Alan R.P. Journet Ph.D.
Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
April 20th 2023
Co-chairs Frederick and McLain and members of the Joint Committee on Transportation
An important bill that I had overlooked was recently drawn to my attention. Regrettably, I therefore missed the Public Hearing and the opportunity to submit testimony in that venue. I feel so strongly about this unfortunate bill that I am compelled to contact committee members individually. I apologize for my oversight.
I write as cofacilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (SOCAN), an organization of over 2,000 rural Southern Oregonians who are concerned about the climate crisis and urge statewide action to address it. The mission of SOCAN is to promote awareness and understanding of the science of global warming and its climate chaos consequences and stimulate individual and collective action to address it. Since rural Oregonians occupy the frontlines in experiencing the impact of the drought, shrinking snowpack, wildfires and extreme weather that the climate crisis imposes, we are strongly committed to statewide action.
On this occasion, I write both in my capacity with SOCAN and as a retired biologist who has spent over 30 years teaching and conducting research in ecology, along with many years teaching conservation biology and science process at Southeast Missouri State University.
Many years ago, Robert Whittaker (Whittaker 1975) developed a chart depicting the distribution of natural ecosystems across the planet in relation to the variables of annual average precipitation and average temperature. The clarity presented in this chart has not been superseded. A modified version of Whittaker’s chart is presented in Figure 1 below.
The point this chart makes is that the current distribution of natural ecosystems globally is determined by the two climatic factors most influenced by global warming: average temperature and average precipitation. If these variables shift, as climate change data tell us they are shifting, and projections tell us they will continue to shift, current ecosystems across the planet will be severely compromised or destroyed. As we travel across the landscape from one natural ecosystem to another, we pass through transition zones, known as ecotones. As susceptible to threat as the ecosystems are, the transitional ecotones between them are often even more fragile and likely to suffer from environmental assaults.
Within the ecosystems indicated in Figure 1, wherever water flows or coasts are encountered, ecotones between the terrestrial ecosystems and the aquatic ecosystem are also present. Riparian zones along creeks and rivers are exactly such ecotones, as are the estuaries where freshwater systems transition through brackish to marine ecosystems. In such areas, which comprise a multitude of such ecotones, we find marshes and intertidal flats. Such ecosystems are particularly vulnerable.
In terms of their relevance to the climate crisis, NOAA (2022) identified estuaries and coastal marshes as immensely valuable locations for the sequestration of carbon – known as ‘blue carbon.’ Reporting on a study conducted in British Columbia, Douglas et al. (2022) pointed out that: “… annual carbon sequestration in the estuary offsets approximately twice the greenhouse gas emission increases attributable to local population growth, and is equivalent to approximately twice that of a 20-year-old stand forest.”
It should be obvious that efforts to counter the climate crisis should include promoting and protecting these fragile estuarine systems and the blue carbon they sequester. Proposals that potentially undermine these systems are every bit as dangerous as proposals that promote logging of our forests or encourage soil-destruction imposed by industrial agriculture. An example is the study of Marriotti and Fagherazzi (2013), reporting on the impact of dredging on marsh collapse in the mid-Atlantic eastern U.S. coast. They concluded: “that sediment starvation of coastlines produced by river dredging and damming is a major anthropogenic driver of marsh loss at the study sites and generates effects at least comparable to the accelerating sea-level rise due to global warming.”
We understand and acknowledge the importance of economic progress in rural and coastal communities, but if Oregon is to retain its reputation as a green state where the beauty and wildlands of our rural and coastal areas are to be protected, this economic progress must be undertaken in a sustainable manner. Fortunately, both federal and state laws govern development activities that pose a threat to our environment. They exist for a reason; and that reason is to protect sensitive and vulnerable ecosystems and regions of the state.
It would be dramatically counter-productive to our statewide efforts not only to address the climate crisis but also our laudable efforts to protect our valued wildlife and natural areas if we compromised the protection of estuaries by allowing unrestricted development to proceed by terminating the protections that rules and regulations afford. These were established for a reason. We should not compromise these valuable natural systems by suspending their protections.
The key question is: do we wish to over-ride statewide efforts to address the climate crisis and protect our natural systems in order to benefit a relatively small segment of the population? We hope the answer is a profound “No!”
We are also concerned about the precedent that this bill might set for a slew of bills in future legislative sessions that urge ‘this’ or ’that ‘development proposal demands suspending environmental protections. This looks very much like the proverbial ‘thin end of the wedge.’
For the above reasons, Southern Oregon Climate Action Now opposes HB3382.
Douglas t Schuerholz G, Juniper S. 2022 Blue Carbon Storage in a Northern Temperate Estuary Subject to Habitat Loss and Chronic Habitat Disturbance: Cowichan Estuary, British Columbia, Canada. Frontiers in Marine Science Volume 9 – 2022. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2022.857586
MariottiG, Fagherazzhi S. 2013 Critical width of tidal flats triggers marsh collapse in the absence of sea-level rise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 110 (14) 5353-5356 https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1219600110?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed
NOAA 2022 Coastal Blue Carbon. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration National Ocean Service. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/ecosystems/coastal-blue-carbon/
Whittaker R 1975 Communities and Ecosystems Macmillan (2nd edition).