What about infrastructure? Did you look at how river traffic might be impacted?

“We didn’t in any detail.

“However, there was a report put out by the Department of Transportation looking at the effects of climate change on transportation systems in the country. One of the things they looked at was the importance of things like the Mississippi River for grain transport. They looked at how areas of the Delta might be affected by sea level rise and how that could hit ports and some of the low-lying, major highway arteries.”

See DOT map of projected impacts here.

What about forestry? Are you predicting more wildfires? More difficulty controlling insects?

“Certainly both of those things.

“Forestry systems are less adaptable than the agricultural systems. Within agriculture, you can plant cultivars of crops, change the timing of when you’re growing a crop. There’s just a lot more capacity to adapt to changes.

“That isn’t true of forestry systems. Once you have a forest in place, that’s a long-term investment.

“There are three things we’re particularly concerned about in terms of climate change and forest resources.”

  • The effect changes in rainfall will have on moisture availability for growing.
  • Changes in pests.

“In some ways the changes in pests will be driven by the forest’s health. But another driver will be the fact of warmer temperatures. Some of the pests currently being knocked back during the winter will be able to get a jumpstart.

“Some pests like the pine beetle are a real concern. We used to see one life cycle from that pest during a year. Now, there are two. Increasing temperatures will only increase that pest pressure.”

  • Fire.

“The increases in pressures from drought, pests and temperatures will make forests more vulnerable to fire. We project that there could be a doubling of the annual rate of fires by 2040.”

Any suggestions about what the USDA response should be?

“The reports integrate the effects of climate change as well as work on adaptation, or how we need to respond. There is a lot of information about how to make our natural resources, whether agriculture or forestry, more resilient to climate change and variability.

“A lot of those investments will have pay-offs today. That includes things like improving the water-holding capacity of soils. That makes farmland more resilient to drought. Improving forest health has benefits today and also in the future with the changes we expect.

“Many of the practices we recommend in terms of adaptation responses to climate change turn out to be smart conservation practices.”