New UW collaboratory to support equitable and just climate action


Now available: Two new Spanish-Language report translations on climate impacts in Washington

Prolonged wildfire seasons, more extreme temperatures, and more frequent floods — these are just some of the symptoms of a greater global warming problem that Washingtonians are witnessing at a higher frequency. Although these climate changes impact everyone throughout our state’s economy and ecosystems, the extent that communities are personally impacted by such experiences highlight the ways that traditionally overlooked communities continue to be disproportionately affected in the aftermath.

In order to create sustainable change, it’s necessary to make impacts science more accessible and inclusive to all, especially those who have been historically marginalized from the adaptation field.

It’s for this reason that the UW Climate Impacts Group and several community partners are excited to share two Spanish-language reports on the impacts of climate change for Washington State. The reports — Sin Tiempo Que Perder (English report translation:  No Time to Waste) and Cambiando las Líneas de Nieve y las Líneas de Costa (English report translation: Shifting Snowlines and Shorelines) — were originally published in English in 2018 and 2020, and are written for a general audience including policy makers, community organizers, journalists and the public.

The UW Climate Impacts Group and their partners hope that the Spanish translations of these reports will support efforts to engage with Spanish-speaking communities on the issues of climate change and climate impacts across our state.

This post has been adapted from the original blog on the Climate Impacts Group website. To learn more & read the original post, click here.


Carbon in Earth’s atmosphere reaches highest mark in modern history, scientists say


New Resource for Water and Drought Management: 2020 PNW Water Year Assessment


Population health grants boost wildfire and climate research


Surging snowpack can have positive impact on salmon, slow start to wildfire season

Powerful winter storms this season have made for terrible pass travel and avalanche danger. However, scientists say this surging snowpack will do wonders for our environment.

Our impressive snowpack is good news for the things we are passionate about here in the Pacific Northwest, including beloved species like salmon and orcas — and even fire danger.

Over the Cascade and Olympic basins, our snowpack is running more than 100% of normal.

That bodes well for species like salmon.

“Salmon are highly reliant on having the cold water that’s in our streams and the snow is what provides that cool water year-round, said Alison Studley, the Executive Director of Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.

Studley says that thriving salmon not only feed the endangered Southern Resident killer whales, they affect the whole ecosystem, making this robust snowpack so critical.

“Salmon when they return from their ocean migration, they bring all these amazing nutrients back to our river systems and then they die they’re feeding our whole ecosystem from the trees to the bugs to the birds to you know the eagles and wolves,” said Studley.

Hefty mountain snow also benefits important crops around the state like hops, apples and cherries in the Yakima Valley.

A healthy water supply also lowers the chance of drought, and the big one: a solid snowpack can slow the start of wildfire season.

“It keeps the grasses, the fuels on the ground wetter, they don’t dry out as quickly and therefore fire season is slower to start,” said Dr. Crystal Raymond, Climate Adaptation Specialist at the University of Washington.

While scientists are hopeful that this mountain snow could reduce fire danger in some regards, there is some hesitation as well — acknowledging that things can still go south.

Washington State Climatologist Dr. Nick Bond says if temps warm up too quickly in late spring, rapidly melting snow could drain our water resources and possibly lead to flooding.

“We should always be guarded. Mother Nature always has some tricks up her sleeve and doesn’t always play fair,” said Bond.

Scientists say not everyone may benefit equally from this snowpack. Raymond says while more mountain snow can result in fewer fires for forest lands, a heavy snowpack could actually cause grasses and shrubs to grow more readily, priming spots like those in Eastern Washington for bigger fires.

This article was originally published on KOMO News.


For tribes, climate change fight is about saving culture

This article was originally published in the Everett Herald.

TULALIP — When Terry Williams grew interested in climate change in the 1970s, he found information about human-caused global warming to be conflicting and confusing.

“It didn’t make sense until the early ’80s, when we saw a difference in the timing of the floods,” the Tulalip Tribes elder recalled. Later studies bore out what was happening in the tribes’ traditional lands. “The glaciers were melting two to three months early. We got floods in November and December instead of March and April. Rainfall had increased 6%.”

The 5,000 enrolled Tulalip citizens are primarily from the Snohomish, Stillaguamish and Skykomish tribes. In three river systems with the same names, ever-bigger and earlier floods wash away salmon eggs or bury them in river sediment. Higher water temperatures may kill fish that do manage to hatch. They never make it to Puget Sound.

If salmon can’t survive, what will happen to a Native culture based on a plentiful supply?

That question is one that drives the Tulalip Tribes’ intense interest in adapting to and slowing climate change. Williams, 72, helped lead the fight for four decades until his retirement in July as head of the Tulalips’ Treaty Rights Office, which he founded. He passed the torch to Ryan Miller, 33.

“If we lose these species that are so intrinsically connected to who we are, we lose part of ourselves,” said Miller, who as a teenager worked at the tribal fish hatchery where his father, Richard, ran the water quality lab. “It’s already difficult to pass on these traditions in modern societies. As these resources get more scarce, it becomes more and more difficult.”

Miller is director of treaty rights and governmental affairs. The new job title reflects the sovereign nation’s engagement with the world well beyond its 35-square-mile reservation and its more than 9,000 square miles of ancestral lands.

Long active in climate-related efforts at the county, state, national and even international level, the Tulalips have ramped up activities in the past four years. The tribes formed a Climate Adaptation Team in 2016. Two Natural Resources Department staff members, Phil North and Aaron Jones, devote full time to climate issues. More hires are planned.

North is climate adaptation coordinator and conservation scientist. A non-tribal member, he previously worked 28 years for the Environmental Protection Agency, mostly in Alaska. Jones, of Snoqualmie descent, was raised in Tulalip and earned a master’s degree in public administration in 2016. As a treaty rights protection specialist, his responsibilities include maintaining online information at nr.tulaliptribes.com/Topics/ClimateChange.

The Tulalip Tribes’ treaty lands include the Snohomish and Stillaguamish river basins, outlined here. University of Washington scientists estimate that by the end of the century the average daily temperature in the region will be 5.2 to 8.8 degrees higher than it was in 1990, depending on the severity of climate change. (UW Climate Impacts Group)

 

The website is key to the tribes’ climate strategy. It serves in lieu of a formal planning document that quickly would be outdated, North explained. “We decided instead to accumulate our activities online and change that as we go.”

The strategy focuses on five geographic areas: the reservation coast, on-reservation forests, off-reservation forests, the Quil Ceda Creek watershed and the Snohomish River estuary.

On the reservation coast north of Everett, sea level rise and increased storm intensity threaten homes, infrastructure and habitat. The tribes have already torn down houses that were sliding down eroding hillsides to Mission Beach. Facilities at Tulalip Bay, including a sewage treatment plant, could be at risk. One study estimated that Puget Sound has risen nine inches in the past 100 years, North said. Ongoing research aims to predict future storm intensity; results are due in late 2021.

On-reservation forests face increased risk from fire, which could destroy foods, medicine and craft materials that are basic to tribal culture. Fire is among the threats covered in an updated hazard mitigation plan, which the tribes will send to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in January for approval. Like so many Washington residents, people on the reservation live near or in the woods, complicating firefighting and forest management.

In writing the hazard mitigation plan, tribal staff relied on climate history provided by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. While there is evidence of rare catastrophic fires in the region, there is little information about historic tribal management of the forests, North said. Human-ignited, low-intensity fires may well have reduced larger conflagrations.

Off-reservation forests include millions of acres of wildlife habitat, salmon-bearing streams and plant resources that are at risk from a changing global environment. This is where tribal rights afforded under the 1855 Treaty of Port Elliott come into play.

“Most people don’t realize that the tribes didn’t really give up those ceded lands — they basically agreed to share them. So, the future of that territory is of great concern to them,” North said. “The land has been very mismanaged for the last 170 years. The tribes are active stewards.”

Molly Alves (left) and Dylan Collins relocate a beaver to the entrance of a temporary man-made den in 2019 near Sultan. Wildlife biologists worked with the Tulalip Tribes to move nuisance beavers to new homes. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

 

Stewardship includes rebuilding landscapes so they will bounce back from fires and floods. Resiliency is a goal of many Tulalip projects. The tribes work with farmers to keep manure out of waterways, creating clean energy in the process. Staff have relocated nuisance beavers that would build salmon-friendly, water-storing forest ponds. Last summer they helped remove a Pilchuck River diversion dam that has blocked salmon migration for 118 years.

The Quil Ceda watershed, which includes Marysville, will see more floods thanks to changing storm patterns and continued development. The Tulalips’ climate strategy highlights this part of Snohomish County because its reservation is at the downstream end of Quil Ceda Creek, where flooding intensifies. The Tulalips are about to open a second casino near the confluence of the meandering creek and the Snohomish River’s wide Ebey Slough.

The Snohomish River Estuary, where saltwater and freshwater mingle, is critical to salmon. The tribes’ climate change strategy acknowledges that sea level rise will change wildlife habitat and raise groundwater levels on the reservation. It potentially could expose hazardous materials at a former riverside landfill, which was capped as part of a federal Superfund cleanup.

The Tulalips will investigate climate change impacts beyond the landscape, such as community health. The World Health Organization has identified risks from wildfires, extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases. Indigenous populations face increased risks, according to the EPA.

The Tulalips are also studying water sustainability, which Miller said would be an increasing issue in the next two decades.

“We have complicated Western water law, and we’re seeing the drought season get longer and longer,” he said. “The population is growing. How are we going to sustain that development with a reduction in water? We already don’t have enough water in the rivers, enough water for salmon.”

A 2019 survey of tribal members showed overwhelming concern about the impacts of climate change on animals and plants like salmon, orcas and huckleberries. That’s important information for Jones. His job, which is funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is to educate people about climate change and what the tribes are doing about it. He knows it can be a polarizing topic.

“We want to introduce the science around it, so people can frame their own opinion,” he said. “We want to make people feel they like they can do something about it.”

School lesson plans about climate change will be created by staff at the Hibulb Cultural Center, where the education curator happens to be Jones’s mother.

“We hope to help students understand and continue efforts to protect our salmon, cedar and other natural and cultural resources from the risks and effects of climate change,” said Lena Jones. She noted that the cultural center already has relevant exhibits such as Cedar, Environment, and Protecting Our Traditional Knowledge.

Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the UW Climate Impacts Group, is working with the Tulalips to determine the impacts on tribally important plants. The Tulalips have been leaders in organizing meetings, conferences and workshops around climate change, she said.

“They appear to be doing the hard and necessary work of mainstreaming climate change across a range of activities,” she said.

With the Pilchuck Dam flowing behind her, Katie Seguin, with the United States Geological Survey, holds a prism pole while standing in the Pilchuck River on June 30 in Granite Falls. Crews were mapping the riverbed in order to track how sediment moves, once the dam is removed. The Tulalip Tribes took a lead role in removal of the outdated diversion dam. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

 

The Tulalips’ work is part of a national groundswell of tribal climate change efforts. A Bureau of Indian Affairs climate assessment map highlights hundreds of them; the University of Oregon’s Tribal Climate Change Project also keeps track.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians launched its own climate change project in 2014. With Northwest tribal input, UW researchers created an online tool that regional tribes use to assess their vulnerability to climate change. Krosby, who led the project, appreciates the leadership that Native Americans are bringing to climate change.

“The tribes are on it,” she said. “And they’ve been on it — not just adaptation, but mitigation, too.”

Mitigation means reducing the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. There is only so much that tribes can do about that, said Miller, the treaty rights director.

“The reality is, we have to come together as a country, as a species, to reduce carbon emissions,” Miller said. “Without that, nothing else we do will preserve our culture as it is today — whether it’s tribal culture, or the larger culture of human society.”

Northwest tribes threw their weight behind Washington’s Initiative 1631, which would have increased gasoline taxes and spent part of that revenue on landscape restoration. Voters defeated the measure in 2018.

“That was a difficult pill to swallow for me personally, because I worked hard on it,” Miller said. “And now we’re running out of time.”

That urgency is echoed by Terry Williams. He bemoans the Trump administration’s antagonism to climate change efforts over the past four years.

“We’re wasting time, critical time. We have to be ready to hit the ground running” when president-elect Joe Biden takes office, said Williams, who, despite his official retirement, is still hard at work. A member of the Pacific Salmon Commission, he is starting a salmon migration and ocean habitat mapping project.

Tulalip Tribal Chairwoman Teri Gobin, now 63, recalls 50-pound king chinook being hauled onto the beach in seine nets. As late as the 1990s, it was possible for fishermen like her father, late tribal leader Stan Jones, to make a living from the sea. Back then, Puget Sound orcas had more chinook to eat, too. Those resident killer whales are in danger of starvation.

Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

 

Despite devastation of the fishery, Gobin finds reason for optimism. Even about climate change. She is excited about the potential for solar energy on the reservation.

“There are lots of programs out there to help us,” she said. “We could retrofit government buildings, possibly tribal housing. We’re talking about having a solar field.”

Gobin finds cause for hope in the resiliency of nature. She cited the Pilchuck Dam removal, which gave salmon access to 37 miles of spawning habitat. Within a couple of months, coho and chinook were spotted upstream of the former dam site.

Gobin is also buoyed by the trust that non-Indians are putting in the Tulalips.

“We’ve had people donating land back to tribe because they know we will fix it. They know we’ll clean up streams and restore shoreline,” she said. “We are the ones they come to, to help get stuff get done.”


Washington Commissioner’s Climate Summit Highlighted Area, Global Vulnerabilities

Photo by Issy Bailey on Unsplash

“The insurance buying public wants to know that insurance is going to be available and affordable to them when they need it.”

That was the take-home message from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who hosted a half-day virtual summit on climate change on Wednesday.

“We expect to see the area burned by wildfires in Washington quadruple by the 2040s.” – Amy Snover

The Climate Summit 2020 featured a host of experts talking about climate change, its impact on the Pacific Northwest, and the globe, as well as steps being taken to mitigate the impacts of a warming world.

Kreidler has in the past pushed the insurance industry to do more to address climate change, including calling for greater insurer disclosure on climate risk. He founded the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Climate Risk and Resilience Working Group in 2007 and has been the chair since its inception.

He said he worries about insurance consumers, and that as large wildfires continue to become the norm, and flooding becomes more frequent, the insurance industry may look at withdrawing from risker areas.

“At that point, you become very vulnerable,” Kreidler said.

Other presenters at the conference included Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability for Amazon.

Hurst discussed the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, which is intended to accelerate sustainability research in partnership with organizations like NOAA, NASA and the U.K. Met Office.

She said Amazon’s goal is to reach zero carbon emissions in the next few years. As part of that goal, the company has launched 90 solar and wind projects globally, and is on a path to do more each year.

“We’re going to reach 100% renewable by 2025,” Hurst said.

Michelle Lancaster, director of sustainability for Microsoft Corp., said the software giant is working on addressing four areas: carbon, water, waste and the ecosystem.

The company plans to operate “carbon negative” by 2030.

“That’s a big target,” she said. “Somewhere on the order of 16 million metric tons of carbon that we have to reduce or replace by 2030.”

Another Microsoft goal is to be “water positive,” replenishing more water than used, by 2030, and be zero waste by 2030, she added.

She also talked about the company’s “planetary computer,” also being called AI for Earth, to help the world become more sustainable.

“We think that’s really the tip of the spear of what Microsoft can do in this marketplace,” Lancaster said.

Amy Snover is the director of the Climate Impacts Group and the university leader of Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. Both organizations are members of EarthLab.

Dr. Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group and Northwest Climate Adaption Science Center at the University of Washington, said temperatures in the Northwest have been increasing since 1800s, the snowpack is declining, glaciers are shrinking, the timing of stream flow is changing in rivers, sea level rise is affecting Washington’s coast, and coastal waters are warming and acidifying.

“We’re also seeing a large number of fires and area burned has increased in the Northwest in the last couple of years,” she said, noting that dryer fuel is leading to worse wildfires because of human-caused warming. “We expect to see the area burned by wildfires in Washington quadruple by the 2040s.”

What’s worse, she added, is “we’re headed for significant change.” She also said models suggest increased flooding should be expected inland.

Projections show that the river flows in Puget Sound’s 12 largest rivers are expected to rise between 18% to 55% by the 2080s.

Other summit speakers included Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians, Francis Bouchard, Group Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability for Zurich Insurance, Sherri Goodman, with the Polar Institute and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

This article was originally published in Insurance Journal.


Accelerating our global response to a worsening crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic, catastrophic on many levels, has starkly exposed the structural, social, economic and political factors that prevent equitable health outcomes for people around the world.

While communities everywhere grapple with the devastating losses of life, livelihoods and connection, another catastrophe is well underway. Climate change continues to devastate the health and well-being of people all over the planet.

To commemorate the opening of the UW’s new Hans Rosling Center for Population Health, we asked five of the University’s leading voices on climate change and decarbonization to discuss how we can move forward from the pandemic in ways that deliver environmental resilience and positive health outcomes for all.

Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group and university director of the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, contributed to the series with the following essay.

Accelerating our global response to a worsening crisis

Colockum Tarps Fire / WA Department of Natural Resources

As pandemic stay-at-home orders went into effect around the world, we saw headlines celebrating clean air and drops in global greenhouse gas emissions. These changes seemed a thin silver lining during a dark time.

But they were only temporary improvements, not actual success in addressing the root cause of climate change: the centrality of fossil fuels in the global economy. In fact, many responses to the pandemic have slowed our responses to climate change. The next international conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was postponed, and essential funding to tackle climate risks in California and Washington is at risk.

Unfortunately, climate change is not on hold; it continues to accelerate. The year 2020 is on track to be the second warmest year on record. Climate change–fueled wildfires, hurricanes and heat waves affect much of the country, the Greenland ice sheet is reportedly melting past the point of no return, and until we eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions (not just release them more slowly), it will only get worse.

The current global unraveling has shown how we, and the systems we depend on, are all connected. Weaknesses in our health-care system, in social and economic justice and in the stability of our climate make life more precarious for us all.

Rebuilding our collective lives post-pandemic requires attending to all of the intertwined systems that we depend on. Responses to COVID-19 must incorporate solutions for climate change and racial justice. Recovery investments must accelerate decarbonization, not pause it — and advance preparation for rising climate stresses, not punt on it. In a world of compound risks, we must insist on compound solutions. We don’t have enough time, money or planet to do it any other way.

This article originally appeared on the Population Health news page. Read the all five essays here.

 


We Need Unity and a Multifaceted Approach to West’s Wildfires

This op-ed was originally published in The Seattle Times.

As the wildfires burn up and down the West Coast and the thick smoke finally departs Seattle skies, I plea for unity in our discussion of the causes of these fires — unity as a way to move forward on solutions to the wildfire problem in the West.

A firefighter in Jamul, California, battles the Valley Fire along Japatul Road on September 6. Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

 

As a climate adaptation specialist and fire ecologist who has studied wildland fire for 15 years, I have been asked many questions in the last weeks about why the fires and air quality got so bad this September. Is it that the forests are too dry or that there are too many trees? Is it the winds or careless human mistakes? Is it forest management or climate change? To all these questions I answer yes, yes and yes.

These are tragic times with lives lost, homes destroyed and air so unhealthy we can’t let our children play outside. These are not times to be arguing about the causes when science has clearly established that the answer is “all of the above.” As humans, we want a simpler answer, one explanation, but to have any hope of tackling the problem, we need to recognize all the factors colliding to make the wildfire situation so widespread. If we don’t act now on all of these causes, it will only get worse.

In Washington, our dry east-side forests, wet west-side forests, grasslands and sagebrush ecosystems are all naturally fire-prone. These ecosystems have burned in the past, and they will burn again. But science has shown that we humans are changing the game in several ways.

A legacy of forest management excluding fire from dry forest ecosystems has resulted in too many trees, leading to larger and more severe fires.

Development has rapidly expanded into the wildland-urban interface across the state, increasing the number of ignitions and of people and homes in harm’s way when the wildfires do burn. Some people do not even realize that they live in fire-prone environments, especially in wet west-side forests that haven’t burned in a century. And they might not know how to prepare or how to give their homes a fighting chance when the wildfires burn.

Climate change is increasing temperatures, leading to drier summers and increased aridity across the western U.S. In many forests and grasslands, tinder-dry fuels are ready to burn. So when the red flag warnings go out for impending severe fire weather and ignitions spark, climate change is setting the stage for larger and larger fires.

Science has given us evidence of the causes of the wildfire problem, and now we need to turn to science for insights into the solutions. It’s time to connect our understanding of the relative importance of these causes in different places with our efforts to solve the problem.

We can use science to tailor our solutions and minimize impacts to resources, communities and people. Many good examples are in progress — such as creating Fire Adapted Communities, thinning forests and enhancing emergency plans — but not nearly to the extent that they need to be to prevent the 2020 fire season from becoming the norm. And these actions may matter little if we aren’t also reducing emissions sufficiently to prevent dangerous climate change.

So what I want people to be asking me is: Should we address the wildfire problem by changing forest management or suppressing fires? By building fire-smart communities or preparing for fire emergencies? By adapting to climate change, or reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change? And my answer would be yes for some forests, yes for some places and undoubtedly yes if we want this situation to stop getting worse in the future.

The east winds that pushed the large fires as temperatures hit record highs for early September will blow again. My question to you is: Next time these winds blow, will we be any more prepared, or will we still be fighting about the causes?

Crystal Raymond Ph.D. is a climate adaptation specialist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington EarthLab. She has conducted research on fire science and climate change for more than 15 years.