Smart Carbon Policy for Washington

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz knows the threat that climate change poses to our state lands and waters. 
A recent Climate Risk Assessment – the work of DNR and an Expert Council on Climate & Environmental Change - warns of increased frequency and extent of wildfires; increased coastal flooding; summer water shortages, lack of water for agriculture; decreases in shell-forming organisms, such as oysters; increases in landslides; and more non-native species.
The Commissioner is calling for our state to adopt a carbon policy that adheres to Four Resilience Principles. These Resilience Principles are intended to guide and inform the statewide debate on carbon policy:
  1. Tackle the root cause - carbon pollution - and invest in reduction efforts
  2. Strengthen the health and resilience of our lands, waters, and communities
  3. Accelerate carbon sequestration
  4. Invest in and incentivize solutions with multiple benefits
"Smart carbon policy means that we must both reduce carbon pollution and strengthen our communities. We must make this a
win-win proposition 
for all Washingtonians.”
                                                                                                             ~ Commissioner Franz

Climate Risk Assessment Major Findings 

Wildfires and Forests


Large fires are projected to become more frequent and the fire season is likely to start earlier and last longer, requiring increased resources.


Forest Health
Treatment needs currently exceed the pace and scale desired and more trees are expected to die due to pests and disease, especially in eastern Washington.


Timber production may go down due to increased disturbance and prolonged moisture stress - eastside timber harvest may no longer be profitable. Seed diversity and supply may be insufficient to support reforestation needs. Intense winter precipitation may cause landslides diminishing timberlands, reducing water quality and damaging fish habitat. Forest road stream crossing in non-fish bearing streams may be damaged by increases in peak flows causing road damage and reducing access to timber harvest and recreation sites.


Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat Changes
Salmonids, marbled murrelets and northern spotted owl, and other habitats may change due to warmer water temperatures, increased wildfires and increases in some insects and diseases.


Aquatic and Marine Environments


Sea Level Rise and Erosion
Fixed items such as docks, wharves, and buildings may be especially at risk from sea level rise, storm surge, increased wave heights on marine coasts, or river flooding. Existing forecasts may not provide sufficient data to make individual land use decisions, existing contracts may be insufficient to cover cleanup costs, and agreements don’t allow requirement changes due to climate impacts.


Aquatic Reserves, Geoducks and Eelgrass Beds
Eelgrass beds and the aquatic reserves that protect them are highly critical biodiversity hotspots that may be vulnerable to ocean acidification and temperature changes. Geoduck survival, reproduction and harvests may be negatively affected by these changing climate conditions and increasing harmful algal blooms that cause biotoxin harvest closures.


Blue Carbon
Vegetated coastal ecosystems are believed to sequester significant amounts of CO2. At the same time, sediment disturbance may release significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Aquatic-based carbon sequestration may provide significant “blue carbon” management opportunity.


Farm Lands and Water Supply


Wildfires can ruin grazing lands, burn vegetation, seeds required for revegetation, damage soil, and incinerate cattle fencing. Public safety and water quality may be impacted by the loss of vegetation that can lead to storm-induced floods, landslides and debris flows. Increased fire may increase invasive cheatgrass and further degrade shrub steppe and other habitats.


Shrub Steppe Habitat and At-risk Species
Eastern Washington harbors many rare and imperiled species including seven Threatened and Endangered species and at least 40 species closely associated with shrub-steppe habitat. These species tend to be vulnerable to climate change impacts.


Water Supply
Through the 2030s, most crops in Washington are projected to increase yields due to warmer temperatures and CO2 fertilization effect, assuming water remains available. Only corn is projected to decrease yield. Water volume (acre feet) is projected to remain within historical ranges; however, some low-elevation rain-fed basins and agriculture are at risk, especially in late summer.


Further Farm Land Impacts
Impacts to further weakened at-risk species has the potential to restrict land uses as some species already restrict current agricultural water use. Grazing lands that overlap with shrub steppe may be in curtailed as overgrazing - which can harm forage quality, ecosystem health and key habitat areas - may occur more easily.




Species ranges are generally projected to drift northward and/or upslope leading to contractions or expansions and new species moving into the state from neighboring areas. This may be heightened by precipitation changes, including drier summers, wetter winters, increased extreme storms and reduced snowpack. Reduced snowpack may also cause changes in high elevation ecology, and reduced summer soil moisture and summer streamflow putting alpine, subalpine, riverine and riparian ecosystems most at risk.


Invasive Species
Non-native, invasive species are often better adapted to the new climate conditions than the native species. As a result, non-native, invasive species may thrive at the expense of native species.


The frequency, intensity and extent of wildfires could result in the consumption and loss of priority species and ecosystems in protected areas.


Coastal and Marine Ecosystems
Sea level rise may eliminate some coastal wetlands, alter their composition or shift them landward. Ocean acidification, lower summer fresh water flows, and higher winter fresh water flows (from creeks and streams) may alter water chemistry and reduce key ecosystem components, especially shell-forming organisms such as oysters, clams, mussels, pteropods and phyto- and zooplankton, or species that depend upon them.


Washington Geology


Geologic Hazards
Some landslides can be influenced by heavy rainfall, especially on top of already-moist soil. Sea level rise and other climate-influenced dynamics may influence costal bluff erosion and the areas inundated during a tsunami. Flood risk assessments for coastal and riverine systems could be influenced by sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased heavy rainfall events and other climate-influenced dynamics.


See King 5's coverage below for more information: