Opinion Columns & Blogs

Dramatic climate shifts require attention to forests, water



This year has been a bellwether of the challenges to come: Washington has endured one of our most erratic crop seasons, our hottest summer, and our worst drought and wildfire season.

While weather patterns vary from year to year, the trend line is clear: Our state is undergoing dramatic shifts due to climate change. Worrying though these shifts may be, Washington has proven tools to a resilient future – our magnificent forests and abundant clean water. Yet without action, these resources are being transformed, leaving us more vulnerable to climate change impacts.

At least 2.7 millions of acres of our forests are sick, dying, dead, or consumed by flames. With snowpack at 9 percent of normal, a drought emergency has caused voluntary water rationing around Puget Sound, put pressure on agriculture, and exacerbated the devastation of wildfires. Washington’s communities may soon face as much trouble from too much water. Climate change means more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow – racing down river valleys, flooding homes and farms. Like drought and fire, water in the wrong place at the wrong time may be the new normal.

Some of our state’s leaders are taking the threat seriously, looking for local solutions and ways to lead the nation in grappling with climate change: the Department of Ecology just announced a clean air rule to treat greenhouse gases like other pollutants, some legislators are exploring a legislative solution, and voters could find an initiative on the ballot in 2016.

No matter the chosen path, proven natural solutions must be at the heart of our state’s approach to climate change.

Investing in the health of our forests and rivers reduces the impacts of climate change and encourages economic and community vitality. When well-stewarded, the Evergreen State’s lush forests naturally sequester millions of tons of carbon every year and help ensure abundant clean water for agricultural and growing communities.

As leaders in the field of natural resource conservation, the Department of Natural Resources, Forterra and The Nature Conservancy are working together for science-based, practical solutions to reduce the severity of fire, drought and flooding while creating jobs, reducing carbon pollution and strengthening communities.

A fundamental part of any climate policy must be dedicated investments in clean water and wildfire suppression; innovations in forest management, drought and flood risk reduction; and programs that fight forest parasites and disease, making forests more fire resistant.

We are committed to protecting two of our most cherished resources in the face of a changing climate: our forests and our water. It will take strong and immediate action to keep our state vibrant and economically viable in the face of a future that looks much like the summer we have just experienced.

Peter Goldmark is Washington commissioner of public lands; Gene Duvernoy is president of Forterra; and Mike Stevens is Washington director of The Nature Conservancy.