New climate hub informs NH farmers and foresters

By Brian Ward
On February 18, 2014

The Obama administration announced the formation of seven climate hubs across the nation on Feb. 5, one of which is in the Durham Forest Service Office. 

But what is a climate hub?

A climate hub is a department of people who provide climate change information to farmers, foresters and people in rural areas. The seven hubs are located in Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, New Mexico and New Hampshire, with some additional sub-hubs to be created in additional states such as Michigan and California.

"[U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA)]'s climate hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

David Hollinger has been in Durham for 20 years at the Northern Research Station, studying the impact of climate change on forests and the role of forests in climate systems. In addition, Hollinger was made the new director of the Northeastern hub, which covers everything from West Virginia to Maine.  

"[We are] looking to build partnerships with many people: land grant universities, conservation organizations and farmers and foresters," Hollinger said. "Within the forestry service more than a dozen people are involved [with the hub] but none are full time."

Hollinger says one of the things he hopes for is involvement from UNH students in the climate hub. He said at the moment "it's basically a virtual hub," with many of the staff members telecommuting from across the Northeast. At the moment, the six co-directors of the hub are spread out across New England and the first official staff member lives in Baltimore. 

"In [the] first year, we're supposed to be putting together a plan, website and hold a lot of meetings with stakeholders and work with producers, farmers and foresters to see how we can help," Hollinger said. "I'm excited to be doing this and taking relevant research and make it useful for people out there managing the land. [We] probably have as much to learn from them as they do from us, maybe even more." 

John Aber, a UNH professor and the former university provost, said the goal of the climate hub is to give people in the region more access to current environmental data. Aber has been working with the Durham Forest Service office for 30 years and said he hopes UNH can build on its relationship with the forest service office to help with the climate hub.   

"It's supposed to be a focal point, especially for outreach," Aber said. "As I understand it, it's to communicate to farmers and foresters what the potential impacts of climate change will be and how to deal with them. It builds on the research that's happening at UNH and the forest service office."

Since the climate hub is part of the USDA, the hub is expected to have a big focus on the effects of climate change on farming in the Northeast. While New Hampshire has seen a decline in conventional agriculture for the last few decades, Aber said there has been a large resurgence in small, multi-product farms in the state. He said in recent years it's more common to see small farms that specialize in organic produce, horticulture, agricultural tourism, or have a bed and breakfast or restaurant that grows their own food. 

"Agriculture as an industry has been shrinking for a long time [in New England] if it's going to [come back] in the future it's going to need more kinds of agricultural ventures," Aber said. "I would imagine those folks might be more receptive to understand climate change and preparing to deal with it; their livelihoods will depend on it." 

Aber said that he thinks it's a great complement to the people at the Durham Forest Service office that they were picked to be the Northeastern hub and has high hopes for the new department.  

"I think it's a great idea anything that advances the idea we need to consider the idea of changes in climate is a good thing," Aber said, "and anything that increases communication about what is known about probable changes in climate to stakeholders and users is a good thing." 


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