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Climate Change Presents Challenges and Opportunities for Idaho

The impacts of climate change in Idaho will present challenges and opportunities to all sectors of Idaho’s economy — from recreation and tourism to agriculture, energy, human health, infrastructure and land — according to a series of reports prepared by Idaho researchers and just released to the public by the University of Idaho James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

The Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment connects the latest scientific research on Idaho’s changing climate with economic risks and opportunities that impact businesses, residents and local and state economies.

“The assessment is a nonpartisan, science-based resource for Idaho business leaders and policy makers to plan for a productive, prosperous and resilient Idaho economy,” said Katherine Himes, director of the McClure Center.

Over the past two years, dozens of Idaho researchers accessed and synthesized data on various effects of climate change. They connected changes in Idaho’s climate with economic analyses and worked with state and regional experts to assess how this may impact Idahoans’ pocketbooks.

“Idaho is geographically unique,” said Patrick Hatzenbuehler, U of I assistant professor of agricultural economics, Extension specialist in crops economics and co-author of the agriculture report. “Having Idaho-specific data will help the different communities across Idaho respond to regionally specific challenges presented by climate trends,” he said.

The assessment was supported financially by businesses, nonprofits, governments and foundations and included a forty-member advisory board with leaders from businesses, nonprofits and local, state, federal and tribal governments.

A Look to Major Economic Sectors

The team of researchers from University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University looked at Idaho’s major economic sectors including agriculture, energy, human health, infrastructure, land (forests and rangelands), and recreation and tourism.

Jeff Hicke, U of I professor of geography and climate change researcher, co-led the forests section of the assessment. He compiled and reviewed data and scientific literature to identify the most recent forest science relevant to Idaho. The forests report indicates there will be a shift of tree species in the years to come as climates changes and forests adapt.

“Trees will respond differently to climate change; some will benefit from a warmer climate and others will be stressed, reduce their growth and be vulnerable to bark beetle outbreaks,” he said.

Hicke said the assessment reveals opportunities for the timber industry to identify solutions to reduce the effects of climate change and protect economic activity in Idaho. This could include working with others to offset emissions impacts by increasing storage in Idaho’s forests and providing monetary benefit to Idaho’s forest managers.

Hatzenbuehler notes these reports will help industry leaders, land managers and land owners adapt practices to lessen economic impacts from climate change or even increase profit under certain conditions.

“The trends indicate that, even under irrigation, some crops such as corn are more sensitive to climate change than other crops like wheat. Similarly, if you have irrigated land with enough access to water, hay will be a crop that will increase yield as the temperature becomes warmer, so including hay in the rotation over crops such as corn makes economic sense as a farmer in that specific scenario,” he said.

The economic assessment reports are available online, along with additional material and resources. Himes encourages Idahoans to visit the website to identify opportunities for economic growth and learn more.

Article by Maria Ortega, University of Idaho Boise.

Photography courtesy of the McClure Center

Published December 2021.

Idaho’s Wildlife and Ecosystems

Student Contributes to State-Wide Assessment on Climate-Economic Impacts

Kaylee Carr loves the idea of combining her interest in data and the environment to research and communicate climate change. Last semester she had the opportunity to participate in an interdisciplinary state-wide project doing just that.

The Boise native collaborated with the Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment through her Geography Climate Change Planning class and now her report on ecosystems and species is part of the final assessment. Her professor, Jeff Hicke, a climate scientist in the University of Idaho Department of Geography and Geological Sciences and co-author of the assessment’s report on forests, oversaw Carr’s work on the assessment.

“This is the largest report I’ve ever been part of. It was amazing to learn what other experts do, their research and writing… I believe through this work I have improved my communications and writing skills regarding how to talk about environmental sciences to the public,” Carr said.

The Climate Change Planning class offered students the opportunity to work on real projects for class credit. Carr selected the Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment ecosystems and species report and a second student, Sam Holownia, helped the health chapter authors for this project. Other students helped with climate change planning by the City of Moscow and other communities such as Portland, Las Vegas or eastern North Carolina, Hicke said.

Carr focused her report on alpine ecosystems and a few animal and plant species not covered in other parts of the assessment. Her topics were selected based on feedback from state agencies, Hicke and other existing reports such as the Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership.

“Idaho has an incredible amount of biodiversity, so it was impossible to try to address every organism. By reviewing and synthesizing existing data I was able to focus on alpine ecosystems and some key species such as the American pika, the wolverine and the greater sage-grouse,” she said.

Her report also focuses on the impact of climate change on the America beaver, the Columbia spotted frog and Idaho-beloved plants such as camas and huckleberry. The report indicates that species and ecosystems will shift their range upwards in elevation and latitude as the temperature gets warmer.

“Idaho has great outdoors and our biodiversity is important to tribal communities as well as part of the draw for those looking for opportunities for recreation. Although it is hard to put a dollar amount to the value of ecosystems and species, it’s important to better understand what’s changing and the possible economic impacts,” Carr said.

Kaylee Carr
Undergraduate student Kaylee Carr worked with Professor Jeff Hicke on the ecosystems and species part of the Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment.

Name — Kaylee Carr
Major – B.S. Environmental Science, minor in Math
Hometown – Boise
Expected Graduation – Spring 2022
Future Plans – Hope to work on climate data and the environment

Article by Maria Ortega, University of Idaho Boise.

Photography courtesy of Kaylee Carr

Published December 2021.

Campus Locations

Physical Address:
Bruce M. Pitman Center
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264

Phone: 208-885-6111

Fax: 208-885-9119