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Medford climate change impacts examined

Series of online presentations launched about how climate change will hit home

Medford has a hot future, and we’re not talking about the real estate market or the tourist economy.

As a result of climate change, the city can expect to see 40 100-degree or hotter days a year, according to the Fifth Oregon Climate Assessment report, released by Oregon State University in 2021.

In fact, experts predict Medford will have temperatures resembling current-day Bakersfield, California, by 2100.

The question now is what to do about it.

The city last week presented the first in a series of online presentations about the effects of a warming climate on the community. Speakers highlighted various natural systems, such as forests and bodies of water.

The city’s 28-page Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Plan is in draft form and will be used to assist city government, residents and businesses in addressing the challenges of a hotter Rogue Valley.

Matt Brinkley, the city’s planning director, said the evolving document will be an important tool as the region adapts to the impacts of climate change, and this series of online presentations will provide information about the region’s vulnerabilities.

People who have lived here their entire lives or have families who have lived here for generations have “noticed significant changes in the forests and water,” Brinkley said. “This is very important stuff.”

The interface of wildland and urban areas are among the most vulnerable locations, said Marty Main of Small Woodland Services Inc., who talked about forest resource management and is working with the city on Prescott Park.

When it comes to the region’s forests, over the past 100 to 150 years humans have “inflicted an incredible amount of change,” Main said.

Main’s use of the word “inflicted” was intentional and referred to the high level of stress facing forests, because there are so many dying and diseased trees that have further suffered because of the ongoing drought.

Local tree stands are more dense, and there is less variety of species, he said.

Humans can make things better with thoughtful forest management, which would emphasize system integrity over individual objectives, according to Main.

Ensuring the area forests are green and that local ecosystems are vigorous will help the trees handle the increased and cumulative stress climate change will bring, Main said.

Ryan Battleson, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who spoke about how water quality affects aquatic life, stressed that native fish need and use all Medford-area streams. Ensuring there is adequate, healthy and appropriate riparian vegetation will protect water quality and quantity. It will also prevent erosion, excessive turbidity and keep water temperatures cooler.

Summer temperatures during the last decade have been some of the hottest on record, and July 2021 was the hottest July on record, Battleson pointed out.

Bear Creek, one of the region’s most important lifelines, will require good stewardship to continue healing, Battleson said.

It’s important to ensure native vegetation is healthy and abundant because it’s key to provide “cool, clean water for native fish to thrive,” he said.

City government could help that healing process by implementing and enforcing its riparian ordinance — specifically land development code section 10.920-10-928, he said.

Future monthly seminars will focus on how climate change is affecting the local economy, the built environment, public health and other facets of the community.

City Council will have to adopt the Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Plan before it’s put into use. Councilors Sarah Spansail and Michael Zarosinski serve on the plan’s steering committee, which is hosting this online series.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.