Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dems Call For Climate Change Hearings; Cite Recent Reports

Dec 19: Several Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, citing recent assessments by the U.S. government of climate threats against America's natural resources, called on committee Republicans to immediately hold hearings on climate change and America's natural heritage. The Members said, "We believe that the Committee should hold a comprehensive series of oversight hearings to examine the impact of climate change and related extreme weather events on our water resources, our forests, our wildlife and our fisheries and oceans in the new Congress. We strongly urge you to convene such hearings and we look forward to working with you in planning such hearings in the New Year."
    According to a release, a ten year assessment released by the Forest Service (see below) on the conditions of America's Federal forests found that climate change will decrease the amount of drinking water available from our forests, and an increase in wildfire. And a recent report by the Department of Interior found that the Colorado River Basin would experience huge deficiencies in supply of water for farmers and families, in large part because of climate change.

    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), the Ranking Member of the committee, was joined in the letter to Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), by Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands, Grace Napolitano (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water and Power, and Gregorio Sablan (D-MP), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs.

    The Democrats said in their letter, "We believe that the Committee should hold a comprehensive series of oversight hearings to examine the impact of climate change and related extreme weather events on our water resources, our forests, our wildlife and our fisheries and oceans in the new Congress." The action mirrors similar, multiple requests from Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and various Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for that committee to hold hearings related to climate change and its impacts.

    The letter cites the "almost apocalyptic" weather that affected the United States this year as one reason for concern. The Democrats focus on several recent studies, however, that point to troubling issues for America's natural resources, which are overseen by the committee.

    The Forest Service report notes that while America's National Forests are the single largest source of drinking water in the Nation, supplying water to over 66 million Americans, "The result of the combination of increasing water demand and declining water yields is an increase in vulnerability of the U.S. water supply to shortage, especially in the larger Southwest and Great Plains." According to a release from the Forest Service, the study shows the potential for significant loss of privately-owned forests to development and fragmentation, which could substantially reduce benefits from forests that the public now enjoys including clean water, wildlife habitat, forest products and others. Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman said, "We should all be concerned by the projected decline in our nation's forests and the corresponding loss of the many critical services they provide such as clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wood products and outdoor recreation. Today's report offers a sobering perspective on what is at stake and the need to maintain our commitment to conserve these critical assets."

    The Forest Service assessment's projections are influenced by a set of scenarios with varying assumptions about U.S. population and economic growth, global population and economic growth, global wood energy consumption and U.S. land use change from 2010 to 2060. Using those scenarios, the report forecasts key trends including: Forest areas will decline as a result of development, particularly in the South, where population is projected to grow the most; Timber prices are expected to remain relatively flat; Rangeland area is expected to continue its slow decline but rangeland productivity is stable with forage sufficient to meet expected livestock grazing demands; Biodiversity may continue to erode because projected loss of forestland will impact the variety of forest species; and Recreation use is expected to trend upward.

    The Colorado River Basin study cited by the Democrats says that there will be a reduction of 9 percent in flow of the Colorado River over the next 50 years compared to the last 100 years, and that droughts will be more intense. The number of people who could be affected by shortages due to drought and demand could double to 76.5 million people by 2060, according to the report.

    According to a release from the Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Reclamation, the average imbalance in future supply and demand is projected to be greater than 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060. One acre-foot of water is approximately the amount of water used by a single household in a year. The study projects that the largest increase in demand will come from municipal and industrial users, owing to population growth. The Colorado River Basin currently provides water to some 40 million people, and the study estimates that this number could nearly double to approximately 76.5 million people by 2060, under a rapid growth scenario.

    DOI Secretary Ken Salazar said, "There's no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years -- rather, it's going to take diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders to identify and move forward with practical solutions. Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and this study provides a solid platform to explore actions we can take toward a sustainable water future. While not all of the proposals included in the study are feasible, they underscore the broad interest in finding a comprehensive set of solutions."

    The Democrats did not mention another very relevant study released yesterday (December 18), prepared by  the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Arizona State University in Tempe [See WIMS 12/18/12]. The technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment indicates that plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events -- such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating -- at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago. The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks.

    Access a release from the House Democrats and link to the letter (click here). Access a release from the Forest Service and link to the complete report (click here). Access a release from DOI/BLM and link to the complete report (click here). [#Climate, #Land, #Agriculture]

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