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What Do We Do If the Food Trucks Stop Coming
Thursday, December 6, 2018


“Food Shortages Kick In, Prices Skyrocket as California Stops Exporting Food”

“Sun Valley Becomes Refugee Haven”

“America’s First Destination Ski Resort Closes Due to Lack of Service Workers”

“Idahoans Flee as Aquifer Dries Up”

These dire headlines and others filled Post-It notes tacked onto planning boards this week as nearly 80 leaders in government, the arts and other niches of the community gathered for the inaugural Blaine County Resilience Workshop.

The workshop, initiated by Blaine County Commissioners and organized by Sun Valley Institute, was designed to get Sun Valley-area residents thinking about how to construct a road map to position residents and the surrounding environ to be more resilient to changing climate.

A second workshop will be held in February to begin pursuing concrete actions.

“We’re traveling 10 years into the future so we can move from fear and concern into hope and action,” said Amber Bieg, a facilitator with the Boise-based Warm Springs Consulting.

Shell Oil Co. started such scenario planning in the 1970s as it began considering ways climate change could affect the oil industry, said Bieg.

Blaine County is the first community in Idaho to engage in such planning, Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen told workshop participants gathered at the Community Campus in Hailey.

“We’re setting the stage not only for our own action but for other communities to follow our lead,” he said.

The headlines workshop participants constructed are not so farfetched, noted Katherine Himes, director of the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho.

Already, parts of California earth are so scorched that forests can’t regenerate. Already, entire communities in California and elsewhere have been displaced by wildfire and hurricanes.

What does it mean if the wildfire season lasts seven months of the year instead of five as in the 1970s? asked Himes. What does it mean if there are four times more wildfires in the western United States than there was in 1986? What does it mean for those with allergies and asthma if fires are lasting on average 37.1 days versus 7.5 days?

The threshold for how dry grasses and trees are is much more pronounced today than in the 1970s, said Matt Filbert, fire management officer for the Sawtooth National Forest.

“What used to be the high is now average. Consequently, if there’s a fire, it grows quickly,” he added.

Historically, the intervals between sagebrush fires in the Wood River Valley was 30 to 100 years and the intervals for mid-elevation forest, 120-plus years. Today the intervals between sagebrush and grassland fires is between five and 15 years. And there has been 120 years of fire suppression at mid-elevation forest.

“So a large amount that could be burned has not,” Filbert said. “In the meantime we’ve seen increased tree density, fuel loading, insects and disease.”

Filbert said that the Sawtooth National Forest conducted a preventatives fire in the Little Wood River  drainage in the fall of 2018. And fire specialists said the Bible Back Fire, started by a lightning strike in August near Fourth of July and Washington lakes, did what they had hoped it would do as it burned diseased timber over 3,500 acres.

Ron Abramovich, who snowshoes into the mountains to take snow surveys for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that the Atlanta Summit SNOTEL site has melted off seven to 14 days earlier since fire burned trees in that area. And Sun Valley residents can expect the same at Dollarhide Summit, which was ravaged by the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire.

That means less water in area rivers and creeks in late summer. As temperatures continue to heat up spring runoff will happen sooner and quicker, he added.

Company like Anheuser Busch are planning ahead for drought two and three years in advance as they sign barley contracts, as they see more variability in the weather. That said, the aquifer is still rebounding from the 2017 winter, which saw above-average snowfall.

And Michelle Griffith, whose ARCH has secured 60 affordable housing projects, says 68 percent of renters in Hailey are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

“That’s staggering,” she said, noting that worry about paying for housing impacts health and school performance. Forty percent of Blaine County residents are similarly housing burdened, she added.

Workshop participants noted that climate change scenarios present opportunities, as well as problems.

The growing season here, for instance, might be extended allowing for a bigger diversity of crops to be farmed. Already, places in Canada are beginning to grow corn for the first time.

Climate refugees escaping heat and other problems elsewhere might find Sun Valley’s climate more to their liking. The College of Southern Idaho could open a fire and disaster training center. And Sun Valley could provide a model for resilience with neighborhood solar projects and other projects that people might come here to learn about, said Aimee Christensen.

“The whole thing makes you think about what we’re facing and the opportunities,” said Nils Ribi, who serves on the county’s emergency planning board.

The some other points were also brought up.

One participant suggested enlisting star power to engage valley residents in a conservation campaign. 

And another noted it would be smart to invest rainy day funds for nonprofit organizations that might be overwhelmed by climate refugees or hungry people should food supplies become scarce.

Hospitals might need to be expanded as increased smoke and heat takes its toll, even affecting people’s mental health, determined a group led by Sarah Michael.

Jason Shearer, executive director of the YMCA, noted that many of the interventions suggested could be addressed whether climate change is mild or severe. He encouraged those in the room to think of themselves not as representing separate cities but one aggregate whole tied together by Highway 75.

“The more we think of ourselves as us, the more we can achieve,” he said.

Hailey City Council Member Kaz Thea said she was encouraged by so many people coming together to plan for the future. “But I hope we can take it beyond a plan to action. We can’t wait any longer,” she added.

“Denial is avoiding the warning signs and not planning for the future,” added Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw. “Ideally, we should be investing in things like renewable energy and greenhouses that address climate change.”

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