Boise State University

Idaho universities help tackle changing climate through strong partnerships

Boise State researchers Lejo Flores and Nancy Glenn are creating a tool to allow Idaho vineyards and other farmers to analyze climate-affected soil conditions.
Boise State researchers Lejo Flores and Nancy Glenn are creating a tool to allow Idaho vineyards and other farmers to analyze climate-affected soil conditions. Boise State University

Many forward-thinking communities and business leaders are recognizing the importance of environmental research in understanding the impact that our rapidly shifting climate is having on our local economies – from trends in agriculture to changes in the length and severity of our fire seasons.

One cornerstone of an engaged public – not to mention a good business – is healthy research and development. In that regard, Idaho is stepping up to the plate. In 2017, Idaho businesses, agencies, industries, organizations and universities came together for the state’s first Climate Summit – a two-day conference held at locations throughout the state that included small talks on subjects such as increased agricultural pests and disease; longer, smokier wildfire seasons; and the impact warmer weather is having on the spread of invasive species.

Boise State University was fortunate enough to host an arm of the summit for the Treasure Valley. At these summits – and hopefully more so at future climate summits – researchers were able to showcase their work in these arenas. It’s important to acknowledge the depth and breadth of work of university faculty and research partners related to climate change. In fact, many are collaborative efforts with institutions across the state.

For instance, Boise State geosciences professor Shawn Benner is partnering with Idaho Power to help improve their cloud seeding efforts, preparing Idaho for future climate shocks, while a Boise State hydrology team is looking at moisture delivery to Southeast Idaho, with implications for how future climate change will affect water availability – including how much water we receive, when we receive it and how rapidly it goes away.

Boise State geoscientists Lejo Flores and Nancy Glenn are developing a web tool, funded by the Idaho Department of Agriculture, that will allow winemakers to access important information about the climate, soils and topography of a specific grape-growing location. They are hoping this tool can be used for all farmers of stone-bearing fruits, as shifting weather patterns continue to affect rainfall and soil conditions.

Inland Northwest farmers also received a research boost from the Regional Approaches to Climate Change in Pacific Northwest Agriculture, a multistate $20 million project led by the University of Idaho to help wheat farmers better prepare for a changing climate. More than 200 researchers from the University of Idaho, Oregon State University, Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service contributed to the partnership. For instance, Sanford Eigenbrode, a University of Idaho entomologist, projected the effects of warming temperatures on cereal leaf beetles and how that could affect wheat crops.

Grazing has also long been a subject of study, given the Northwest’s long history of cattle production. A team of 17 Boise State and Idaho State University researchers, along with researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are partnering on a project called the Reynolds Creek Critical Zone Observatory. This project will help quantify how we can use our rangeland soils to store carbon, and how we can better understand and mitigate the effects of fire in rangeland ecosystems. In addition, Boise State geosciences professor Jen Pierce is measuring the effects of fires on our forests and rangelands, and using geologic records to understand how much wildfires today differ from those in the past.

Idaho researchers also are contributing to a body of global climate research. For instance, University of Idaho geography professors Vladimir and Elena Aizen are experts in high-mountain climate and glacier water resources. Their research was featured in the last United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, where they served as contributing authors in the report’s chapter on Asia.

Meanwhile, Boise State biological sciences professor Julie Heath is monitoring the effects of climate change on American kestrels. These falcons can be found throughout the Western Hemisphere, from Alaska to the tip of South America. In fact, they are the most widespread falcons in North America, and better understanding our climate’s effects on these birds could broadly be used to predict how other avian species will react to changes in weather patterns.

Last year, Boise State became one of five new university partners in the Northwest Climate Science Center, a prestigious consortium that works closely with federal, state and tribal entities, including those responsible for managing and protecting the land, water and natural resources of the Northwest, to develop actionable climate science and decision support tools. Our university researchers will be working closely with great minds from Washington, Montana, Washington State and Western Washington to identify unique climate-related challenges facing our region and how we can best adapt.

These partnerships and research projects cannot provide us all the information we need to address the impact of our changing climate. But as Idaho’s university researchers and the robust partnerships we have formed in this area make clear, we are prepared to tackle new challenges and use our expertise to help everyone – from businesses and governments to small farms – navigate our ever-evolving environment.

Mark Rudin is vice president for research and economic development at Boise State, where he oversees the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Research Compliance, and other administrative and technical offices.