Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Live Blogging the Wild Center Climate Conference

A first for the Almanack. Today and tomorrow I’ll be attending the Wild Center’s climate change conference here in Tupper Lake and blogging what I hear, see, and learn.

Just pulling into the Wild Center from my drive over I was heartened to see a line of hybrids – mostly Toyotas, but a few Hondas as well – it’s clear that the crowd that has gathered here is already in the choir.

The sense so far from the speakers has been that the challenge of checking human-made global warming is daunting, depressing, lacking inertia, distracted by economics and politics, but doable.

The highlight of this morning’s talks was Jerry Jenkins (Forest Issues Coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society Adirondack Communities and Conservation Program and author of The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park).

Here are some notes from Jenkins’ talk, much of which is based on a new report [pdf] that will soon be issued by the Wild Center and the Wildlife Conservation Society. he showed a lot of charts, which will be invaluable to Adirondackers interested in the local impacts of global warming.

In general, there have been more noticeable mean temperature changes (increases) in the winter and summer, although the whole region is warming (Lake Champlain is warming, the growing season is getting longer, and birds are arriving sooner). The high limit of projections from 30 years ago (5 degrees f over 100 years mean) is already nearly being reached. Meanwhile, our energy consumption is “wildly out of scale” with what we can produce using renewable resources.

The impact on snowfall is still not clear. Jenkins called the local winter sports industry as a historical, cultural, and economic system “more complicated than an Adirondack bog.” “We don’t know what snowfall is doing,” Jenkins added, pointing to the incomplete data over the last fifty years. General models point to a “loss of most snow cover” by 2100. He also said that he is working more serious on this issue now.

If the trends continue, and we reach ten degrees of warming by 2040, our temperature environment will be more like that of West Virginia. This will put us out of the boreal (broadly defined) spruce-fir forest limit and those forest communities are most at risk. Jenkins was quick to point out that “it will never be West Virginia” but the comparison is a “good analog for thinking.”

Spruce-fir forest communities already near the southern limit of their territory that are most at risk of being seriously altered include large boreal bogs, open alluvial wetlands and open river shores (like those in Warrensburg on the Hudson that require ice for their maintenance). Of course there would also be an attendant large loss of species like loons, moose, spruce grouse, pine martin, Bicknell’s thrush, grasses, sedges, trees, birds, ferns, clubmosses, shrubs, and herbs.

“By the end of the century most all of our Adirondack trees will be outside their zone of preference,” Jenkins said, adding that they could be replaced by more southern species like Red Oak, Chestnut Oak, Magnolia, Tulip Poplar, etc., but trees only seem to move about 20 miles per century and most of those species are farther away. As a result, it’s just not clear what will happen. Some species have a better shot because they grow like weeds in disturbed soils – Aspen and Balsam Fir are notable – but Jenkins had a dire warning for Maple, saying in a Q and A session afterward that he would “bet against Maple.”

More after lunch.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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