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Climate Change and the Klamath-Siskiyou

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The Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center recognizes that all of the advocacy and conservation work we do takes place within an emerging paradigm of long-term, large-scale priorities.


In 2009, the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program released a report stating that global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced and that widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.

What remains in question is what these changes and impacts will look like in any given region on the planet, including the Klamath-Siskiyou. There are agreements on broad impacts, such as more rain in some areas, less rain in others, warmer temperatures, less snowpack, earlier runoff, changes in seasonal precipitation patterns, more frequent wildfires, disrupted social systems like agriculture and emergency response and human health impacts.

Perhaps most significant, climate change will exacerbate pre-existing stresses on ecosystems, such as pollution, population growth, overuse of resources, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone.

The Klamath-Siskiyou region has acted as refugia during past climate events, which has contributed to the region’s exceptional geologic and biological diversity. The region is an ancient climate refuge where many species once widespread across the continent were forced to retreat during past climate shift events and now persist as ‘relic species,’ found here and nowhere else on earth. Species in this category include the endemic Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, Port-Orford Cedar and the Weeping Spruce.

This natural climate resiliency, resulting from of a combination of a stable, mild regional climate, extremely complex geology and topography and a tremendous diversity of microclimates, is a key reason this area stands out as a conservation priority. It is possible that the region will provide this same service as a climate refuge in the near future.

Common recommendations for climate change response is to protect the best and restore the rest so that natural and human systems can be as adaptable as possible as we experience climate change in the years and decades to come. 

In particular, as scientific understanding deepens it is becoming ever more clear that intact native forests play a major role in carbon sequestration. Recent studies reveal that uncut forests hold more than three times the carbon previously thought- and more than 60% more than plantation forests.

It is estimated that deforestation is responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions- second only to the burning of fossil fuels.

Protecting the best and restoring the rest has been KS Wild’s mission since our beginning in 1997, and climate projections reinforce that commitment. KS Wild is working to reduce existing stressors such as habitat fragmentation, erosion from resource extraction and roads, water pollution, the loss of keystone species and the conversion of forests and riparian areas into tree farms, or urban and suburban development so that the Klamath-Siskiyou’s ecosystems are as strong and resilient as possible to weather the coming storm. 

Furthermore, future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today and KS Wild is working to stop dirty energy projects that deepen our reliance on importing fossil fuels across oceans. The Coos Bay Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import and pipeline proposal would increase the US dependence of fossil fuels, while clearcutting through our forests and rivers. Liquefied Natural Gas is a gas that is liquefied by freezing to below 260 degrees, and then shipped across oceans to importation facilities where it is then re-gassified. This energy intensive process makes LNG around 20% more greenhouse gas intensive than the natural gas we currently use.

The Rogue Basin climate study

 

The Rogue Basin climate study is one of the first in the nation to boil global warming down to the local level, and many of its findings are sobering. While forecasting the specifics of climate change is notoriously difficult, the study makes many detailed predictions- the highlights are summarized here:

#  Expected increases in year-round temperatures of up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 and up to 8 degrees by 2080. Summertime high temperatures are likely to rise by up to 15 degrees by 2080.

# A dramatic decrease in snow accumulation with earlier mountain snowmelt, transition from snow to rain, and higher and flashier winter and spring runoff events. Less snow in the mountains means extended low stream flows in the summer.

# An increase in the amount of biomass burned by wildfires by 2040, according to two models in the report. However, the number of wildfires is expected to decrease toward the end of the century because of changing vegetation.

# A gradual shift from conifers to hardwoods such as oaks and madrone. The changing vegetation is expected to decrease biodiversity.

# Increased and extended summer temperatures along with extended periods of lower summer stream flows. This likely will result in decreased dissolved oxygen and increased incidence of bacteria and disease, producing fish kills.

# Increased incidence of fire as well as longer fire seasons, larger fires and higher-elevation fires that would likely affect vegetation and wildlife and could lead to sudden shifts in ecological communities.

# Increased invasive species and pest issues.

# Increase of chaparral, grasslands and scrublands because of hotter and drier climate. Drought-tolerant species that may benefit include oak, madrone and mountain mahogany.

# Decrease in high-elevation wildlife such as Clark's nutcracker. High-elevation vegetation, including hemlock and wildflowers, may also be at risk.

# Decline in amphibians because of lack of mobility, affinity for unique microsites and susceptibility to drought, heat and habitat change.

 

Click here to download the entire Rogue Basin climate study (5.5MB).

Click here to download a report commissioned by Defenders of Wildlife as a comprehensive scientific literature review of climate change and forests called: The Implications of Climate Change for Conservation, Restoration, and Management of National Forest Lands