California Tree Loss Could Have Implications for Forests Nationwide
Climate change puts forests at risk. A recent study found that a third of the conifers in the unique Klamath region in California and Oregon could disappear by the end of this century. California has lost 130 million trees since 2010 due to the combined impacts of drought, warming temperatures and the insects and diseases that accompany them.
Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Washington has found that forest loss on one side of the U.S. can have negative consequences for plants on the other coast.
The study, published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, divided the U.S. into 18 regions used by the National Ecological Observatory Network and used climate models to determine what forest die-off in the 13 most wooded regions would do to vegetation throughout the country.
The National Ecological Observatory Network regions used for the study.The National Ecological Observatory Network
The largest negative impact occurred when the researchers simulated forest die-off in the Pacific Southwest region, which includes most of California. The Southwest die-off reduced vegetation in the Eastern U.S.
"These smaller areas of forest can have continental-scale impacts, and we really need to be considering this when we're thinking about ecological changes," study first author and University of Washington assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and biology Abigail Swann said in a University of Washington press release.
The impact of losing California's trees is especially distressing given that the state is already suffering climate-related tree loss.
"There's some pretty extensive, widespread forest loss going on," Swann said. "The changes we made in the model are bigger, but they're starting to converge with things that we're actually seeing.
"These results show that we need to start thinking about how altering vegetation in one place can affect plants elsewhere, especially in the context of climate change," Swann said.
The study found that forest die-off in the Northern Rockies and Great Basin region also had negative impacts on vegetation in the Eastern U.S. Tree loss in the Mid-Atlantic region, on the other hand, increased vegetation overall.
Swann said that more research was needed to determine exactly why the loss of trees in one part of the country impacted vegetation in another part, but said the process was roughly equivalent to weather events like El Niño, which change the way the atmosphere circulates. Tree loss on the West Coast led to warmer summers on the East, which is bad for vegetation.
"Forest loss is disrupting or changing the flow patterns in the atmosphere that is leading to a slightly different summertime climate in the eastern part of the country," Swann said.
The current study builds on the results of a 2016 University of Washington study that looked at the impacts on global vegetation of removing either the Amazon rainforest or the forests of the Western U.S.
Removing the Amazon had negative impacts on tree growth in Siberia, but a positive impact on vegetation in the Southeastern U.S. and Eastern South America, while removing West Coast forests had a negative impact on Siberia and the Southeastern U.S., but a positive impact on the Amazon and other South American forests.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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