Climate change may feel like something that will impact us in the future, but local environmental scientists know it is already here causing noticeable changes and creating new challenges.

Jodie Toft, Senior Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Washington answers some questions about how climate change is affecting us now, and what the Conservancy is doing to help.

Question: What kinds of changes is climate change already causing in our state?

Jodie Toft: There is clear scientific evidence that the impact of climate change is being felt in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Sea levels are rising
  • Rivers are peaking earlier
  • The temperature in the Pacific Northwest is rising
  • Snowpack in the Cascades has declined by nearly 25%
  • Mountain pine beetles are attacking forests at record levels due to warmer, dryer conditions
  • Western wildfires have increased significantly
  • Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the water are causing the ocean to become more acidic, damaging marine life

Question: What do scientists predict will happen in the future?

Jodie Toft: Research shows the impact of climate change on our region will increase in the coming years:

  • Air temperatures will continue to rise
  • Severe flooding is predicted for western Washington, while eastern Washington will face drought, threatening agriculture, salmon and community safety
  • Damage from wildfires will increase
  • The ocean will become warmer and more acidic
  • Beaches, tidal swamps and marshes will shrink, diminishing vital habitat for fish, birds and wildlife

Question: This feels overwhelming. What can, or is being done?

Jodie Toft: At The Nature Conservancy, our work is aimed at adapting to climate change.

  • Active forest restoration including mechanical thinning and controlled burning are creating large forest landscapes that re more resilient to fire, drought, insects and disease.
  • We’ve modeled and are implementing an innovative approach to manage the flood risk to Puget Sound communities through large scale projects that protect fish, habitats, farms and humans
  • Along the Washington coast, we’re helping communities steward land and marine resources, and plan for the increasing impact of climate change

Virtually every challenge we tackle can be traced to changing climate. As we look to the future, our focus is on adapting to current and future changes to protect people and nature.