Adapting to Change in the Big Wood

In 2012, the Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium(CIRC) reached out to community members in Idaho’s Big Wood River Basin to help them respond to climate variability and change around issues of water use and scarcity. The result was the Big Wood Basin Alternative Futures project.

This video tells the story of that ambitious effort.

During the Big Wood project, the CIRC team, led by former CIRC Extension Specialist John Stevenson, worked with Big Wood community members, including local policy makers and conservation groups as well as local farmers and ranchers—like the very awesome people who participated in the making of this video.

(Yes, there are two John Stevensons in this this video. No relation.)

As with much of the American West, the Big Wood River Basin—which comprises more than 3,000 square miles in the center of the southern half of Idaho—faces potential water scarcities as warming temperatures lead to less mountain snowpack, altering the region’s hydrology.

Working together, CIRC and the Big Wood community employed an innovative computer model of the basin that helped them conceptualize future projections of the region’s changing hydrology.

But the ENVISION model developed by CIRC Researcher John Bolte did more than that.

The model ran a series of sophisticated simulations that combined local know-how and local concerns with the CIRC team’s scientific expertise.

This process of mixing local knowledge with scientific knowledge is called coproduction and it’s at the heart of many CIRC Community Adaptation efforts.

The coproduction process between CIRC and the Big Wood community, powered by the ENVISION model, produced a series of science-backed thought experiments—called storylines—that allowed local residents to glimpse how drivers of change—from projected temperature spikes to population growth and land use changes—are likely to affect the Big Wood’s water resources and the people and businesses who rely on them.

So, what did CIRC and the Big Wood community learn from their collaboration?

The project ended on optimistic note, concluding that even in the face of climatic and hydrologic change there are a number of actions—from changing farming practices to policy decisions—Big Wood community members can take to make their basin more resilient.

Stevenson, who left CIRC last fall, perhaps best summed up the Big Wood project’s conclusions in a 2016 post he wrote for the CIRCulator:

“When my colleagues and I began this project, I found it difficult to know what to say to communities when they asked how climate change would impact them. Many of these communities, particularly in rural areas, were already facing challenges. Pointing out that climate change was only going to make things more difficult was not something people wanted to hear, especially if I couldn’t offer any solutions. Ultimately, our Big Wood project taught us that the role of human decision-making is significant. And that without providing actionable solutions, the unpleasant implications of even the best climate science cannot lead to results.”

In the summer of 2017, the CIRC team had another reason to be optimistic. Over the summer we learned that participants in the Big Wood project had started experimenting with several water-saving adaptation strategies identified during project, putting the knowledge we coproduced together into action.

A special thanks to William Hazen, Brett Stevenson, and both John Stevensons for participating in this video.

The video was produced in conjunction with NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program.

The CIRC team is a proud member of the NOAA RISA family, which currently contains eleven NOAA RISA teams. In order to do more work like CIRC’s Big Wood project, the RISA program is proposing an expansion its network.

CIRC is based at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Our researchers can be found across the Pacific Northwest, including at the University of Idaho, the University of Washington, and the University of Oregon. We are hosted at Oregon State University by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

CIRC acts in a supporting role for communities, policy makers, and resource managers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana as they adapt to climate variability and change. To do this, CIRC collaborates directly with Pacific Northwest communities as part of our Community Adaptation effort. To reach a broader audience, CIRC researchers are developing Climate Tools, a series of free online resources and applications that allow users in the climate adaptation community to apply the latest science and data in their planning.

Resources and academic publications associated with the Big Wood project can be found below.

OSU_icon_gears_Black Resources: 

OSU_icon_pencil_Black Rotated Publications:

Inouye, Allison M., Denise H. Lach, John Stevenson, John P. Bolte, and Jennifer Koch.
“Participatory Modeling to Assess Climate Impacts on Water Resources in the Big Wood Basin, Idaho.” In Environmental Modeling with Stakeholders, edited by Steven Gray, Michael Paolisso, Rebecca Jordan, and Stefan Gray, 289-306. AG, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2017.
Print ISBN: 978-3-319-25051-9. Online ISBN: 978-3-319-25053-3. 25053-3_14.

Lach, Denise. “An Experiment in Post-Normal Science: Building a Knowledge- to-Action-Network in Idaho.”
In New Strategies for Wicked Problems: Science and Solutions in the 21st Century, edited by Edward P. Weber, Denise Lach, and Brent Steel, Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2017.
Print ISBN: 9780870718939. new-strategies-for-wicked-problems.

Stevenson, John, Michael Crimmins, Jessica Whitehead, Julie Brugger, and Clyde Fraisse.
“Connecting climate information with practical uses: Extension and the NOAA RISA program.” In Climate in Context: Science and Society Partnering for Adaptation, edited by Adam S. Parris, Gregg M. Garfin, Kirstin Dow, Ryan Meyer, and Sarah L. Close, 75-98.
Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2016.
Print ISBN: 9781118474792. E-book ISBN: 9781118474785.
https://doi org/10.1002/9781118474785.

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