become available. To learn more and to get involved, please contact the Ecology Center’s Climate Coordinator, Angelina Cook.

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