Interior Department’s Climate Science Centers persevere

As other initiatives get cut, these centers could ride out the Trump administration.

 

Will Badlands National Park have enough forage in the future for its bison herds? Can the Wind River Reservation manage tribal water storage to account for the fact that snow now melts earlier? Could flash droughts be predicted more accurately, such as the one that Montana experienced last summer that led to one of the worst ever wildfire seasons in the state?

All of these questions, and many more, are being addressed at eight regional Climate Science Centers created during the Obama administration. Their mission is to support scientific research to help public land managers and tribes respond to the multitude of climate change effects underway in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

The Alaska Climate Science Center is researching how climate change will impact fires in coming decades. The 2014 Funny River Fire burned 200,000 acres at the Kenai-Kodiak Area Forest.

President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal took a big swing at the centers, proposing to cut their numbers in half and reduce their budget by a third. But the Trump administration didn’t try to eliminate them outright as it has many other Obama climate change initiatives. The key to their resilience is that they don’t focus on the kinds of climate science that the Trump administration likes least — research into the human role in climate change and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now supporters of the Climate Science Centers believe there’s hope the centers will ride out the Trump administration.

“Even in this administration, there’s a recognition that we still need to prepare for increased flooding and drought and the knock-on effects of climate change,” says Bruce Stein, chief scientist of the National Wildlife Federation. That’s why the Trump administration’s budget also proposed adding the word adaptation to the centers’ name: Climate Adaptation Science Centers. “We believe that is an important distinction Interior is making between our work and mitigation type work; that will help the centers survive,” says Robin who helped found the Climate Science network and this summer became the director of the based at Colorado State University.

The center uniquely focus on what climate science means for the day-to-day work of land managers as they cope with melting glaciers, deeper and more frequent droughts, longer wildfire seasons, hotter air and water temperatures, rising sea levels and more intense rainstorms. “People now are starting to get a sense of what climate will be like,” O’Malley. says. “The real question is ‘what do I do about it?’”

North Central Climate Center is helping the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service adjust grazing permits to reflect how climate change is impacting springs and other water supplies on grazing land. The center has worked with ranchers to get their insights into solutions. “We get into the weeds with these folks — dirty fingernails and wet feet — trying to figure out what the possibilities and implications of change are,” O’Malley says. “We’ve already been useful to people on the ground. That utility is being recognized by decision makers on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Although the final shape of the fiscal 2018 budget is far from certain, a draft Senate budget released in November would continue funding the centers at $25 million, approximately the current level. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the head of the key Senate subcommittee that drafts the budget is Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska. Her state is warming twice as fast as in the lower 48 states. “Climate change is not something in the distant future,” says , a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor who helps direct the Alaska Climate Science Center. “It’s something occurring right now.” 

Rupp says the center has broad support in the state because no matter who you are — a moose hunter, a city manager or a fisherman — the fact that the climate is changing is unmistakable. “We have communities that are literally falling into the ocean,” he adds. Scientists at the Alaska Climate Science Center are developing modeling tools that will be able to project the future impacts of climate change on dozens of coastal towns that are threatened by erosion, storm surges and thawing permafrost. This will allow individual villages to learn more about the risks they face, says , the center’s U.S. Geological Survey co-director.

Another project underway will analyze how climate change will impact the flooding caused annually by lakes that form behind glaciers. Water builds up and eventually cascades over a glacier or and flows underneath in giant pulses that flood homes, roads and other infrastructure. “Outburst floods are not predictable. They can be a serious danger to communities and to critical infrastructure in the state,” says Dr. Gabriel J. Wolken, who manages the state’s climate and cryosphere hazards program and is an assistant research professor for the Alaska Climate Science Center. “They’re some of the most dynamic and potentially destructive phenomena to occur in Alaska on a regular basis.” Wolken is also working on warning systems to alert the City of Valdez and Juneau, which both sit at the base of big glaciers, when floods are imminent.

Since it opened in 2010, the Alaska center has received broad support from state and federal officials. Budget cuts at the scale proposed by the Trump administration would be devastating to the work. “It would have a big impact and would trickle down to our ability to do relevant science,” Rupp says.

Beavers can help restore streams, slowing down the flow and cooling water temperatures.

Even with the uncertainty hanging over the centers, recently signed on to be the new academic director of the Northwest Climate Science Center, based at the University of Washington where she is also the assistant Dean of applied research at the College of the Environment. Her center is just starting to fund research looking at how to best conduct sagebrush restoration projects that will withstand the hotter, drier conditions expected with climate change. Another project will assess past efforts to rehabilitate streams by reintroducing beavers. The idea is to develop criteria for when beaver reintroductions both make good sense ecologically and likely will be supported by local residents.

“People across the West are concerned about drought impacts, wildfire and floods. They want that information now to understand how things are changing and what they need to do in the future.” Snover says. “There is a demand for this information that is obvious. That is a large part of why the mission of the climate science centers is so important and why I’m bullish about their long-term success.”

 

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes HCN’s DC Dispatches from Washington.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • 2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...