A Semi-Annual Publication of Manomet

Adapting to Change

By Bob Moore

In a classic illustration used over the past decade to depict how climate change will affect the eastern U.S., a map of the east coast shows Virginia migrating north. We see how, by the end of this century, global warming will have caused Hampton, Virginia to pick up and relocate 650 miles north to resettle in Hampden, Maine.

Audiences seeing this graphic have been misled, if unintentionally, by a gross over-simplification of climate change. Today's more sophisticated understanding of climate-related change portrays the natural landscape as a weave of interconnected fibers: insect, plant, animal, bedrock. The resulting fabric, embodying the full expression of those interactions, is pulling apart as the climate changes. Each strand has its own response to a changing climate, coming at its own time. What will happen as the natural order is reshuffled, and cold-climate forests greet warm-climate insects and animals? As the natural landscape is transformed, how will that affect us and our towns? In a sweeping regional endeavor involving dozens of partners in as many locations, Manomet is meeting people in their home environments to see how their places are changing. We spoke with farmers, foresters, and conservationists who spend their lives outdoors to find out what they are seeing, and how they can adapt. Already we are finding some surprising answers.

One finding: It is time to stop talking about climate change as though it is an abstract concept for future speculation. Climate change is already happening now.

"We are not talking about potential global warmng and potential climate change. This is a reality and it is here right now," said Massachusetts State Senator Marc Pacheco, chairman of the natural resources committee, speaking at a climate change adaptation event organized by Manomet and hosted by cranberry grower A.D. Makepeace.

Patty Glick, a climate scientist at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has witnessed the long progression of climate science in over 20 yearsof research.

"In the past decade a stream of studies was released, each forecasting the scientific impacts of climate change. Many set the year 2100 as the benchmark for when the level of atmospheric CO2 would double that of preindustrial times," Glick said. "We may see that by 2050, and then the CO2 concentrations will keep getting worse."

The verdict is in: fingerprints of climate change are everywhere. Hector Galbraith, a climate change adaptation scientist at Manomet said that if all global emissions of greenhouse gases stopped immediately inertia in the climate could continue temperatures to increase for decades. As a result, climate change poses concurrent challenges: reduce greenhouse gas emissions to minimize future damage, and adapt to meet the impacts that are already assured for human and natural environments.

According to Eric Walberg, a senior program leader at Manomet, climate change will exacerbate problems we already have, adding stress to every ecosystem.

"The healthier, more resilient they can be now, the better they will absorb and respond to added stress," Walberg said. Manomet's climate change adaptation program helps communities understand the impacts so that they can make smart policy decisions now.

"Precipitation events are now more extreme, with damaging torrents of stormwater runoff. We can save money and resources if we make investments up front to accommodate these changes now," Walberg said. "Adapting to climate change presents the opportunity to confront challenges we have always had. But what will happen with a significant lengthening of the growing season, and increased incidence of pests and invasive species?"

Blight in the Orchard

Gyger Orchards in Bridgton, Maine offers one example of what happens. The orchard, part of Five Fields Farm in the Sebago Lake watershed, is working with Program Manager Jackie Sartoris in Manomet's Maine office to develop a climate change adaptation plan.

Tom Gyger is the third generation in his family to run the farm. When he left teaching to move back to the farm 30 years ago, he didn't expect to be contending with the changes he is seeing now. Gyger recalled the day his father showed him a withered shoot on one of the orchard trees. It was caused by fire blight, so-named because it makes a tree look as though it was singed with a blowtorch. Gyger said it can kill a tree in five weeks, but he wasn't overly concerned about an infestation at the time. Fire blight was very rare then, and it typically only targets golden delicious apples and pears.

"My father told me to cut out the shoot and haul it a mile away," Gyger said.

In recent years Gyger's Orchard has experienced more of the warm temperatures in early spring, coupled with cold, moist weather during bloom season that favors fire blight.

"In the last two or three years, not only have the golden delicious been hit, but the Paula reds as well," Gyger said. "The disease is as nasty as the name implies. Of all the things we're encountering now, fire blight scares me the most."

Targeted and precisely timed applications of antibiotic spray can kill the bacteria, but it is another incremental change to which Gyger Orchards finds they must adapt.

Manomet is working with three other landowners in Maine and three in Massachusetts with the goal of developing and field-testing strategies that make their forests, farms, and conservation lands resilient to climate change impacts. Walberg sees this project as a lens through which Manomet can identify ecosystem services that might be vulnerable (think clean water, recreation), and then lessen the impacts through adaptation.

Rural landscapes are emphasized, but Walberg says it is crucial that adaptation also focus on urban infrastructure.

"If we don't do a good job adapting the built environment, it could have bad consequences for the natural environment. These aren't separate and disconnected issues," Walberg said. For example, if a municipality replaces a culvert with one that is not big enough to accommodate increased stormwater flows, the likely outcome will be flooding, scouring, erosion, and road washouts – all bad for the long-term ecological health of downstream waterbodies.

From a practical standpoint, anticipating changes then adapting urban and rural resources will save money in the long run. Tight budgets make proactive work a difficult sell for state and local officials, but they can find motivation by comparing the cost of not incorporating climate change into their everyday decision making. Understanding risk is an important tool in climate adaptation; it is also the first step in long-term cost avoidance.

"Meeting these challneges will be costly," said Pacheco, the state senator. "Not meeting these challenges will be far more costly."

NWF's Glick said that climate change needs to be the lens through which everything is seen, not considered a separate task with a final report that city planners put on the shelf. She said that municipal officials should ask "how does climate change affect what I am doing, and how will it affect my decision?"

Manomet has been a leader from the outset in developing climate change vulnerability assessment techniques. Understanding how species, ecosystems, and human systems are likely to react under climate change is an integral component of climate change adaptation.

Manomet's role of guidance and teaching with vulnerability assessments is evolving.

"The question now is whether or how ecological systems can be fine-tuned to reduce vulnerability. We are moving beyond the theoretical now and testing ideas in the field," Galbraith said.

Cool Waters

Red Brook in Wareham and Plymouth, Massachusetts has become one such field laboratory for developing tactics that preserve ecological functions as our climate changes. The Red Brook site, also known as Century Bog, is currently in cranberry production but planning and design work is underway to restore the site to natural stream and wetlands. Red Brook is a cold-water habitat that supports trout, a relatively uncommon ecological characteristic. Manomet is assisting the state's restoration by analyzing likely climate change impacts and developing an adaptation plan for the site.


Can trout survive in Red Brook, given warmer temperatures, surges of precipitation, and encroaching human development? These are not challenges of the distant future. Manomet's Walberg says that significant impacts of changing land ownership and extensive residential development in the three towns surrounding Red Brook have contributed to a 25-50% decrease in ecological integrity during the last 40 years. Continued fragmentation of the landscape in New England is among the most important additive stressors to be considered in conjunction with climate change.

A cold-water aquifer underlying Red Brook allows trout and other cold-water species to exist. It recharges stream flows with cool water that has not been exposed to surface conditions that can heat up the stream, such as sun or runoff. Science and collaboration with landowners and partners hold the key to Red Brook's future viability as trout habitat.

"We need to continue developing management tools and solutions that essentially buy time for Red Brook," Galbraith said. "If we can maintain groundwater recharge of the aquifer, and restore riparian stream habitat along the stream to favor shading vegetation, we could enable significant cooling from the aquifer to continue. If we do the restoration right, we're buying time."

Spreading the Word

Eventually, lessons learned at Red Brook and Five Fields Farms will be incorporated into climate change adaptation plans that could potentially benefit forest, farm, and conservation landowners all over the country. But bringing these solutions to scale so they are broadly applied and accepted poses a separate set of challenges. The work of "social adaptation" is less biology and science, and more sociology, governance, and politics.

"If you asked me four years ago where adaptation science was going I would not have known the answer," Galbraith said. "We have made a tremendous amount of progress; we now know where we need to go. The real question is, will we? Scientists can provide the spark, but society provides the gunpowder."

Because most of the landscape in the northeastern U.S. is privately owned, success at protecting and conserving habitat and natural resources depends in large part on the decisions of thousands of individual landowners. More and more, scientists at Manomet and elsewhere are learning how to provide those landowners with the recommendations and tools they need to efficiently manage their land for climate change. But, barring government regulation – an improbable political outcome – what could induce landowners to accept those choices, especially if they involve shortterm costs for long-term benefits?

What gives Eric Walberg hope are the results he sees from cultivating an informed constituency that knows about climate change issues and can carry on the conversation on its own.

"We scientists and planners need to get people – who are not specialists – making decisions about managing their land and their enterprises," Walberg said. "These are citizens in watersheds all over the region who want to participate in decisions. There is a huge need out there for skillful education on this topic. That can be a tightrope walk, but it is difficult to build interest and promote action without it."

The field of climate science is well populated with people working at all levels of government and private enterprise on the factual, scientific questions that climate change poses, and our understanding about how climate change will affect global changes to our human and ecological systems is deepening. Science can provide some answers, but can not force action by itself. Emphasis will eventually shift from scientific questions to questions of what motivates society to address the most pressing problems. There are fewer people actively engaged in this next phase of climate change adaptation, but those who grasp its importance will be in a position of leadership. Manomet is already a recognized leader in climate adaptation; through strong partnerships and building capacity for action on the ground, Manomet will continue to be looked to for leadership in the next phase.

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