By guest blogger Kelly Cash
On the morning of the day that the San Francisco Giants would win the World Series in the evening, representatives from over ninety non-profits, universities and municipal and county agencies came together. The room at the Moore Foundation was filled with the usual suspects: podium, screens, pads, and chairs filled with bright people talking, typing, texting and then, paying attention as Andrea Mackenzie, Chair of the Bay Area Open Space Council and convener of the event took the floor.
“This is remarkable gathering,” she said. “When I looked over the list of attendees, I was struck by what a broad swath of people are gathered here, of the breadth, and the focus of your work.” In the audience were lead climate scientists from the world’s great universities, land managers of city parks and vast landscapes, and leaders of non-profit land trusts. All joined in a quest to create a “Climate Resilient Conservation Lands Network” throughout the Bay Area.
The group was following up on the three-day Pepperwood Preserve workshop in July, when 23 scientists gathered to discuss ways to better prioritize lands in need of protection and enhanced management in light of climate change. That effort kicked off the idea of amassing the best and the brightest of Bay Area scientific climate work to guide future actions. The morning included a stunning line-up of Bay Area scientists and land protection superstars.
Steve McCormick, President of the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and conservation legend, spoke next. In addition to delighting the crowd with the revelation that he had actually been at the last World Series Giants game in 1962 as a young boy, his remarks cut to the heart of the intention of the gathering.
“We need to be in conversation with what issues we do share, what we can learn from each other, and what we can do together. There is no more perplexing or challenging issue than climate change. The landscape is dynamic and never more so than today. It compels us to ensure that we do these kinds of gatherings so that at a regional scale we can address these issues in a collective way, and ask ourselves: “how can we do better at managing the landscape?” The Bay Area is one of the most well-known places in the world, and there is a global need to work things out on a regional scale here, given the mosaic of landscapes and the variety of habitat types.”
The message was clear: as one of the most densely populated and developed places in the world, the Bay Area can lead the way in developing models and approaches to address climate change, in both the short and long term.
“We as a foundation are delighted with this effort and want to support this work,” he concluded.
DIY Climate Adaptation
Up next was Rebecca Shaw, the Director of Conservation Science for The Nature Conservancy of California, who essentially espoused a kind of “Do It Yourself” approach for the Bay Area. She stressed that the failure of Copenhagen and the inability of Washington, D.C. to meaningfully address the issue of climate change meant that innovation would have to “start small, almost at the micro level.”
Her presentation focused on the need to hybridize work being done on climate adaptation between preserving human systems and ecological systems, because right now human adaptation plans are geared towards cataclysmic events while conservation planning focuses on slow, directional shifts of vegetation. Key to this effort is targeting the right industries for the right partnerships.
“’Ecosystem Adaptation’ is adapting nature for people, not just nature for nature. We need to understand the partner sectors that are so different than we are. Where are the “win-wins” and where are we by ourselves?” she asked the group.
Living in a Biodiversity Hotspot Ups the Ante
And then, for a while, it felt like I had been dropped into a scene of “The Bourne Ultimatum” or James Bond movie. A rush of giant screens displaying highly organized information that, to the presenters, were menacing, dramatic, puzzle pieces in an elusive cat-and-mouse game they were playing with a formidable opponent. The screens portrayed detailed information about how the Bay Area climate is already changing.
In the words of UC Berkeley’s Dr. David Ackerly, “we are sitting right at the core of a biodiversity hotspot -- this raises the ante. Greenhouse emissions are rising and we have different scenarios, but we don’t know how quickly we can change sustainable energy pathways.” In a few moments he pointed to yet another somewhat incomprehensible slide and said, “Everything shifts into a kind of climate that we don’t have – a novel climate – and moves into novel combinations where future climates will exceed the range of recent historical variability.”
A few things became clear:
- Most of the design of the Conservation Lands Network is informed by maps using 250 acre planning hexagons. A challenge in regional planning is to capture both the big picture while being accurate on the small scale. These hexagons represent the middle ground and a meaningful unit of measurement for the Network.
- There are 64 possible “isoclimates” in the Bay Area embedded in a context of marine influence (think fog and storms), valleys (think heat), and hills (both hot and cold). All these “isoclimates” are influenced by whether they are pocketed in a place that is south-facing or north-facing, how deep the soils are, what the vegetation cover is, etc.
- Shifts on small and large scales will take place constantly. Species seeking relief from high temperatures will move toward moister, cooler places (toward the oceans or up the mountains). Species that like arid climates will move into the valleys and into “islands of aridity” in other places.
- The big natural community winners will be grasslands and shrublands. Think fire. The losers will be forests confronting hotter temperatures and less moisture, and coast range habitats confronting an onslaught of vineyards.
- Overall, think Santa Barbara and San Diego. (Will our grandchildren hear foghorns?)
My head began to swim with the drumbeat of questions and exhortations by normally unemotional scientists:
“We need to prepare for the extreme punch events that are coming.”
“We need to avoid the train wreck.”
“Water supply protection will be critical.”
“How fast will a population need to move to offset rising temperature?”
“How do we start managing for rapid climate change NOW?”
I was glad it was time for lunch. I ate outside on a sunny fall day, with paella and a winsome locovore salad on my plate and interesting lunch-mates at my side. I eavesdropped on a discussion between an artist and a writer. One is working on an east coast outdoor urban installation involving bicycles and pedal-power screens conveying climate information, and the other is heading to New Mexico for a meeting on using carbon markets to help ranchers. It was nice to hear about addressing climate change on these very human scales.
From Pixels to Real Property
The afternoon workshop sessions provide a wonderful sense of ‘roll-up your sleeves hope’ to the morning’s cliff-hanger. In the group that I sat in with, the ideas and pre-existing “one spot” success stories came on with the intensity of an industrial popcorn machine. The facilitators had to wrangle the conversation aggressively, and at one point we were asked to move because we were so loud. I looked back at another group, in the kitchen, and they seemed just as loud and boisterous as us. They had just placed themselves in a better isoclimate.
Our circle was filled with individuals with direct, successful experiences managing Bay Area landscapes and working with landowners. Which is good, when I thought back upon Ellie Cohen of PRBO Conservation Science stressing the importance of connecting public and private landowners to manage for “linear habitat connectivity” because of their ability to restore aquifers and provide temperature refuges. She also urged a new kind of social connectivity as well, one where conservationists concerned with climate proactively collaborate across traditional boundaries.
The summary remarks from the three different break-out sessions were interesting for the convergence of their thoughts. Several highlights include:
- Conservation lands and climate adaptation lands are the same thing.
- Land tenure on designated open space and private working lands need to be secured and management enhanced in light of new information. Land needs to be managed for multiple benefits.
- There needs to be more sophisticated outreach and communication about climate change and more targeted partnerships between industry, working lands and the conservation community.
- The most important outcome of this meeting should be success-oriented steps with real, tangible outcomes in a short-term timeframe.
More lovely things to eat appeared in the Moore Foundation kitchen, and everyone snuggled around figs, cheese, fruit and wine. By that time the entire group was being very loud. But it didn’t matter. For the next agenda item was to watch the World Series, and hope that our own Odyssey against the odds will go as well.
Kelly Cash is an outreach consultant for Working Lands issues. Contact her at kellyquinncash [at] gmail [dot] com
Presentations from the Workshop are available on the Open Space Council's website.
Funding for this Workshop was generously provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
For more information about the workshop contact Bettina Ring at 510 809 8009 ext 254.