H​.​R​.​5145 - Forest Genetics and Climate Adaptation Research to Restore Damaged Rivers

H​.​R​.​5145 - Forest Genetics and Climate Adaptation Research to Restore Damaged Rivers

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Thomas Whitham Ph​.​D. started this petition to Representative Raúl Grijalva and

What is the problem?  Because of climate change, common forest trees growing along streams are dying due to record drought, declining stream flows, fire, pest outbreaks, and invasive species. In the past restoration with local plants would have been the best option, but the environment is changing so rapidly, many plants won’t survive projected future conditions. So, how do we identify nearby plants that are most likely to survive, thrive in future environments, and protect vanishing streamside habitats?  

Natural solutions.  Genetics is recognized as the backbone of the Green Revolution to feed growing human populations, but only recently have scientists appreciated its potential to address climate change issues. Great genetic variation naturally occurs in native plants that make some individuals more tolerant to drought and extreme temperatures, more resistant to pest outbreaks, or better competitors with invasive species. To identify the trees that can survive future conditions, we need to collect trees from the wild, growing under diverse conditions, and grow them in field trials within restoration sites. Based on their performance when growing at sites with different conditions such as rainfall and temperature we can identify those individuals that have the greatest tolerance to environmental change and avoid planting those that are doomed to die. This scientific approach is known as a “provenance trial” and is an established scientific method that minimizes cost and risks to enhance restoration success. H.R.5145 authorizes the development of field trials along rivers across states where the impacts of climate change threaten streamside habitats and this method can increase restoration success. 

Why does it matter?  Streamside forests are essential for filtering runoff to maintaining water quality, provide shade to cool waters, reduce water loss through evaporation, reduce erosion from agricultural lands, support fisheries, provide critical habitat for breeding birds and threatened species, and save hot spots of high biodiversity. This habitat is the most threatened habitat type in arid lands with less than 3% remaining making it one of the most important to protect and restore. 

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