Friday, October 9, 2015

Red-Letter Day for California Adaptation Planning: SB 379 is Law (and Some Other Good Legislation, Too)

Yesterday (Oct. 8, 2015) California's Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 379, requiring cities and counties to include planning for climate change impacts in their general plans starting in 2017.
SB 379 was proposed by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson of the 19th Senate District (including all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County).

The title of the bill reads like a strange little haiku:
Land use: general plan: 
safety element.
Last night I attended a sea level rise planning discussion (part of the Here. Now. Us. project) in Marin County, a county where you could say the default political persuasion was left of "Hippie," and found myself sitting next to not one but TWO climate change denialists. These people spent every minute of airtime they were allowed expressing concern that people are concerned about climate change (because of its illegitimate science, it is too expensive, we are already doing enough to respond to flooding, etc.). So I think this bill takes a bold stride forward. It explicitly uses the words "climate change" and "climate adaptation" -- phrases that provoked loud scoffs from the vocal duo I met last night. Let me offer the strangely titled-with-a-haiku SB 379 my own haiku in thanks:
With a clear task list
you ask us for foresight so
our children are safer.
The Governor also signed two other bills by the same senator yesterday, both concerning oil spill protections: SB 295 Pipeline safety: inspections  and SB 414 Oil spill response.

These other two good bills were also signed over the last two days, upping the ante on the state's GHG reduction goals and inaugurating representation of vulnerable populations on the board that oversees the state's main GHG reduction measures:
So now in the article of California's Health and Safety Code that deals with the make-up of the Air Resources Board, Section 39510 (e) reads:
"The Senate Committee on Rules and the Speaker of the Assembly shall each appoint one member to the state board who shall be a person who works directly with communities in the state that are most significantly burdened by, and vulnerable to, high levels of pollution, including, but not limited to, communities with diverse racial and ethnic populations and communities with low-income populations."
That is indeed another step in the right direction. Part of my 2009 Master's thesis was devoted to the "lessons learned" from the failed Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC) mandated by AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. That committee's participation in the initial roll-out of AB 32 resulted (as of 2009) in a lot of anger on both the EJAC and the ARB. A lot of the roll-out process was already determined by the time the EJAC was formed, setting the committee up for failure. Having actual front-line community representation on the ARB should improve trust, and hopefully the health outcomes of our state's most vulnerable populations.

Other legislation of note signed this week:
Also noteworthy in state adaptation news-- today the California Natural Resources Agency released the 199-page draft document "Safeguarding California: Implementation Action Plans" for which it is holding public comment sessions in Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

Mon. Oct. 12: Bay Area Listening Session on Climate Adaptation
6-8 PM, MetroCenter Auditorium, 101 Eighth Street, Oakland (right above the Lake Merritt BART Station). 

Mon. Oct. 26: Sacramento Public Workshop on Safeguarding California Implementation Plans
10 AM- 12 PM, Rosenfeld Hearing Room, California Energy Commission, 1516 9th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814

Tues. Oct. 27: Los Angeles Public Workshop on Safeguarding California Implementation Plans
1:30 - 3:30 PM, Carmel Room, Junipero Serra Building, 320 W. 4th Street,, Los Angeles, CA 90013

Monday, October 5, 2015

In the Heat of the Moment

The following  was published Dec. 2, 2014, on the WWF ClimatePrep blog ( -- which now appears to have gone defunct. Just in case it's gone for good, I'm going to re-post my ClimatePrep articles here. You can still see the original on

Many of us are versed in the primary hazards of climate change – from the cost of disasters in lives and resources to the disappearance of low-lying island nations. Something we hear about less often is the direct influence of climate on human behavior, and the implications for the future under climate change.

Climate change and civil conflict

Academics have only been putting the climate change-conflict link to close examination for about five years. Solomon Hsiang (UC Berkeley), Marshall Burke (Stanford), and Edward (Ted) Miguel (UC Berkeley) are pioneers in this field. Last year they unveiled the results of an analysis of 60 studies using 45 data sets from all regions of the world showing a correlation between heat, rain, and conflict. Last month they released a refinement of this study. In their working paper “Climate and Conflict” (summary here) they show significant increases in both interpersonal and intergroup conflicts (e.g., fist fights and wars) with greater heat and more extreme rainfall.

Some of the background studies cited by these researchers include a 2011 study that shows major league baseball pitchers are more likely to retaliate for their teammates being hit by the rival pitcher when it’s hotter. In their talk “Quantifying the Impact of Climate on Human Conflict” at UC Berkeley in April 2013, Miguel and Burke described fascinating experimental psychology studies showing that police are more likely to shoot at a simulated intruder in higher temperature rooms, and people are faster to lean on their horns behind a car stopped at a green light on hotter days.

Climate change and crime

In February of this year a journal article by Matthew Ranson described a correlation between crime and weather and speculated on the potential impact of climate change on crime. The author looked at 2,997 U.S. counties’ monthly crime and weather data over 30 years. He looked at FBI statistics for murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated and simple assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and vehicle theft. He states bluntly, “[a]cross a variety of offenses, higher temperatures cause more crime.” His rich data set appears to have established a strong link between heat and violent crime. Specifically, he shows a linear relationship between heat and violent crime and a nonlinear relationship with non-violent crime (property crime, e.g., burglary): he doesn’t see heat affecting property crime in any consistent way. Heat specifically exacerbates violence.

Measuring vulnerability to climate-related violence

Some analysts are trying to map out the world’s general vulnerability to climate-related violence. On Oct. 29, 2014, the 2015 “Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas” was released, naming 32 “extreme risk” countries where climate change might increase violence. Bangladesh was named most at risk. The author of the report, UK-based Maplecroft Global Risk Analytics, has produced this atlas annually since 2008. In 2011, its report included results of an analysis of 42 factors using the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI), intended to help corporations and governments identify vulnerabilities in their operations, supply chains, and investments. (Note: it is not to be confused with the tool of the same name launched by the Nature Conservancy in 2009 to evaluate wild species’ vulnerability.) Maplecroft’s tool incorporates social, economic, and environmental factors to assess vulnerability both at a national level and down to a resolution of 22km², looking 30 years out (as described in the 2014 Risk Atlas).

Over recent years other indices of vulnerability have been created (check out an annotated list of indices of climate change vulnerability from Other institutions have taken other approaches to identifying climate-driven violence risks.

The Pentagon and the Institute of Peace agree: climate change is bad for peace

As reported by James West in Mother Jones, the U.S. Department of Defense (in its 20-page Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap released Oct. 13, 2014) and the U.S. Institute of Peace (in a 2011 report on Nigeria) are both worrying about weak governments, already fostering terrorism, being further weakened by impacts from climate change. While lacking adaptation policy recommendations, both institutions clearly and concisely describe the “threat-multiplier” facet of climate change.

What can we do?

People developing climate impact response plans in the security, defense, and risk management fields should take into account the results of recent studies linking climate change and conflict. Extreme climate events can be tracked and direct and immediate security fallout projected. Also, the still under-researched indirect and long-term impacts of climate on conflict—such as a heat wave destroying a farming community’s livelihood, driving the community’s young men to migrate, potentially inflaming territorial and sectarian violence— can also be projected and anticipated by security and defense forces.

A very readable 2007 journal article by Barnett and Adger discusses the underlying causes of conflict and how climate change could drive conflict. They propose a basic 3-prong research regime of identifying livelihoods vulnerable to climate hazards, examining the consequences of damage to these livelihoods, and understanding the role of institutions in managing climate hazards so that they do not become security problems (e.g., by protecting livelihoods).

Who else should pay attention to climate’s link to conflict?

Those working on economic, social and international development policy, human rights organizations, and those working in the capacity of a negotiator should anticipate the impact of extreme heat and other climate stressors on their constituents, both individuals and communities. People working in the field of restorative justice and other disciplines focused on reducing violence and criminalization of historically disadvantaged communities should also track the effect of climate stressors on their project outcomes, and adapt programs accordingly. Those working for non-violent solutions within urban conflict zones might ramp up their mediation efforts in particularly hot summers.

You also can watch your own behavior in response to climate-induced stress. On the next hot day you might take a second to breathe before honking at a car stopped at a green light… you might just be behind an experimental psychologist with a stopwatch.

Feature photo by Kim Seng © Creative Commons

Monday, September 28, 2015

Some Good News from the Southern Ocean, the Arctic, and Republican Pollsters

Since most news about climate change falls in the two categories of "confirming our worst fears" and "creating new, more depressing fears" I thought I'd share a few tidbits of recent good news.
The downside mentioned by one of the study's lead scientists, Nicolas Gruber - "One has to recognise that despite this remarkable increase in the Southern Ocean carbon sink, emissions have gone up even more."
The downside of this good news is that it describes the attitudes of potential voters, not Republican elected officials or candidates for the top office of the country. Potential voters are not the same as political party influencers, unfortunately. The more extreme voices are appearing to win the day in terms of how the elected/ would-be elected leadership is positioning itself on climate change.
I don't see any downside here!

This Sept. 28, 2015, BBC article has some helpful maps illustrating the location of the Shell test drilling site with respect to the ice extent and international boundaries.

The Arctic will never be safe from the threat of oil drilling as long as we use oil in our energy stream, but for "the foreseeable future" it is safe from Royal Dutch Shell.

Meanwhile, the Russian oil production project by Gazprom Neft is still active in the Pechora Sea, drilling at the Prirazlomnoye Arctic field, apparently unaffected thus far by sanctions, unlike the Rosneft/Exxon joint drilling project in the Kara Sea.

Still further north from the Gazprom Neft project, the "Goliat" platform, owned by the Italian energy group Eni and Norwegian company Statoil, is in place at the border of the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea. According to the BBC article cited above, it "could soon start producing oil ... within weeks." So, the Arctic Oil Rush is underway, just without one of the world's biggest oil multinationals.

Friday, September 25, 2015

California’s Adaptation Clarion Call (updated)

The following  was published Sept. 2, 2014, on the WWF ClimatePrep blog ( -- which now appears to have gone defunct. Just in case it's gone for good, I'm going to re-post my ClimatePrep articles here. You can still see the original on

Two updates:

First: the California Adaptation Forum that I am reporting on below is scheduled to be held again September 7-8, 2016, in Long Beach, California. To subscribe to get updates on the conference go here. Find the presentations from the 2014 conference here.

Second, Alicia Torregrosa (USGS), the convener of the panel that I moderated at the 2014 California Adaptation Forum, and our two other panelists, Travis O'Brien (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and Ian Faloona (UC Davis), have since published an article encapsulating the topic of our panel: Coastal Fog, Climate Change, and the Environment (Dec. 2014, Eos Earth and Space Science News). Not behind a paywall!

”Decision makers must expect to be surprised with increasing frequency.”
-National Research Council 2009 report, Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate, as paraphrased by Alice Hill, Senior Advisor for Preparedness and Resilience, White House National Security Council.
“Plan for surprises” is a sentiment I’ve seen expressed in various contexts regarding climate change, and it was repeated last week at the California Adaptation Forum’s second day opening plenary by Obama adviser Alice Hill. It was a laugh-line. Surprises, by definition, can’t be planned for.

In a graduate seminar on climate change adaptation in 2010—amid complaints about the popular denial of climate change—I asked my classmates: who has an earthquake kit at home? Two out of ten. I would revise the National Research Council’s order: “decision makers must expect human denial of the element of surprise.”

The California Adaptation Forum (CAF) was a clarion call organized in Sacramento (Aug. 19-20, 2014) to shake California’s political decision makers out of denial and into action.

California has been a world leader on climate change mitigation, aggressively regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a push initiated by State Senator Fran Pavley with her landmark bills in the Assembly, AB 32 (2006) and AB 1493 (2009). I visited Senator Pavley in her office in 2012 to ask her if she had heard anything from her constituents about climate change impacts or was otherwise aware of these impacts and considering any legislative responses. From her response, I got the impression she is still at square one fighting the “climate change is real” battle in her political circles.

So, two years later at the CAF, a few blocks from Senator Pavley’s office, I was pleased to hear eminent state leaders on greenhouse gas reduction like the California Air Resources Board’s Chair, Mary Nichols, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Director, Ken Alex, talk about the importance of preparing for climate threats. The 816 registrants from a breadth of sectors and local to international-level organizations attended 38 sessions and four plenary panels over two days, organized by the Local Government Commission, a private non-profit, in partnership with the State of California. One third of the attendees represented either local or state government offices. Another third represented nonprofit organizations, many of which work closely with local government. Academic representatives came in at 5% of the attendees.

Of the four large adaptation-specific conferences I’ve attended in recent years this was the first emphasizing local solutions at every opportunity. The others I’ve attended (Three Degrees in 2009; the Second International Climate Change Adaptation Conference in 2012; the first U.S. National Adaptation Forum in 2013) all featured an initial presentation of the scariest, latest scientific findings with the bottom line “Did you think we were screwed? Well now you know we are.” We dwelt in the shadow of those projections through the rest of the conference.  Rightly or wrongly, the CAF downplayed the role of climate science.

An aside: there was one science-focused session in the program— I was proud to be the moderator of a panel on the connection between fog and climate change, focusing on its importance as a source of water and cooling. The four scientists on the panel were determined to keep the mood light and positive, featuring fog special effects from a block of dry ice and carafes of hot water, but still got down to the question of whether winds driving upwelling and intensifying fog will outrun climate warming, which may be reducing fog (a trend that has been traced over the past 50 years on the California coast by Johnstone and Dawson, 2010).

Mainly, the CAF sessions presented stories from the field—active projects, lessons learned. The sessions I attended were accessible and interactive, all allowing between 10-30 minutes for questions. Colleagues echoed my impression that attendees had their ears open, were using their beginner-mind (not expert-mind), and didn’t push individual agendas. Their attitude was “I’m here to learn if I can. I’m here to help if I can.”

The California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird’s morning address on day two was the highlight of the conference for me. Secretary Laird described specific situations from his past as a local politician when he had to push back against angry constituents to make the right decision for the long-term health and safety of his community, such as closing a structurally vulnerable community services center in anticipation of a storm despite strong protests; the storm caused the roof to collapse and his constituents thanked him for not backing down. Laird also communicated a vivid framework for organizing in anticipation of climate change by talking about his time as executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project in the early 1990s, having to assemble resources in advance of things getting worse. Think about it: what did community organizers do in the AIDS crisis? They did mass, urgent, public education targeted to the most vulnerable; created a professional specialization to push research to the edge; made community art—like the AIDS Quilt—displaying visible, clear, accessible representations of the losses already happening, warning against complacence; and aggressively raised funds to create institutions to support the victims and their loved ones. What if we did the same for climate change? What would our quilt look like?

As for what’s next for California, Michael McCormick from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, one of the state partners who developed the CAF with the Local Government Commission, reports:
…[t]he State will be working with the Local Government Commission to distill what we heard into some near term actions that focus on cross-sector/cross-organizational strategies. We’ll also continue working together to ensure the momentum started here will continue towards the 2015 National Adaptation Forum and the 2016 California Adaptation Forum.
Read the Twitter stream from the CAF (#CAF14), and check out the CAF presentation PowerPoint slides. The presentations are listed in alphabetical order, so you’ll find the California Coastal Fog presentation under “C.”

Feature photo by TD Tillman - the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta at flood stage (2009). © Creative Commons

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Farmland in Flux

The following  was published July 8, 2014, on the WWF ClimatePrep blog ( -- which now appears to have gone defunct. Just in case it's gone for good, I'm going to re-post my ClimatePrep articles here. You can still see the original on

Farming may be the most adaptable industry, but are farmers reacting to the right signals?

“I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone through a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”
– Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food
I don’t know all the reasons why people go into or stay in farming. I grew up in a rural, isolated farming region of Northern New York where dairy farming was a family tradition, providing a stable (not booming) income for many. It isn’t my impression that farmers go into farming for the large profit margins. But neither do farmers farm in order to stay poor: they are market-savvy. They respond—perhaps first and foremost— to price signals. For example, right now almond prices are soaring because of increased demand (especially from China) and the collapse of bee colonies: even with the ongoing threat of bee colony collapse, the increasing price of almonds translates to fields of row crops being converted to almond orchards.

The other main signal that governs decisions is weather. Farmers watch weather, or the present condition of climate variables and their interactions over the short term, measured in minutes to months; but not necessarily climate, the pattern of weather over the long term, often measured in 30-year averages. Right now the main source of almonds for the world, California, is experiencing an epic drought. 2013 was the driest year in the state’s recorded history. As a result, almond trees are being turned into wood chips. And yet where irrigation is possible the transition from row crops to almond orchards continues, such as in the north of California’s Central Valley, according to Eric Parfrey, Yolo County’s principal planner. It’s a constantly shifting balance of variables, with long-term climate considerations given relatively little weight.

Constantly playing the short game, weighing a spiking price against a diving water table and disappearing pollinators, may leave farmers unprepared for long-term climatic shifts.

That is where government might step in. Governments could provide guidance and protection for farmers wanting to take risks in the interest of preparing for future climate, perhaps acting counter to their short-term interests.

However, one researcher, UC Davis’ Meredith Niles, finds that in California’s Central Valley some farmers consider “climate policy risk,” or possible losses from government policy intervention, a greater threat to their way of life than physical climate risk (Niles, Lubell, & Haden, 2013).

In fact, Niles’ study shows that past negative experiences with government environmental policies affecting their farms is highly correlated with farmers’ skepticism about climate change. Even if they have seen evidence of climate changing, negative past policy experience makes some farmers more concerned about climate change policies than climate change impacts.

Given the fact that farmers are primarily engaged in autonomous or spontaneous adaptation (because of the relative strength of short-term price and weather signals), how can farmers be encouraged to prepare for the long-term climate future? Given farmers’ resource constraints it may not be possible.

But things might not be as bad as they seem. The ongoing adaptation required of farmers may be enough to carry them successfully into the future, as long as they are willing to plan flexibly, transition crop type and variety, change irrigation practices, and otherwise change practices in response to conditions. An empirical study published in May 2014 shows that over the long-term farmers’ autonomous adaptation may be sufficient to maintain or even increase profits in some cases (Moore & Lobell, 2014). Stanford researcher Frances Moore looked at profit and yield reports in Western Europe (12 countries) between 1989 and 2009. She and her research team studied five crops (wheat, maize, sugarbeet, barley, and oilseed), comparing fluctuations over the short term versus the long term, presuming that the long-term period would capture the effect of more permanent adaptations (such as selling off increasingly unproductive land or investing in new irrigation technology), and considering projected climate change with and without those long-term adaptation effects. In all cases, yields show a decrease under climate change, even with all adaptation options in play. Adaptation moderates the negative impact of climate warming on yields, but doesn’t completely erase it. However, farmers respond more to price signals than yields, and in the projected future climate, average farm profits are shown to decrease 2.3% without adaptation – and increase 1.5% with adaptation. Farmers may not be farming for the large profit-margin, but they should be influenced by news of the possible increased profits from long-term adaptation.

Talking to Frances Moore about her results, I gathered some of her “take-aways” and thought about them in the context of California:

Farmers are interested in profit more than yield, so if the wheat yield goes down because of climate change, that doesn’t mean they will stop planting wheat (reminiscent of the phenomenon of the almond orchards in the Central Valley); costly adaptation actions or costly losses from heat will balance out if the price of the crop is high enough;
Farmers generally are more accustomed to adapting to rainfall fluctuation than long-term rising temperatures;
Whatever farmers say they believe about climate change may not line up with actions they take in response to climate change.
“Farmers are sensible people. They are going to respond to changes,” states Moore, “and to the extent they do, that’s adaptation.” But will they anticipate change enough? Will climate projections bear enough weight for them (relative to price and weather) for them to keep their farms going over the next fifty years of climate disruption?

The answer will not likely come in the form of a desktop study, but in farmers being engaged in the process of assessing climate risk and ways to act in anticipation of losses or opportunities for gain. If farmers are shown ways to increase long-term profits through long-term adaptation, it may avert costly investment in crops that cannot survive under the future climate. They just—somehow— have to be allowed to come to those conclusions on their own terms.

The California Climate and Agriculture Network, which works closely with Central Valley growers, has issued a set of comments in response to the state’s draft climate adaptation strategy Safeguarding California, imploring the state to shift its emphasis from research to outreach and technical assistance. You can read their recommendations here.


Top photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT). From the Two Degrees Up a 2012 series of case studies on the effect of climate change on agriculture. © Creative Commons.

Second photo by Ainhoa Goma, Oxfam International. Candelario Beh, a farmer from Tabi, an indigenous Mayan community affected by climate change. © Creative Commons.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

California: The Rebeavering (the re-post)

The following  was published May 21, 2015, on the WWF ClimatePrep blog ( -- which now appears to have gone defunct. Just in case it's gone for good, I'm going to re-post my ClimatePrep articles here. You can still see the original on

The California case for beaver reintroduction is picking up steam.

Specifically, the case is being made for the benefits of beaver dams and their ponds to California’s high Sierra, where a disappearing snowpack is threatening the state’s summer water supply—and overall economy.

Not all beavers build dams, and not every place beavers go is a suitable location for dams. However, where beaver ponds are found, there are higher water tables that benefit grazing animals like cattle, deep, cool ponds that benefit juvenile fish, and, when people are present, the aesthetic benefit of “watchable wildlife,” according to Brock Dolman, Director of the WATER Institute at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and advocate for the strategic fostering of beaver populations in California.

California faces peculiar beaver-reintroduction barriers not faced by other western states where people are starting to think of beaver ponds as a landscape restoration and surface water retention tool, like Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. And drought-plagued California might gain particular benefit from a new surface water retention tool. Hydrologist Suzanne Fouty, of the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, said in the 2014 PBS Nature documentary “Leave it to Beavers:”

The bottom line is, [beavers are] your ace in the hole. […] If the snowpack’s coming off earlier and ranchers want water, then we’re going to have to figure out how to keep it on the landscape, because it’s no longer going to be stored as snow in the mountains, and what beaver do […] is they create these little savings accounts, […] no longer as snow, but as surface and groundwater.

Beavers? In California?

Joseph Grinnell (in a 1937 University Press publication) and then Donald Tappe (in a 1942 California Department of Natural Resources publication) brought in the idea that the mid-1800s “fur rush” had pared back a beaver population that was limited to inland valleys. Then, in 1988, evidence of ancient beaver dams was found in the high Sierras that carbon dated back to 580 CE (Novel physical evidence that beavers historically were native to the Sierra Nevada, C. James and R. Lanman [2012]).

Further research, including a 2012 California Fish and Game piece by Lanman, Dolman and others, is showing evidence of beaver range extending across most of California, but what Dolman calls the “beaver blind spot” remains thanks to Tappe and Grinnell. Researchers working on the new maps of beaver range in California speculate that coastal and high Sierra beaver populations were smaller and easier to trap due to topography, so their populations were wiped out 100 years before Grinnell’s seminal work.

Before capitalizing on those precious “savings accounts” of water that high Sierra beaver could give California, the people of California have to buy the idea that beaver were here. They have to believe that supporting the expansion of their numbers and range is restoration instead of a new invasion, a la the 1946 experiment in Patagonia (Chile and Argentina), which has been an unmitigated disaster, the North American beaver being completely foreign to South America.


The second problem is the belief that beavers do more harm than good. The animal has been framed as vermin for 100 years. In some California counties there is no limit to the number of beavers you can kill in season. This is a public perception problem.

Beavers undoubtedly cause flooding where they build dams, and valuable property can suffer: orchards can suffer from both flooding and girdling by little teeth. Infrastructure can be put at risk if beaver populations are not managed. Advocates say there are remedies for most beaver/human conflicts. For example, it’s easy to protect valuable trees with fencing or painting the base with latex paint mixed with sand. The animal is tarred with stigma through the common name of Giardia: beaver fever. In fact, “it has never been demonstrated that the type of giardia beavers carry causes giardiasis in humans,” according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Although individual cases of conflict can be solved (as they did famously in Martinez, CA, now the home of an annual Beaver Festival), there is a lack of information in favor of beavers as a way to solve problems. There is a need for more data supporting the benefits of beaver dams to watersheds for surface water retention, water quantity and quality, and benefits to endangered species. There are loads of observations of these things, but a lack of rigorous research to support it. According to Dolman, scientists need to tease out the “beaver signal” between watersheds with and without beaver ponds.

In My Own Dam Backyard

A third problem specific to California is that beavers were introduced or reintroduced in a widespread, haphazard way as a way to combat erosion in the period after the Tappe report. Other western states also reintroduced beaver, including using parachutes, but they did it on the scale of 200-300 animals. Dolman says the exact figure is unknown, but it is believed that around 1,200 beaver were released in California in that period. Looking back, it appears to have been irresponsible rebeavering. Besides bringing in beaver from other states (instead of sustainably cultivating local populations), it contributed to the confusion about what constituted native habitat for beaver and created conflicts with landowners.

So, What Next?

Besides publicizing the evidence that beavers are native to most of California, quantifying the benefits of beaver ponds for surface water retention (particularly interesting in the current historic California drought), changing public perception of beavers as vermin, and convincing people that beavers will not be parachuted into your backyard, wildlife managers need to get a fix on the current status of beavers in California.

A recent meeting between California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) staff and beaver advocates started with the staff asking the advocates how many beavers are in the state, according to Dolman. The last state-issued report on the matter was by Tappe: the current condition of the beaver in California is unknown. An online Beaver Mapper has been created to help with this problem.

The CDFW, the agency responsible for beaver population management in the state, is not about to start moving beavers around. But they also don’t want to ignore what beaver advocates are saying about their value for surface water retention and with the state’s old water retention system—snowpack—on its way out. Also, there’s legal liability to consider. It’s possible that in one hunting season, in a county where there is no limit on beavers killed for recreation, an entire beaver family maintaining a pond on which federally and state endangered species depend for survival could be lost. This would put the CDFW in the position of defending an “incidental take” of endangered species in a court of law.

So, the CDFW is cautiously showing interest in what the beaver believers have to say. There appears to be momentum behind locating and evaluating populations for possible increased protection. Sierra mountain meadows and their far-downstream neighbors, thirsty ranches and farms, may eventually see the benefits.
More information:

The Beaver Believers: A Film About Passion and Perseverance in an Era of Climate Change – the website for the film, scheduled for completion in November 2015, has useful background information and references.

Leave it to Beavers – a 53 min. video that premiered May 14, 2014, on PBS Nature, available streaming online. Besides giving a basic history of the animal in North America, it addresses the growing belief by scientists and environmentalists that beavers have been overlooked as a tool for reversing harm done by climate change. It illustrates how beavers have kept ranchers going through drought, as beaver ponds raise water tables on grazing lands.

The Martinez beaver story – a 14:50 video, by Heidi Perryman of “Worth a Dam.”

Beaver and Climate Change Adaptation in North America: A Simple, Cost-Effective Strategy – A 58-page report by scientists and advocates from the WildEarth Guardians, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Lands Council (2011).

Photo: Beaver at Montreal Biodôme. © Márcio Cabral de Moura

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

California Climate Change Symposium Parking Lot

I was unable to attend the California Climate Change Symposium (#CCCS15) in Sacramento on Aug. 24-25, 2015, so I'm creating a parking lot here for links that can help a non-attendee get acquainted with what happened there.

It was put together by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR), the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The main topic of the event was the state of climate science in California (the URL for the event is ""). The Daily Breeze (LA County) does a nice, quick, accessible summary of the take-aways of the science presented at the CCCS15, if you can get past the demotivating headline: California climate researchers sound the alarm at symposium: ‘There’s no way out’ (Aug. 25, 2015).

That "no way out" quote is attributed to the wise and esteemed Susanne Moser, who I greatly admire, but who definitely tends towards the "stick" more than "carrot" approach to delivering climate change information, at least when she is talking to her peers-- scientists and climate change planners. Another stick-upside-the-head pronouncement I wrote down once while listening to her speak is "we can't save everything we love." She's good at "stick" delivery. Another So-Cal journalist who appears to be repacking the Daily Breeze take-aways but with maps, seized on the "no way out" quote, putting it in bold under another "stick"-y headline: The Many Terrifying Ways Global Warming Will Soon Be Ravaging California (Aug. 26, 2015).

FYI -- if you, like me, missed the event because you didn't find out it was happening in time to attend, the event was first announced May 21, 2015, by the CNRA via its climate change list-serve (which you can join here). The call for posters only went out on July 8. Since the short lead-time on the event probably excluded a lot of people who have to plan ahead more than a few weeks at a time, it's nice that the event was live-webcast. However, I don't think the videos are available online (or, aren't yet online).

Despite the short notice, it was a sold-out 600+ crowd, from one friend's account. I'm skimming through the Twitter feed of top tweets on the event for other insights.

If that's too much heavy lifting, LA-based Climate Resolve has just published a curated selection of CCCS15 tweets.

If you are looking for MORE heavy lifting here's the "live" feed for #CCCS15, the whole slough of tweets with that tag, uncurated.