Houghton to be part of climate program

HOUGHTON The U.S. Forest Service in Houghton will host one of several hubs around the country in a newly formed federal effort to help farmers, ranches and forest landowners better manage their resources for a changing climate.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday seven climate change hubs that will address increased risks such as fires, floods, invasive species and droughts. The Houghton location, at the USDA Northern Research Station on MacInnes Drive, will be one of three subsidiary hubs with a narrower focus. In Houghton’s case, that’s climate change and Lake State forests.

The program is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change.

Heading the sub-hub is Chris Swanston, director of the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Forest Service and other partners, including Michigan Technological University. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

Swanston said the hub’s role is not to tell people how to do things, but to work with the land managers on how to meet their needs.

“There’s a fire hose of information about climate, but so much of it is not relevant to the needs of land managers,” he said.

“This is an effort to really focus some national agencies and corral some information from universities and others and get it to them in a way that is useful and practical.”

Swanston said the facility would be able to give land owners climate projections and some idea of the potential impact on the land and ecosystem for the crops they manage.

Climate change has already impacted the Midwest, Swanston said. While there’s more precipitation, it’s less evenly spaced out, with longer dry periods interspersed with big storms. The growing season is almost two weeks longer than it was in 1950. The fire season has also grown longer, adding two months in the past 30 years.

The effects can be costly. From 2011 to 2013, drought cost the U.S. $50 billion.

The seven regional hubs are in Ames, Iowa (Houghton’s hub); Durham, N.H.; Raleigh, N.C.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Las Cruces, N.M.; El Reno, Okla.; and Corvallis, Ore. The other two sub-hubs are in Davis, Calif., and Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.

Sites were chosen through a competitive process among USDA facilities.

Swanston said as of now, the new hub will use existing personnel, facilities and funding levels.

“What it really is, is the Secretary of Agriculture refocusing some of the USDA agencies and making certain they’re better meeting the needs of producers with regards to climate change,” he said.