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Guiding Oregon Through The Unknown And The Unknowables Of Climate Change

Leading Oregon scientists and officials have produced two new reports meant to guide the state’s response to climate change.

As Rob Manning reports, one report presents the problem – the other is a small step toward dealing with the problem.

About 70 scientists contributed to the 400-page Oregon Climate Assessment Report.

Phillip Mote heads the state’s climate office at Oregon State University. He says Oregon can expect warmer summers and higher sea levels. 

Mote says small changes in climate could make a big difference with things like mountain snowpack.

Phil Mote: “Here in the Northwest where a great deal of the water that we use in the summer originates as snowmelt from the mountain storage banks, and the snow falls at temperatures close to freezing, we are concerned about the amount of shift in runoff that could occur with a little bit of warming.”

In other words, if it’s a little warmer – the precipitation could be rain.  That could lead to flooding rather than build up as snowpack in the mountains to melt slowly in the summer.

Mote says issues like that have led local officials to ask him questions that as a scientist, he can’t answer.

Phil Mote: “Should I build in bigger culverts when I’m designing a road? Should I design bridges to six inches or higher? They’re asking questions with big dollar figures attached.” 

A second report released Tuesday doesn’t answer those questions – but it addresses them, rather than avoid them.

21 state agencies crafted the Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework as a first-step toward dealing with climate-related problems.

The Framework identifies 11 specific areas, rated from “more likely than not” to occur, all the way up to “very likely” – or 90 percent certain – to happen.

Jim Rue is with the Department of Land Conservation and Development.  He says the framework calls for careful planning in specific places. He points to towns next to fire-prone forests, or next to the ocean.

Jim Rue: “There seems to be very little question that the incidence of wildfire is going to increase, so we need to be working with communities to make sure that people aren’t going to be hurt, or killed. The same is true, perhaps even more true in coastal communities.” 

Both reports say there’s still a lack of specificity about how climate change will affect Oregon. They both call for an economic study of what the financial bottom line of climate change might be here.

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