USFS Announces New Strategy for Improving Forest Conditions
USDA’s Forest Service (USFS) has launched a new strategy for managing catastrophic wildfires and the impacts of invasive species, drought, and insect and disease epidemics.
Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-based investment Strategy is a new report that outlines the Forest Service’s plans to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities for targeted treatments in areas with the highest payoffs.
“On my trip to California…I saw the devastation that these unprecedented wildfires are having on our neighbors, friends and families,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last month. “We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires. We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands. This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfire from reaching this level.”
Both federal and private managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them catastrophic wildfires, invasive species, degraded watersheds, and epidemics of forest insects and disease, USFS said. The conditions fueling the circumstances are not improving. Of particular concern are longer fire seasons, the rising size and severity of wildfires, and the expanding risk to communities, natural resources and firefighters.
“The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks. We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire in the right place at the right time, to mitigate them.”
Pat O’Toole, a Wyoming rancher and member of the SfL Board of Directors, calls the announced strategy a “good first step.” But he cautions that any collaborative effort in handling wildfires must ultimately address the massive scale of the problem.
“I am not the least bit critical” of the strategy, O’Toole said. However, he notes, “you cannot solve a million-acre problem with a 100-acre solution.”
President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators in the 17 Western states, O’Toole says 40 years of litigation over forestland access and regulation has suppressed the flexibility of approaches that have been taken to address the potential for wildfire destruction. He suggested the announced strategy might tip the pendulum toward a wider effort involving all parties, including the timber and livestock communities.
Given the historical impediments, one element of the USFS strategy that O’Toole particularly likes is the prioritization of investment decisions on forest treatments in direct coordination with states. Using the most advanced scientific tools, the approach allows the Forest Service to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that protect communities and create resilient forests.
“It’s being designed to reflect a ‘good neighbor policy,'” he said of the USFS strategy. “It is integrating state and national government capabilities.”
The Wyoming rancher also says a case can and should be made for a standing contingent of local residents readily available to address fires from the early moments of ignition.
The USFS says it will also build upon the authorities created by the 2018 Omnibus Bill, including new categorical exclusions that can expedite land treatments to improve forest conditions, new road maintenance authorities and longer stewardship contracting in strategic areas. The agency says it will continue streamlining its internal processes to make environmental analysis more efficient and timber sale contracts more flexible.
The Omnibus Bill also includes a long-term “fire funding fix” starting in fiscal 2020 that will stop the rise of the 10-year average cost of fighting wild-land fire and reduce the likelihood of the disruptive practice of transferring funds from Forest Service non-fire programs to cover firefighting costs. The product of what the department says is more than a decade of hard work, the bipartisan solution will ultimately stabilize the agency’s operating environment.
Also, because rising rates of firefighter fatalities in recent decades have shifted the USFS’s approach to fire response, the report emphasizes the agency’s commitment to a risk-based response to wildfire, an approach not lost on O’Toole, given the seemingly growing number of conflagrations in recent years.
“Fires are going to be part of our future unless we ramp up active management of our forests,” he said. “Implementing the new Forest Service fire management plan and making sure the House forestry title is included in the final farm bill are important steps to take towards this end.”
Improving Soil Quality Can Slow Global Warming: UC Berkeley Study
Low-tech ways of improving soil quality on farms and rangelands worldwide could pull significant amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and slow the pace of climate change, a new UC Berkeley study confirms.
The researchers found that well-established agricultural management practices such as planting cover crops, optimizing grazing and sowing legumes on rangelands, if instituted globally, could capture enough carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil to make a significant contribution to international global warming targets.
The study represents another affirmation of the principles advocated by the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) and Solutions from the Land (SfL).
Their initial aim was to determine if such practices could reduce global temperatures at least 0.1 degree Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit). This is one-tenth of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s goal of limiting the average global temperature increase between now and the year 2100 to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees F), or 2 degrees above temperatures before the industrial revolution.
When combined with aggressive carbon emission reductions – the best scenario for limiting warming from climate change – the study found that improved agricultural management could reduce global temperatures 0.26 degrees Celsius – nearly half a degree Fahrenheit – by 2100.
“As someone who has been working on carbon sequestration for a long time, I have always had this question in the back of my mind, ‘Will sequestration in soils make a difference with climate change at a global scale?’ ” said study senior author Whendee Silver, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley. “We found that there are a wide range of practices deployable on a large scale that could have a detectable worldwide impact. A big take-home message is that we know how to do this, it is achievable.”
By throwing in biochar, a controversial soil additive – essentially charcoal – obtained by burning crop residue in an oxygen-free environment, these practices could offset even more warming, potentially as much as 0.46 degrees Celsius (0.7ºF).
The caveat, Silver said, is that this “is only achievable if you couple sequestration with aggressive emissions reduction.” If carbon concentrations increase in the atmosphere, then sequestration becomes less effective at reducing temperature. We would have to pull much more carbon out to realize the same reductions.
She and her colleagues, including lead author Allegra Mayer, a UC Berkeley graduate student, published their findings Aug. 29 in the online journal
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has established carbon-reduction goals to limit average global warming in 2100 to 2 degrees Celsius above global average temperatures before the industrial revolution, or about 1760. Earth is already halfway to that limit, having warmed 1 degree Celsius since 1880.
Silver studies various ways to sequester carbon in soils, including composting, to remove some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slow the greenhouse-driven warming of the planet.
For the new study, Silver, Mayer and their colleagues – Zeke Hausfather of UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and Andrew Jones of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – used global data on agricultural management approaches that are already known to increase soil carbon storage, along with a climate model that determined the potential impacts on climate if these approaches were widely adopted.
They initially calculated how much carbon would need to be sequestered from the atmosphere into soils to reduce temperatures 0.1 degree Celsius under four different scenarios, from business-as-usual emissions through 2100 to aggressive reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. For the most aggressive reduction scenario, they calculated that soils would have to sequester about 0.68 petagrams of carbon per year worldwide, or 750 million U.S. tons. That is equivalent to 2.5 petagrams of carbon dioxide. One petagram is 1015 or a million billion grams.
Their meta-analysis of existing studies of land management practices showed that improving soil quality could reach and even exceed this goal, largely from the improvement of degraded agricultural and grazing lands that are in use but producing less than optimally. Improved management tends to increase the biomass of crops, grass and their root systems by capturing carbon dioxide via photosynthesis, which results in more carbon storage in the soil.
“These are very commonly used approaches, though people don’t use them to sequester carbon – they are doing it for other reasons. Anytime you increase the organic content of soils, you are generally increasing the fertility, water-holding capacity, sustainability, decreasing erosion and general resilience to climate change,” said Silver, a biogeochemist who holds the Rudy Grah Endowed Chair in Forestry and Sustainability. “Sequestering carbon is a side benefit.”
The researchers did not consider newer practices, such as composting, that are not studied as widely, nor did they consider the effect of improving soil on abandoned land, both of which could increase soil carbon sequestration even more. Newer climate models also could simulate how carbon uptake will change as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change.
“The point of our paper was to look at the temperature effect of implementing existing low-tech technologies already practiced within agriculture, in developing as well as developed countries,” Mayer said. “There could theoretically be an immediate and widespread adoption of many of these practices.”
With aggressive emissions targets, improved land management could pull about 1.78 petagrams of carbon from the atmosphere each year, while adding biochar to the mix could raise the yearly sequestration rate to 2.89 petagrams.
“Agriculture is often portrayed as the villain in climate change,” Silver said. “What is exciting is that, not only can agriculture contribute to solving the problem, but it can do so in a way that actually improves agricultural soils.”
The project was funded by the Rathmann Family Foundation with additional support from the DOE’s Office of Science.
Senators Call on EPA to Fix ‘Shortcoming’ in RFS Rule for 2019/2020 RVOs
Thirty-nine senators from both sides of the aisle have told EPA the agency’s June 2018 proposal to set blending targets for most biofuels in 2019 and for biomass-based diesel in 2020 “fails to include the necessary signals that EPA will ensure the annual [Required Volume Obligations (RVOs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)] are fully met.”
Meanwhile, reports out of Washington last week indicate the White House is prepared to announce an end to the ban on summertime sales of E15. The move has been long sought by ethanol groups, who have been frustrated by any forward movement on the issue, even after President Trump announced his support for lifting the restriction earlier this year.
The letter from the bipartisan group of senators also calls for an increase in RVOs for biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels.
The senators’ comments are among more than 290,000 formal responses that came into EPA headquarters at the close last month of a 60-day comment period on the agency’s latest RFS proposal.
The RFS is seen as a principle policy tool in support of climate-smart agriculture, enabling U.S. agriculture to help reduce and avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the program’s requirement to blend low-carbon fuel alternatives, including ethanol and biodiesel, into the nation’s transportation fuel supply.
Under the proposal, EPA called for 19.88 billion gallons of biofuels to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply in 2019, up from 19.29 billion gallons in 2018. The total includes 381 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, 4.88 billion gallons of advanced biofuel and 2.1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel, which was set last year. The rule now under consideration would set a 2020 RVO for biomass-based diesel at 2.43 billion gallons, up 330 million gallons when compared to the 2019 and 2018 RVOs of 2.1 billion gallons.
Drawing significant attention is the proposed rule’s 2019 RVO for conventional biofuel – most of which is corn ethanol – of up to 15 billion gallons.
The ethanol industry, farm groups and their allies in Congress are questioning whether the 15-billion-gallon requirement carries any validity.
Disclosures that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had been retroactively granting an unprecedented number of “hardship” waivers to refineries – releasing them from their requirements under the 2016 and 2017 RFS – appears to have cost the biofuel sector some 2.25 billion gallons in blended ethanol. The senators say another 300 million gallons of biomass-based diesel was lost to the waivers.
Pruitt is now out at EPA under a cloud of ethics violations. Renewable fuel and farm groups have sued the agency over the waivers and EPA’s failure to reallocate to other refiners the amount of biofuel lost to the hardship waivers.
In their letter, the senators note that the proposed rule “indicates EPA has not granted any hardship exemptions for 2019 and therefore did not consider exemptions in the proposed volumes.” However, given the “unprecedented number of exemptions for 2016 and 2017,” the agency “must accurately account for small refiner economic hardship exemptions in the final rule” for 2019/2020.
“It is critical that EPA appropriately account for any small refiner economic hardship exemptions that it reasonably expects to grant during the 2019 compliance year in the final rule, or EPA will not be able to fulfill its duty to ensure RVOs are met,” the senators’ letter states.
EPA insists it will not consider comments on the “hardship” waivers and their impact on RFS compliance as the agency formulates the RVOs for 2019 and 2020.
However, USDA issued a memo to EPA Aug. 15, two days before the end of the public comment period, stating the “current methodology in projecting zero small-refinery waivers and volumes in the preliminary (RFS) rule is inappropriate and results in an analytical inconsistency.”
Without such a waiver estimate, the 2019 proposal “significantly reduces the transparency of EPA operations and increases the uncertainty for market participants,” the memo states. The Agriculture Department said it “supports corrective suggestions for using a realistic projection of waived small-refinery volumes of gasoline and diesel production in the docket concerning these points.”
Elsewhere in their letter, the senators said the proposed RVOs “underestimate the existing potential of the biodiesel and renewable diesel industries in our states” and that EPA “should demonstrate more confidence in the RFS program’s ability to drive growth. Increasing biomass-based diesel and advance biofuel volumes would encourage investment in capacity and new fuel development.”
Noting that every 500-million-gallon increase in biodiesel production supports an estimated 16,000 jobs, the senators say the nation has “made great progress through the RFS in diversifying our nation’s fuel supply while creating and sustaining jobs, strengthening local economies, generating tax revenues, and improving energy security.”
The letter comes in support of similar comments from the National Biodiesel Board (NBB).
“The biomass-based diesel industry has proven year after year that it can deliver increasing volumes,” said Kurt Kovarik, vice president of federal affairs for the trade group. “We appreciate the agency’s recognition of that fact and welcome the signal of growth in the proposed rule. NBB asks that you fully support the industry’s growth by setting the biomass-based diesel volume for 2020 at 2.8 billion gallons and increasing the 2019 advanced biofuel volume to allow growth.”
At the Farm Progress Show in Iowa last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Trump ordered him and EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to put together a deal that the president could announce this week.
“The President called me this morning and said ‘let’s get it done,'” Perdue told reporters and biofuel supporters last Wednesday, adding that Trump “wants to get that done, so hopefully he’ll have an announcement hopefully sooner rather than later.”
A deal seemingly reached last spring under which the summertime ban would be lifted in when ethanol’s congressional allies objected to a part of the deal that would attach Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), certificates of compliance under the RFS, to exported ethanol. Biofuel sector leaders said the move would undermine the compliance incentive for refineries to meet their RFS obligations.
Also last week, the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy joined in a lawsuit in federal district court, alleging that EPA and DOE have failed to lawfully comply with the Freedom of Information Act and improperly denied the two trade groups the agency records related to the hardship waivers granted to refineries.
Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) says he recently received a letter in response to questions he laid out for Pruitt at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing four months ago. But Loebsack says the response falls far short of fully answering the 13 questions or requests for further information that he posed.
The letter does disclose that the agency has received only two requests for hardship waivers so far this year. But it also states that EPA granted seven waivers in response to 15 petitions in 2015; jumping to 19 of 20 in 2016, when Pruitt took over as EPA chief; and spiraling up 29 of 34 petitions in 2017, with the remaining five still under consideration.
Other Biofuel-Related Groups Challenge EPA RFS Proposal in Comments
Other biofuel-related groups using their comments to challenge EPA’s 2019/2020 proposal for biofuel blending targets include the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).
Bob Dinneen, RFA president and CEO, said EPA’s continued “abuse” of small refinery hardship waivers renders the proposed 2019 RVOs meaningless. The RFA is among those suing the agency over the RFS proposal.
“Issuing small refiner exemptions after the RVO rule is finalized – as EPA did for the 2016 and 2017 RVO rules and appears poised to do for the 2018 RVO – has the practical impact of reducing the actual required blending volumes to levels below those specified in the final rule,” Dinneen said. “Thus, we do not consider the volumes that appear in the proposed rule to be authentic, meaning the preamble’s analyses of the impacts of the 2019 proposed volumes are flawed and indefensible,”
Dinneen said a preliminary draft of the 2019 RFS proposal included projections of exempted volumes of gasoline and diesel from small refineries, a move aimed at including the exemptions in the RVO calculation to increase the RVO percentage for remaining obligated parties, ensuring that the statutorily specified volumes of renewable fuel are in fact blended with gasoline and diesel.
However, Dinneen wrote, “the administrative record shows that just days before the proposed rule was made public, EPA inexplicably deleted the provisions that would have effectively reallocated the projected small refiner exemptions.”
In addition to accounting for projected small refinery exemptions in calculating the 2019 RVO percentages in the final rule, Dinneen also called on EPA to comply with a court mandate to reallocate 500 million gallons of conventional renewable fuel that were missing from the 2016 RVO due to EPA’s “illegal application” of its general waiver authority.
Growth Energy, a trade group representing ethanol manufacturers, also called on EPA to account for gallons lost due to small refinery exemptions. Furthermore, CEO Emily Skor renewed an ethanol industry request for Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief to allow for year-round sales of E15, a move promised by President Trump.
“On its face, this is a strong proposal with a 15-billion-gallon commitment to starch ethanol and a significant increase in cellulosic biofuels,” Skor said. “However, the proposed RVO has failed to account for the 2.25 billion gallons lost due to small refinery exemptions. By failing to account for these exemptions, EPA has made the numbers hollow turning the clock back on the RFS by 5 years.”
Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said the proposal shows “EPA continues to take actions which undermine the letter and spirit of the statute and harm the rural economy. While refiners are reporting double-digit profits, the heart of America is being left behind. Farmers are losing money while refiners have the best of both worlds: fat profit margins and minimal RFS compliance costs. EPA needs to discard its refiner-win-at-all-costs mentality and get the RFS back on track.”
He said the “so-called ‘hardship’ waivers…flood the market with RINs (certificate of refiner compliance with the RFS), which refiners can bank, thereby artificially inflating the size of the RIN carryover to more than 3 billion gallons.
As a result, he said that D6 RINs that were valued at about 90 cents each a year ago are now down to 20 cents today, an 80-percent collapse that has reduced the incentive among refiners to blend ethanol with gasoline, when simply paying for RINs would be less expensive.”
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) said EPA has an obligation to use its authority under the RFS to help boost America’s rural economy.
Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section, said that “at a time when America’s farmers and rural businesses are suffering under the weight of low crop prices and so much trade uncertainty, EPA should seize the opportunity afforded by the RFS program to promote the type of innovation that will help grow advanced and cellulosic biofuels, create more good paying jobs, and help revitalize rural America by strengthening our world-leading biobased economy.”
“The RFS program,” Erickson said, “is an important program for ensuring that America’s rural economies can remain globally competitive and that the hard-working families in these communities are able to flourish and thrive.”
Noting a boost in advanced and cellulosic biofuel RVOs will drive more investment in their technologies, the BIO executive also addressed demand destruction resulting from the EPA’s increased use of small refinery hardship waivers, stressing that the waivers undermine the agency’s obligations to enforce both the letter and spirit of the law.
The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition), Energy Vision, National Waste and Recycling Association, Natural Gas Vehicles for America and Solid Waste Association of North America jointly submitted comments in support of EPA’s proposal to increase 2019 RVOs for cellulosic and advanced biofuels.
“The renewable natural gas (RNG) industry is leading the way in the delivery of cellulosic biofuel in the United States, making up over 95 percent of our nation’s cellulosic biofuel production and generation of D3 Renewable Identification Numbers under the RFS,” said RNG Coalition CEO Johannes Escudero. “Our comments are supportive of EPA’s proposal to increase the 2019 minimum applicable volume for both cellulosic and advanced biofuels from 2018 to reflect the continued growth and investments being made in the RNG industry.”
ACE White Paper Cites Low-Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol
The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) released a White Paper Aug. 17 highlighting the low-carbon benefits of corn ethanol and the need for regulators to use the most up-to-date lifecycle modelling when evaluating ethanol’s use in future fuel systems.
The release of “The Case for Properly Valuing the Low Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol” coincided with a general session panel at the 31st annual ACE conference in Minneapolis, which highlighted the paper in a discussion on updates to lifecycle modeling and opportunities on the horizon for ethanol as a low carbon fuel.
The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was enacted, in part, to drive innovation and production of low carbon biofuels that reduce GHG emissions, ACE officials say, noting that as a result, the program has successfully replaced 10 percent of petroleum in the U.S. transportation fleet with carbon-friendly fuel.
However, EPA has yet to update its original corn ethanol GHG assessments from when the RFS was enacted over a decade ago to reflect today’s significant GHG reduction benefits, the trade group says.
“The ACE White Paper makes a compelling case that lifecycle GHG modeling must reflect the latest science if low carbon fuel programs are to achieve their desired results,” said Brendan Jordan, vice president of the Great Plains Institute. “[The institute] agrees there is a huge opportunity for existing corn ethanol plants to lower their carbon footprint through innovative technology and updated lifecycle modeling.
“We’re just beginning to see the potential for environmental improvements through carbon capture and storage, soil carbon and agronomy, and plant efficiencies,” Jordan added. “The ACE White Paper makes an important contribution toward making progress on these goals.”
Jordan joined Bill Hohenstein, acting director of the Office of Energy Policy and New Uses within the Office of the Chief Economist, USDA; and Ron Alverson, member of ACE’s Board of Directors representing Dakota Ethanol and a chief contributor to the White Paper, on the panel moderated by ACE CEO Brian Jennings.
“Since the direct effects on soil carbon stocks of each biofuel feedstock crop can have a very large impact on carbon intensity, it is crucial that this accounting is included in the modeling,” Alverson said. “The trend is biofuel’s friend – petroleum-based transportation fuel lifecycle GHGs continue to rise and biofuel lifecycle GHGs continue to improve.”
“It’s ACE’s hope that our white paper will build consensus for recognizing the significant climate benefits from further expansion of corn ethanol production and us in the U.S. beyond volumes called for in the RFS,” Jennings said. “We intend for the white paper to inform stakeholders and policymakers at the state and federal level as they consider changes to existing low carbon fuel programs or the adoption of new clean fuel initiatives in the future.”
The full White Paper is published HERE.
Leaders say ACE is an organization of farmers, ranchers, “Main Street” businesses, scientists, investors and renewable fuel producers who work together to inform consumers and elected officials that in addition to helping keep gas prices low, creating jobs, improving the economy, displacing foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ethanol delivers a great deal of human good.
NIFA Invests $13.3 Million To Improve Agroecosystem Resilience
NIFA recently awarded 16 research education and extension grants that officials say will help plan for and adapt to a changing environment and climate.
“We need to understand the best way to use and manage our natural resources to sustainably produce food and fiber for a growing population, ensuring prosperity for our producers as climate, environmental, and the socioeconomic conditions change,” NIFA said in a statement on the grants. “These projects will help us understand how changing conditions will impact our ability to produce food and fiber into the future and provide tools and strategies to adapt to these changes for a sustainable and resilient agriculture.”
The grants are part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
Among those receiving grants is Robyn Wilson, an associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) at The Ohio State University. Wilson is the principal investigator of a newly funded project, “Regional Integrated Modeling of Farmer Adaptations to Guide Agroecosystem Management in a Changing Climate.”
The $1.1 million investment by will elevate the capacity of decision makers in the eastern Corn Belt Region (ECBR) to adapt to an increasingly variable climate and the associated changes that this increased variability may bring.
The research aims to identify how changing seasonal and extreme precipitation patterns induce changes in ECBR land use and management patterns due to adaptations by heterogeneous farmers and the broader human system. The results will help to guide more sustainable and resilient agroecosystems across the nation, officials say.
Katharine Suding, Colorado University-Boulder Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor, was awarded a $1.2 million research grant for a four-years project is titled, “Livestock ranching, rangelands, and Resilience: Ensuring adaptive capacity in an increasingly variable climate.”
Suding, who is a fellow with the university’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, the Niwot LTER lead principal investigator, and ESA’s 2018 Robert H. MacArthur awardee, serves as the lead investigator. Collaborators on the project are from Utah State, University of California-Davis, University of Arizona, the U.S. Geological Survey, New Mexico State University and USDA’s Agriculture Research Service.
Suding and her collaborators will address agrosystems resilience through the lens of drought, one of the most devastating natural hazards faced by the United States today. Their project aims to implement climate adaptation that is tailored to local diversity in exposures, sensitivities and adaptation opportunities faced by ranchers and land managers. Differences in vulnerability are key considerations in building adaptation strategies as well as commonalities between vegetation and human adaptation strategies.
The comparative framework spans five rangeland regions within the Western United States: California annual grasslands, cold deserts, northern mixed prairie, shortgrass steppe and hot deserts.
The team’s approach combines climate modeling and assessment with forage and livestock production models in a co-development framework to build scenarios and assess feasible, effective adaptation strategies. This iterative process combines research and extension to support a co-development of ideas, capitalizing on diverse adaptation strategies across western rangelands.
The place-based coproduction approach, embedding extension efforts throughout the project framework, will allow the research team to understand on-going adaptations to recent climate variability by the innovators and early adopters, and then to explore how those early adaptations may need modification under future climate scenarios.
Changing Climate Projected to Boost Insects, Crop Loss: Studies
Evidence that underscores the need for a Climate Smart Agriculture approach to food production and the reduction in emissions it can bring about is shown in two studies released last week, with one showing that a changing climate can be expected to accelerate the rates of crop loss due to increased insect activity.
Scientists have already warned that a changing climate likely will impact the food we grow. Rising global temperatures and more frequent “extreme” weather events like droughts and floods are expected to negatively affect our ability to produce food for a growing human population.
In a paper published Aug. 31 in the journal Science , a team led by scientists at the University of Washington reports that insect activity in today’s temperate, crop-growing regions will rise along with temperatures. Researchers project that the activity, in turn, will boost worldwide losses of rice, corn and wheat by 10-25 percent for each degree Celsius that global mean surface temperatures rise. Just a 2-degree Celsius rise in surface temperatures will push the total losses of these three crops each year to approximately 213 million tons.
Meanwhile, an international research team has found that most of the planet’s land-based ecosystems – from its forests and grasslands to the deserts and tundra – are at high risk of “major transformation” due to changes in climate.
At the University of Washington, Curtis Deutsch, an associate professor of oceanography and co-lead author on the insect activity study, cites two reasons for increasing crop losses.
“First, warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially,” Deutsch said. “Second, with the exception of the tropics, warmer temperatures will increase the reproductive rates of insects. You have more insects, and they’re eating more.”
In 2016, the United Nations estimated that at least 815 million people worldwide don’t get enough to eat. Corn, rice and wheat are staple crops for about 4 billion people, and account for about two-thirds of the food energy intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
“Global warming impacts on pest infestations will aggravate the problems of food insecurity and environmental damages from agriculture worldwide,” said co-author Rosamond Naylor, a professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University and founding director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “Increased pesticide applications, the use of GMOs, and agronomic practices such as crop rotations will help control losses from insects. But it still appears that under virtually all climate change scenarios, pest populations will be the winners, particularly in highly productive temperate regions, causing real food prices to rise and food-insecure families to suffer.”
The team looked at decades of laboratory experiments that showed conclusively that increases in temperature will accelerate the metabolism of insects like aphids and corn borers metabolism at a fairly consistent, predictable rate, boosting their appetites. In addition, increasing temperatures boost reproductive rates, though those rates level off at temperature levels akin to what exist today in the tropics.
Folded the metabolic and reproductive effects into a model of insect population dynamics, the researchers looked at how that model changed based on different climate change scenarios. Those scenarios incorporated information based on where corn, rice and wheat – the three largest staple crops in the world – are currently grown.
“Temperate regions are currently cooler than what’s optimal for most insects. But if temperatures rise, these insect populations will grow faster,” said co-author Scott Merrill, a researcher at the University of Vermont’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Gund Institute for Environment. “They will also need to eat more, because rising temperatures increase insect metabolism. Together, that’s not good for crops.”
For a 2-degree Celsius rise in global mean surface temperatures, their model predicts that median losses in yield due to insect activity would be 31 percent for corn, 19 percent for rice and 46 percent for wheat. Under those conditions, total annual crop losses would reach 62, 92 and 59 million tons, respectively.
The impacts are expected to be felt more in temperate regions of the globe, including the U.S. Corn Belt.
The team says that efforts such as shifting where crops are grown or trying to breed insect-resistant crops to less he impacts will take time and come with their own costs.
In another study published in Science last week, scientists say that without dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, most of the planet’s land-based ecosystems are at high risk of “major transformation” due to changes in climate.
The researchers used fossil records of global vegetation change that occurred during a period of post-glacial warming to project the magnitude of ecosystem transformations likely in the future under various greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.
They found that under a “business as usual” emissions scenario, in which little is done to rein in heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions, vegetation changes across the planet’s wild landscapes will likely be more far-reaching and disruptive than earlier studies suggested.
The changes would threaten global biodiversity and derail vital services that nature provides to humanity, such as water security, carbon storage and recreation.
“If we allow climate change to go unchecked, the vegetation of this planet is going to look completely different than it does today, and that means a huge risk to the diversity of the planet,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, and co-author of the study with Stephen T. Jackson of the U.S. Geological Survey.