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Heeding the message from Rogue warming

As residents of the Rogue Valley, we can ignore the data and our own eyes as some argue we should. Alternatively, we can be a little smarter; we can acknowledge what is happening and then both prepare for the future and commit to reducing the problem.

I’m a Rogue Valley newcomer of some seven years and a local forest owner, but I can see the same trends that others must see: our Douglas firs are dying at an alarming rate. Though great for our winter wood store, it’s a disturbing harbinger of what is likely to come. Exactly how the warming trend will influence our native tree species is unclear, but analyses suggest that several commercially and ecologically important species will soon be seriously compromised (http://charcoal.cnre.vt.edu/climate/species/).

But temperature isn’t the only factor.

We know that mountain snowpack stores substantial quantities of water. When the snows melt, they serve our aquatic systems (salmon, etc.), and our agricultural irrigation and municipal and industrial water needs. Philip Mote, director of Oregon’s Climate Change Research Institute, along with OCCRI co-authors report (2018 Nature Climate and Atmospheric Science) that mountain snowpack throughout the West (at over 90 percent of monitoring sites) is declining. Meanwhile, data from Crater Lake National Park show a steady decline in snowpack since the 1930s and Howat and Tulacqyk reported (2005 Annals of Glaciology) similar trends in April snow water equivalent below 7,500 ft for the Northern California Siskiyous — which feed the Applegate Valley. With warming winters, snowmelt date is advancing as is peak river flow, while summer and fall river flows dwindle. Unsurprisingly, summer/fall soil moisture is similarly declining (https://www2.usgs.gov/climate_landuse/clu_rd/nccv/viewer.asp), a particularly troubling trend which increases wildfire risk.

Anyone engaged in agriculture in the Rogue Valley should be aware of these trends and prepare for future warming and decreasing water availability by switching to crops that are more heat- and drought-tolerant, and by adjusting irrigation methods to lower water use drip technology.

An example of the agricultural significance of the climate trends is grape varietal sensitivity. Several years ago, Greg Jones, a world-renowned wine terroir expert and former SOU professor, reported (2006 Geological Association of Canada Symposium) on the temperature optimum for grape varietals grown in the Willamette Valley — data that are equally relevant to the Rogue Valley. Comparing his data with temperature trends and projections reveals that the temperature is increasing above the optimum for the historically important pinot gris varietal. Fortunately, many local vintners are already cultivating varietals such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, tempranillo, merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and zinfandel that are adapted to warmer growing seasons. Regrettably, the business-as-usual future emissions climate suggests that by century’s end our region will be great for raisins and table grapes as the wine-growing climate moves north of Yellowstone.

Global temperature data tell us that we are on a warming trajectory that is equivalent to that identified as the worst-case scenario in general circulation models. Although claims from those rejecting the consensus science falsely argue that climate models exaggerate the severity of our probable future, example after example reveal that actual trends are either more extreme or in the most extreme range suggested by model projections.

These trends are expected to continue and worsen unless we collectively reduce our climate polluting gas emissions. Arguing that nothing much is happening defies our own senses and denies the abundant science demonstrating these trends and explaining the reason for them. Fostering the delusion that nothing much is happening will never lead to a solution — just further chaos and suffering.

While we can prepare for the future if we accept the data and their explanation, we will not adapt if we simply reject the data and deny the science. We can also take what personal steps are available to us to reduce our emissions. But, probably more importantly, we can examine where candidates seeking election stand on the climate science. While we cannot influence what happens in other nations, or even other states in the U.S., we can influence what happens in Oregon and our region. We can cast our ballots only for candidates who clearly accept the science and commit to encouraging appropriate action by the body to which they seek election. This means we’d be wise to consider favorably local legislature and county commissioner candidates who promise to foster preparation for future climatic conditions and also support action to reduce emissions statewide and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Alan Journet of Jacksonville is co-facilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (http://socan.eco).