Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Armadillo army takes over North Carolina town


Today is Tuesday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

The first time Jason Bullard heard from a local resident that armadillos were popping up in the small town of Sapphire, N.C., he said he “thought the woman had a possum and a drinking problem,” according to The Guardian.

But within a year, Bullard was a gun-for-hire, charging $100 a carcass from homeowners worried about a wave of armadillos — whose range was expanding north with climate change — eating their way through their gardens, the outlet reported.

Bullard was accustomed to hunting feral pigs, but he had to change all his tactics to go after the armored, burrowing mammals.

“It’s like hunting aliens,” he told The Guardian. “We know nothing about them. We can’t seem to kill them easily. They show up unexpectedly. And their numbers have just exploded.”

Today we’re following other unexpected results of climate change. First, we look at the floods across the Pacific Northwest, which have shattered infrastructure and landscapes already weakened by the summer’s drought and fires. Then we explore the ways fires transform forests, speeding up the spread of tree “refugees” across landscapes.

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.


In the Pacific Northwest, floods follow fires

Record-breaking rainfall across the Pacific Northwest in recent days has produced atmospheric rivers — narrow corridors of high-altitude moisture — battering landscapes already destabilized by summer wildfires, drought and heat waves.

This rapid switching from too hot and dry to too wet is a sign of the climate future of the Pacific Northwest and the challenges the region’s infrastructure and emergency responders will have to get used to, experts said.

Wait — what happened? Between 4 and 10 inches of rain — more than many places in the famously wet region experience in a typical November — fell on towns, roads and bridges across the Olympic Peninsula, the Cascade Mountains and across Vancouver’s lower mainland, according to CNN. 

Coupled with higher-than usual snowmelt, this deluge of precipitation brought record, rapid floods to cities across the region, battering infrastructure.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued an emergency declaration Monday, warning that the storm would cause major disruption like knocked-out power lines, blocked roads and “localized reductions in available drinking water.”

“The switch flips:” Rain — even heavy rain and atmospheric rivers — are common in the Pacific Northwest. 

But not like this: just halfway into the month, it’s already the third-wettest November that Seattle has seen in a century, according to The Washington Post. 

The onslaught of rain and wind hit hard across a region that only recently was battling heat and fire  — a situation that agricultural meteorologist Joe Boomgard-Zagrodnik described as “the new reality”  on NBC.  

“We were super hot and dry in the summer, and the switch flips,” he said. “Our infrastructure isn’t designed for that.” 



At Southern Company, we achieved our interim net zero energy goal ten years early. Today, we continue our work toward a net zero future. Learn more.


Blocked highways: Hillsides saturated and collapsed onto the Interstate 5 near Bellingham, cutting off the West Coast’s principal artery, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. 

The situation was even worse across the Canadian border, where floods and mudslides briefly cut off Vancouver and the larger Fraser Valley from the rest of Canada, according to the Canadian Global News, and from the northern reaches of the province, the Globe and Mail reported

On Monday night, helicopters ran evacuation flights to rescue 275 people stranded in cars along Canada’s mud-covered highways or on the wrong side of swept-away bridges, Reuters reported.

One hockey dad escorting a youth team back from Calgary, Alberta, snapped a video of surging rapids in the town of Princeton, British Columbia — along a river that one Canadian resident wrote had been “a glorified trickle” back in June.

“Starting to feel normal”: High winds left 70,000 without power in Washington State, according to NBC, with CTV News reporting tens of thousands in the dark across British Columbia.

The repeated blows of extreme weather were “starting to feel normal,” Elijah Black, a restaurant owner from the town of Merritt, British Columbia, told a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news crew from a motel he had been evacuated to.

Merritt spent last summer’s fires on evacuation alert during the summer’s fires — but it was water that finally drove them out, as a flooded river knocked out their water treatment plant, leading the city to order an evacuation to avoid the potential for “mass sewage back-up and personal health risk.” 

A coming trial: In the small town of Hamilton, Wash., near the Canadian border, a Red Cross shelter at First Baptist Church was “bursting at the seams” despite being without power, Mayor Carla Vandiver told NBC. 

The town core was “100 percent flooded,” Vandiver said.

Last words: “It breaks my heart,” Vandiver told NBC. “People live in Hamilton because they’re not wealthy. It’s cheaper to live out here. A majority of these people are going to be in trouble when it comes time to clean up.”


Wildfires accelerating tree species shift: study 

Flames consume the bark of a tree

Migrant trees are finding new homes in forests across the Western U.S., as changing climate conditions — accelerated by wildfires — force them to seek out cooler, wetter locations, a new study has found.

About the study: The research, published on Monday in Nature Communications, provides the first empirical evidence that fires are hastening the movement of trees — likely by diminishing competition from established species, a news release accompanying the study said.

The authors also explored how to optimize land management amid such ecosystem shifts for forest restoration and wildfire mitigation — areas that are collectively receiving more than $5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, signed by President Biden into law on Monday.

“Complex, interdependent forces are shaping the future of our forests,” study lead author Avery Hill, a graduate student at Stanford’s University’s School of Humanities & Sciences, said in a press statement. 

Scientists have known climate change is shifting tree species, but mysteries abound: Past research has already demonstrated that plant ranges are shifting to higher, cooler altitudes at an average of about five feet per year, according to the study. 

But many of these studies have found that such range shifts lag behind the rate of climate change, with some species ending up stranded in unsuitable habitats — a phenomenon that the Stanford University scientists aimed to clarify. 

How did they go about that? The researchers analyzed U.S. Forest Service data from more than 74,000 sites across nine Western U.S. states, identifying tree species that are shifting their ranges toward cooler, wetter sites — a response that the authors said they expected. 

But when they compared the rate of range shifts between areas burned by wildfire and those that were not, the scientists found strong evidence that two species — Douglas fir and canyon live oak — experienced larger range shifts in zones that had burned.

It’s all about competition. While the authors said they have yet to pinpoint precisely how wildfires accelerate this change, they hypothesized that burned areas contain less competition from other plant species, due to the scorched understory and open canopy left in a fire’s stead.

When competition does exist, in contrast, the presence of some species may slow the range shifts of other tree types.


Steering land management strategies: These findings, according to the authors, speak to the importance of implementing low-intensity prescribed burns and natural fires, as part of a land management strategy that ensures trees can adapt to climate change.

While the results of prescribed burns are not always predictable, scientists and wildland firefighters agree that they will continue to play a critical role in routine forest management and building up resilience against future fires, as Equilibrium has previously reported.

And ecosystem processes, like shifts in tree species, tend to “have several layers of controls” that can contribute to effective land management, co-author Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute of the Environment, said in the press statement. 

Last words: The study, Field added, underlines “a natural mechanism that can help forests remain healthy, even in the face of small amounts of climate change.”



At Southern Company, we achieved our interim net zero energy goal ten years early. Today, we continue our work toward a net zero future. Learn more.

Tuesday Tensions

Plant-based pork still isn’t kosher — or halal — community regulators say

  • Pork isn’t kosher — even if it’s fake plant-based Impossible Pork, the Orthodox Union ruled earlier this year, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • This wasn’t based on Jewish law, said Rabbi Genack of OU Kosher, but a sort of “ick” factor. “People react very strongly to the word ‘pork,’” Genack told the Journal.
  • The controversy highlights the challenge of how to regulate fake meats inside of Judaism’s famously regulated system of dietary law — “possibly the most important decision for Judaism in the 21st century,” said David Zvi Kalman of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
  • The Islamic Food Nutrition Council also ruled that Impossible Pork was not halal, or permissible under Islamic dietary law, according to the Journal.

Colorado Rivers Basin tribes demand inclusion in river system negotiations

  • Twenty Colorado River Basin Tribes demanded recognition and inclusion in future negotiations on the Colorado River system’s management, in a joint letter sent to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Monday. 
  • The next such agreement will likely take effect only in 2026, following the expiration of the river system’s 2007 Interim Guidelines, which determine how the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs operate when the Lower Colorado River Basin faces shortages.
  • But because negotiations are expected to begin in the next few years, the Basin Tribes emphasized “the essential role” that they should play in this process.
  • Basin Tribes, according to the letter, hold rights to about 25 percent of the river’s average annual flow in its current state — but that percentage will only increase as climate change continues to decrease river runoff.
  • Working together, the letter said, will “ensure the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River and the people, animals, and economies that rely upon it,” the letter said.

Kiribati to open one of the world’s largest marine protected areas to commercial fishing

  • The Kiribati government has announced plans to open up one of the world’s largest marine protected areas to commercial fishing, due to the economic benefits such a move could bring the Pacific Island nation’s citizens, The Guardian reported.
  • The Phoenix Islands Protected Area — about the size of California — was established in 2006 and was declared a “no-take” zone in 2015, forbidding commercial fishing entirely, according to The Guardian.
  • “Our decision as a sovereign country and government is people-centric and commensurate with holistic options for marine protection and management, economic diversification, sustainable tourism and fisheries, to promote the growth of Kiribati’s blue economy, and uplift the lives of all I-Kiribati,” a government press statement said, as cited by The Guardian.

Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Wednesday.{mosads}

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