Saturday, May 31, 2008

Forests, wildlife, fire danger all expected to be effected by warming Sierra

Long piece by Greyson Howard in the Sierra Sun: Many doomsday predictions of climate change focus on rising oceans, flooding coastlines and submerged cities, but some scientists are watching the Sierra to gauge other significant impacts. Looking into the future it isn’t hard for researchers to picture the many different Sierra ecosystems — wrapped like bands around different elevations — retreating rapidly upward, squeezing each other and eventually running out of elevation to climb.

As future temperatures rise, predictions are for snow to melt faster and streams to swell earlier, out of sync with the breading cycles of aquatic species like fish and frogs. Dry summers would leave entire forests more susceptible to fire and pests than ever before.

And, many experts agree, the changes become amplified as they move up the food chain, throwing the Sierra Nevada’s entire ecosystem, meticulously established over millennia, out of balance in a matter of decades. The bottom line, some scientists conclude, is the extinction of vulnerable mountain species and increased fire risk for the Sierra’s human inhabitants.

“Our concern is with the rapidity of change — most species can evolve over time and the planet has always been in flux — but it’s the rate of change, which is really unlike anything we’ve been able to study,” said Josh Viers, assistant research ecologist at UC Davis.

The Sierra Nevada has been characterized as the “canary in the coal mine,” according to the U.S. Forest Service, an early alarm for the deleterious effects of rising temperatures. But all parts of the Sierra won’t be treated equal. Despite Truckee-Tahoe’s more northern latitude, the area will likely be hit harder than the taller mountains to the south….

Split Mountain, in the Sierra Nevada of California, shot by Jonathan Fox, from Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License (cc-by-sa-2.0)

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