Climate change will force changes in agriculture and forest management. With record temperatures, longer fire seasons and droughts that last for years, record setting western wildfires will continue to break out in 2013. Agriculture can expect to see lower staple crop yields and livestock productivity. Warmer temperatures and wilder weather will also bring insect infestations and more frequent flooding. According to a Feb. 7 Climate Central article, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published two reports as part of the National Climate Change Assessment Project.
With over 1,000 studies to work with, USDA researchers compiled two reports to help the federal government as it seeks to manage the forests and advise farmers. The forest report and the agricultural report help to take climate change seriously.
U.S. Federal lands vary from the Puerto Rican rainforest to the Alaskan tundra. Temperatures are expected to rise between 1.8°F and 5.4°F by the middle of the century. On Jan. 14, Climate Central published summary and key charts from the draft national assessment. Changing rain and snowfall patterns will create drier conditions. The U.S. has a $300 billion agricultural output where crops will spend more of their growing cycle outside of the relatively optimal and stable conditions that have existed for 150 years.
With forests, the situation is equally dire. Last year was the warmest on record in the United States and 9.2 million acres of western forests burned. The bark beetle made news by killing thousands of trees. Bark beetle and other insect infestations will increase as populations thrive in warmer conditions. Annual snow cover has shown decreasing depth, duration and extent, and this contributes to dryer conditions. As a result, forest fires could double by the middle of the century.
However, climate change does not mean complete disaster. Farmers will need new crop management methods including growing staple crops that are more heat and drought tolerant. There will be new forest structure and management ideas that include new fire fighting policies. Forests will adapt by transitioning to plants and trees that tolerate drier conditions. There could be less alpine and scrubbier chaparral in forest profiles, for example.
Now is the optimal time to take a serious look at the draft USDA reports and National Climate Change Assessment that will be finalized later this year.