I started off my fellowship by reading hundreds of articles, stories and websites looking for how farmers and ranchers can adequately prepare for heat stress on their animals/crops, natural hazards (wildfire, flooding and drought), general changing weather patterns, and other things that the western US is expected to face as a result of climate change. There is a lot of information out there, but it is hard to see how a Montanan farmer or rancher would be able to use it for their specific operation in order to adapt to climate change. For them to "adapt" they need to be able to see what the potential impacts are for their location (ex: less snowpack in the next 5 years), understand the consequences of those impacts (ex: less snowpack means less water later in the summer), and then react to that information by changing their practices on the ground (ex: switching to center pivot irrigation, using a drought resistant crop, working with others to distribute water rights). It is incredibly challenging to find this information, apply it to the operation, and then make changes that a farmer or rancher may have no experience with, which makes it risky and could lead to financial loss.
This past month, my colleagues and I have been working on bringing together people from around the state to utilize their resources collaboratively in order to provide the best service to farmers and ranchers with the end goal of helping them adapt. We have been talking to the Montana State Climate Office, the Institute on Ecosystems, the Montana Association of Conservation Districts, Montana Farmers Union, Montana State University Extension, and several state agencies, as a start, to see how we can build this resource together. It has been an interesting challenge to propose this idea, help entities get the information about the needs on the ground, and then think about what resources need to be created to address those needs. For example, the Institute on Ecosystems is developing a state climate assessment and in order to create an assessment that collects the information that producers need, they need to talk to producers to see what their needs are, and Montana State University Extension can help with that.
It has been very interesting to see how a state is dealing with an abstract concept like adaptation and making it into a reality. I am in the right place at the right time to watch all this unfold, and to be able to contribute to the dialogue/coordinate this effort as a part of my fellowship. It is an exciting process that changes every week, but is full of potential and promise.