Climate Adaptation: USDA Programs and Resources That Can Help

By Paris Edwards, Haley Case-Scott, and Holly R. Prendeville, USDA Northwest Climate Hub

Rural landscape showing flooded fields, roads, and buildings
Figure 1. Drone photo of highway 34 closed near Corvallis, Oregon. 11 April, 2019. Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation under CC BY 2.0.

Whether you are reading the news or talking with your community, the number of stories about how climate change and its impacts affect daily life and business across the Northwest, the United States, and the world is growing. Recently, there have been a number of extreme weather events in the Northwest. In January 2019, central Washington was hit by a blizzard that devastated dairy farmers. In April, Oregon rivers, including the Willamette and Santiam, reached flood stages that caused debris flows, pollution, and lead to evacuations throughout Eugene (Figure 1). Boise, Idaho experienced record rainfall between January and May this year, which contributed to grass growth throughout the region and raised concerns about an increase in wildland fire potential. Fortunately, cooler temperatures prevailed, resulting in a relatively mild wildland fire season and a break from smoke for Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Although it isn’t always clear if a particular event is due to climate change, more frequent and extreme weather occurrences are expected. These current events, alongside disasters of the recent past, highlight what we can expect to see more often in the future, given the predicted increases in flooding, extreme heat events, drought, and wildfire. Such events give added urgency to the need for efforts to reduce negative impacts and support resilience (Jay et al., 2019). Yet it is challenging for producers and natural resource managers to find the resources they need to do so.

To build capacity, maintain working landscapes, and aid in disaster recovery, the USDA Climate Hubs developed a guide of USDA programs and resources available to address the impacts of a changing climate (Figure 2). This guide includes financial assistance, technical assistance, information resources, and services to assist in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change for rural communities, Tribes, Tribal citizens, Tribal organizations, producers, foresters, ranchers, natural resource managers, and others. Changes in climate have and will continue to affect infrastructure, natural resources, human and social systems in the Northwest. Here we highlight a few resources and programs that provide a glimpse of what the guide has to offer to help address those effects.

Screenshot of the Guide's main page, with a brief introduction message
Figure 2. The USDA Climate Hubs developed a guide of USDA programs and resources that assist efforts to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Particularly in rural communities, healthcare systems will likely be challenged with more frequent heat waves and wildfire, for example, that may result in more chronic health risks. If your rural community is looking to improve its health care capacity, check out the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, which provides the opportunity for doctors and rural health providers to conduct telemedicine. This program also provides assistance to rural teachers and educational institutions to participate in and conduct distance learning to ameliorate existing K-12 opportunities.

Similarly, resources are available to qualifying small communities with severe economic disadvantage to invest in infrastructure improvements, such as roads, hospitals, and food banks (Figure 3). The Economic Impact Initiative Grants program (previously called the Community Facilities – Economic Impact Initiative Grants) recently partnered with Oregon’s Florence Food Share to provide a back-up power source to protect perishable food, improve building infrastructure, and reduce energy expenditures. The assistance has bolstered the rural food pantry’s resilience to storms and power outages, and improved their ability to secure fresh food for a 270 square-mile rural service area.

List of sample programs with some categories and characteristics, as shown in the online guide.
Figure 3. A sample of community adaptation programs USDA programs and resources that help rural communities with adaptation to climate change. November, 2019.

The guide includes educational resources for rural communities, Tribes, and natural resource and land managers about the impacts of climate change and what to expect in the future. Of note is the USDA Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center, an online platform that serves to connect natural resource and land managers with climate change and ecosystem management information and tools. For example, foresters can access a primer on an array of available carbon accounting tools with advice on site-appropriate tool selection. Similarly, ranchers interested in impacts to grasslands can find multiple information sources, short courses, and tools developed around grassland sustainability.

Financial and technical assistance can also be found within the guide that support planning and building resilience, or aid in recovery. For example, the February 2019 blizzard in eastern Washington caused the deaths of over 1,600 dairy cows. After such an event, a producer in need of emergency recovery assistance could explore the guide by selecting “Emergency recovery” from the Keyword dropdown menu to find nine options, including the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-raised fish program (ELAP).

These highlighted programs are only a snapshot of what is available and relevant to a wide variety of users. The programs and resources in this guide aim to support proactive planning and adaptation to climate change. We encourage you to search through the guide and explore opportunities that may assist you in preparing for the future and maintaining resiliency today.

Reach out to your local agency office for specific information on individual resources and programs. For help with this guide, reach out to Holly Prendeville, Coordinator of the USDA Northwest Climate Hub, at holly.prendeville@usda.gov.

Reference:

 Jay, A., Reidmiller, D., Avery, C., Barrie, D., DeAngelo, B., Dave, A., Kolian, M., Lewis, K., Reeves, K., Winner, D. and Dzaugis, M. (2019). The Fourth National Climate Assessment: Summary Findings and Overview. Chapter 24, Northwest. Online Access