With a new National Science Foundation grant, Washington State University will prepare graduate students to tackle a difficult problem that is more than 1,200 miles long: the Columbia River.
The five-year, $3 million award will fund a research training program focused on the relationships among rivers, watersheds, and communities. The program is intended to transform graduate science education, creating a diverse workforce that will not just conduct research but also first engage with the many communities that depend on the Columbia for clean water and food.
The training program will be run by WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach or CEREO, which brings together hundreds of WSU faculty from multiple disciplines. CEREO’s interim director, Boll is a civil and environmental engineering professor, and his co-principal investigators on this project are Dylan Bugden in sociology, Erica Crespi from the School of Biological Sciences, Alexander Fremier from the School of Environment, and Zoe High Eagle Strong from the Nez Perce Tribe who directs the WSU Center for Native American Research and Collaboration.
Canada lynx aren’t known for dumpster diving in the suburbs or poaching cattle off the range. They have yet to be filmed chasing a biker down a trail. Instead, lynx tend to give wide berth to humans, preferring isolated forested areas filled with snow and their favorite prey, snowshoe hare.
Since lynx won’t come to us, a research team led by Washington State University wildlife biologist Dan Thornton has been bringing cameras to them. Last year, the researchers published results of a massive project to place camera traps across more than 4,300 square miles of northeastern Washington. They found lynx present on only about 20 percent of their potential habitat.
“Because lynx are so endangered in the state, they are impacted by changes that are happening every year,” Thornton said. “If we have a monitoring program in place, we can look at the effects of any management practices we might implement. This is really important for a species that’s on the edge. It’s such a dynamic landscape with both fire and changes to snowpack. We want this type of continuous data, so we can examine those changes.”
Over the weekend, as smoke from Western fires cast a thin haze in the sky above the Capitol, senators unveiled the details of a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would make a historic investment to combat wildfires.
Mark Swanson, an associate professor of forestry at Washington State University, said lawmakers in Congress need to understand those factors aren’t mutually exclusive.
“We’re seeing a perfect storm of climate change and the accumulation of fuels from the period of fire exclusion,” he said, referring to the policy of putting out nearly all fires that has led to denser forests than existed before white settlers arrived.
Other factors, Swanson said, include population growth that has brought more accidental fires and more people living in areas susceptible to fire, and the federal government barring Native Americans from using controlled burns and other traditional forest management tools.
Even in the absence of bark beetle outbreaks and wildfire, trees in Colorado subalpine forests are dying at increasing rates from warmer and drier summer conditions, found recent University of Colorado Boulder research.
“We have bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires that cause very obvious mortality of trees in Colorado. But we’re showing that even in the areas that people go hiking in and where the forest looks healthy, mortality is increasing due to heat and dry conditions alone,” said Robert Andrus, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in the School of the Environment at Washington State University. “It’s an early warning sign of climate change.”
“It was really surprising to see how strong the relationship is between climate and tree mortality, to see that there was a very obvious effect of recent warmer and drier conditions on our subalpine forests,” said Andrus, who conducted this research while completing his graduate degree in physical geography at CU Boulder. “The rate of increasing mortality is alarming.”
In our current climate, a heat wave of similar severity could be expected, roughly, once every 1,000 years across the Pacific Northwest, according to a recent study that has yet to receive peer review. But as global warming advances, such a severe heat wave could be expected once every five to 10 years, the research suggests.
“If you are vulnerable, or if you have vulnerable people in your household, it’s important to have cooling resources,” said Dr. Deepti Singh, a climate researcher at Washington State University – Vancouver, in the days before the heat wave hit.
The cooling sites were distributed across the city, but there were gaps in coverage. There were no sites in Georgetown or Queen Anne, and none below 95th Street in Northeast Seattle, for example, until June 28 — the third and hottest day — when the city opened one in Magnuson Park after residents in a low-income housing development raised concern.