This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and we’ve got your 2050 climate forecast for the Northwest. This region has been defined in the government reports as three states: Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. This past summer in particular, summer of 2021, we saw heat waves in this region that were not predicted to occur for maybe another decade. The question isn’t so much what’s going to happen, because it is happening, as what are these changes going to do.
The Northwest has a lot of communities working in resource extraction. Whether we’re talking forestry, agriculture, or fishing, this region supplies a many of the raw materials the rest of America needs. Everyone who cares about these natural resource industries is aware of the work the people of the Northwest have put into making these resources sustainable. And it’s that kind of teamwork, that kind of development, that will let this region get through the changes that are coming. In the Northwest, we’re looking at a general warming trend, which will impact snowpack and thus landscapes, and that warming trend is also going to cause significant changes in the sea. But moreso than many other regions, the challenge the Northwest region will face is unpredictability.
Unpredictability is hard to plan for. Since 2015 especially, that unpredictability has been felt in the region. It’s hard to know what to expect, and that’s kind where things are going to be for the foreseeable. Any given year you could be dealing with a lot of rain, and I do mean a lot of rain, that atmospheric river type rain, or with pretty serious drought. You could have wildfires in forests that are historically very wet, not historically fire-managed forests. You could have heat waves which will be similar to the 2021 heat waves. The heat waves won’t be much hotter than we’ve already seen this past summer, but those were already hot enough to cause substantial loss of human life. So the situation is serious, and we’re already looking right at it in the Northwest.
This lack of predictability is going to have serious impacts on natural resources. The best way to prepare for a lack of annual predictability is to build a lot of flexibility into the system. And like I’ve said, it’s already happening here, and the people of this region have shown that they have what it takes. They have shown that they are willing to divert water from agriculture to save natural resources. They have shown that they will make every effort, reconfigure a whole landscape, revive entire watersheds, in effort to save the salmon runs. These are the kinds of efforts we need if we want to keep the natural resources of this area, which are so economically important, not even to mention their cultural and spiritual importance.
Outlooks for the marine fisheries are very challenging, but if current trends in agriculture hold, there is opportunity for inland agriculture to diversify and begin planting more high-profit specialty crops with the warmer weather. The wine industry is likely to move up into the Northwest from California. The potential for grapes is really quite excellent, it’s really worth investigating if you’re interested in that kind of thing. Inland agriculture in this region does have access to some aquifers that have not been overly abused, that still have the potential for sustainable use. This availability of backup sources of water, of water sources that can allow you to be flexible in an unpredictable climate, these are a real bright spot for the region.
Similarly, the forest industries in this region, we already see a lot of managed forests, and well-managed, sustainable forests. As these industries look to adapt to the future of the region, there will be a need to shift the types of trees the industry replants for future harvest, but there are many types of suitable trees that could be grown. There are trees that have a really high tolerance for water stress, that can make it in wet years and dry years, and that will appreciate the warmer winters coming to the region. So there are ways to prepare, and these are changes that will need to start in plant nurseries, to allow us to grow the forests of tomorrow.
The natural resources of the Northwest are crucial to America; to American stability and to American security. We are all so fortunate that in this region, we have people who have already been working forward, already been looking forward, to the challenges the next few decades will bring. It is because of their stewardship, their embrace of their natural heritage, that the outlook for this region is positive. The people of the Northwest saw what was coming before the people of other regions. These people were able to listen those who remembered what life there had been, and have been able to envision what life in the region could be. When I read the reports for the Northwest, more than any other region, I am inspired and filled with appreciation for the strength and resiliency of its communities. There is a lot the rest of the nation can learn from you all about centering on what you value, and finding out how much you can save. In an unpredictable future, I think there is one thing in this region we can rely on, and that is the people of the American Northwest.
This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out. Please help get the message out there. There is hope. We can prepare for what’s coming. Let’s get ready.