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Planning for Climate Change in Central Oregon

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The central Oregon counties of Jefferson, Deschutes, and Crook provide their residents with dramatic contrasts, stunning vistas, and high quality of life. From the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests to the Crooked River National Grasslands, Mount Bachelor to Lake Billy Chinook, and the urban center of Bend to the agricultural lands surrounding Madras, Prineville, and Redmond, central Oregon offers a diversity of settings, experiences, and opportunities for those calling this region home as well as those looking for a place to visit with cultural, recreational, and scenic attractions.

Central Oregon’s quality of life is at risk from a variety of pressures. One primary threat has the capacity to overwhelm and affect all others–climate change. Climate change is expected to have substantial impacts to the rivers, forests, grasslands, and wildife of this region. These impacts will affect infrastructure, emergency response capacity, human health, tourism, agriculture, forestry and many other facets of society.

We assessed how a changing climate might affect Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties using the latest science and local expertise in a community-based process called ClimateWise®. The ClimateWise® process included climate change model output and a community workshop that involved expert participation from throughout different sectors and interests. Groups of experts and leaders from across the different sectors of the community developed a suite of strategies for “climate change adaptation”–the process of preparing for climate change to reduce overall impacts to natural and human communities. We view these strategies as a critical first step in an ongoing process to adapt as the climate, our understanding of the earth’s processes, and other drivers such as population growth change over time.

By integrating adaptation strategies across different sectors of society, county and regional leaders can reduce conflict among diverse interests for limited resources, such as water, while increasing communication and lowering overall costs. Based on climate change model projections, peer-reviewed scientific publications, and other scientific reports, local experts and leaders identified the following as changes that are likely to occur in Jefferson, Deschutes, and Crook Counties over the coming century:

  • 5 to 9° F increase in temperature
  • Similar to slightly more precipitation, with increases in winter months
  • Declines in snowpack, earlier runoff, and lower summer stream flows
  • Increased extent of wildfire by 10 to 15%
  • Increase in ponderosa pine dominated mixed conifer forests
  • Increased spread of invasive species
  • More pests and disease in natural systems and human populations

The report Integrated Strategies for a Vibrant and Sustainable Central Oregon discusses each of the above threats, among others, and offers stakeholder-derived strategies to make the region resistant or resilient to these threats. Strategies and actions focus on:

  • Increasing water storage, decreasing flood risks, increasing groundwater storage, and improving surface water quality
  • Conserving water
  • Decreasing water demand
  • Reducing forest fuels
  • Protecting intact habitats
  • Limiting urban wildland and floodplain development
  • Initiating conservation-minded land use planning

As climate change progresses, it will be important that communities are prepared in ways that protect people and the natural resources on which they depend. The ClimateWise® process allowed local experts and leaders to use the latest science to assess what changes are likely across Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties. Recommended strategies and actions  developed during the process can be incorporated into ongoing decision making and planning processes at many different levels. This effort represents a first step at creating a more resilient and sustainable future for these central Oregon counties in the face of accelerating change.

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