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April 18, 2013

Festival features green theme

By Michelle Miller
The Daily Star

---- — Green was the color of the day on Saturday at Milford Central School, as an environmental festival and gardening event were presented in tandem.

This year’s annual Earth Festival, presented by Otsego County Conservation Association and WildLearn.com, featured a “recycled fashion” show, the annual “EcoArt/Trendy Trash” art contest, children’s activities, live music and food, all with a theme of protecting the environment.  

The gymnasium was packed with people talking to vendors, looking at exhibits, participating in activities and getting their faces painted. 

This marked the eighth year of the Earth Festival, and the second year for the “Go Green! Fashion Show.” However, the show was back in a new fashion.

Participants did not walk down “a runway” in the same way that they did in the event’s debut in 2011. Instead, judges met with contestants in the cafeteria to inspect garments and ask questions before the students and adults showcased the wearable art they made or embellished themselves with recycled and waste materials. 

The Go Green! Fashion Show was held in the cafeteria at 10 a.m. and awards were given in four age groups: Kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth through eighth, ninth through 12th, and adult. The show was not held last year, but came back because of popular demand, according to organizers. 

The day also featured Master Gardeners of Cornell Cooperative Extension for Schoharie and Otsego counties with Spring Garden Day featuring classes on a wide variety of topics for those both new and experienced to gardening. 

Dr. Jonathan Comstock of Cornell University gave a presentation on climate change and its impact on the growing season and gardens. 

Comstock talked about how the earth is warming and how it will affect the Northeast, particularly New York. He said there have been rapid changes in the state, including rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, with effects on the natural world and human health. 

“Intense rains and floods, summer droughts and heat waves are more common than they were in our grandparents’ time. New York’s climate will continue to change over the next 10, 20, and 100 years,” he added. 

According to the presentation, average temperatures across the Northeastern United States have risen by more than 2 degrees since 1970 and winter temperatures are 4 degrees warmer. In New York, Comstock said, there has been an increase in the number of extremely hot summer days (above 9 degres ) and a decrease in the number of cold winter days (below 32 degrees). In the future, he said, New Yorkers can expect an increase in average temperature to rise 4 to 8 degrees depending on continued emissions and land use. 

What does all of this mean? According to Comstock, growers can expect longer growing seasons, but will also have to deal with an increase in heat and drought stress. 

Total precipitation amounts have increased slightly in the Northeast, by approximately 3.3 inches over the last 100 years. Even more dramatically, Comstock said, there has been a 67 percent increase in the number of 2-inch rainfall events occurring over a 48-hour period since the 1950s. He said in the future, New Yorkers can expect:

• An increase in average annual precipitation of up to 5 percent by 2020; 10 percent by the 2050s; and 15 percent by the 2080s.

• Changing precipitation patterns, with increased precipitation in the winter, and decreased precipitation in late summer or fall.

• Lower rainfall amounts in the summer may increase the frequency of drought, and may negatively affect the ability of small drinking water supply systems to meet demand.

• Decreased snow cover, by as much as 25 to 50 percent by the end of the next century, jeopardizing opportunities for skiing, snowmobiling and other forms of winter recreation; natural ecosystems will also be affected by the changing snow cover.

Sea levels have been rising globally because water expands as it warms, and there has been widespread melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Comstock said New Yorkers can expect greater extremes in lake levels and flow regimes, spring maxima higher than or similar to the present and summer rainfall patterns unlikely to meet increased plant water requirements. With increase in heavy rainfall events, Comstock said it could create problems for field access.

Warmer winters would also result in more pests and the spreading of some plant species such as poison ivy, according to Comstock. He used mites as a common example of a pest likely to get worse. 

Comstock said climate change will continue to affect New York’s ecosystems and biodiversity, including shifts in species ranges and sharp declines in populations of certain species. In the future, New Yorkers can expect:

• Northward expansion of the range of some invasive species found in warmer climates, such as kudzu (an aggressive weed) or the hemlock woolly adelgid (an aphid-like pest of hemlock trees), threatening native species and ecosystems in New York.

• Increasing mosquito populations, along with the danger of mosquito-borne disease.

• Increasing populations of white-tailed deer as winters grow milder. Deer will survive more winters and become more of a problem for drivers on roadways, while doing more damage to the crops, plants, and suburban landscapes.

According to the presentation, species in isolated habitats or at the southern edge of their range are particularly vulnerable to climate change. It is predicted by the end of the century, it is likely that New York state will completely lose its spruce-fir forests. 

“Our ecosystems will be disassembling and assembling in new ways,” explained Comstock. “Species ranges may shift several hundreds of miles.”

Comstock told audience members to look to the south as what is seen in Georgia now is probably similar to what New York will look like in the future. 

The agriculture sector is already feeling the effects of New York’s changing climate. Comstock said warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns present both economic challenges and opportunities for agriculture. For example, he said farmers are already experiencing increased insect, disease and weed pressure, but have also had success planting new longer-season varieties of corn. Since the 1960s, the growing season has lengthened by nearly a week, as evidenced by observations of earlier spring bloom dates for lilacs, apples and grapes at agricultural research stations across the state.

Comstock said the warmer temperatures and a longer growing season (by as much as a month by the end of the century) is not all bad because it could create opportunities for farmers to produce warmer-temperature crops (e.g., peaches or watermelon). However, he said the dairy industry and many of the state’s current high-value crops (e.g., apples, cabbage and potatoes) will be vulnerable to heat-induced crop damage and losses. 

As each species responds uniquely to climate change, it is unknown how it will affect the synchrony between organisms such as plants and pollinators, according to Comstock.

“You often hear that the climate has always been changing, and that is true,” Comstock said. 

He said there have been extreme weather changes such as going from an ice age to a warm spell, but something like that generally taking 1,000 years or more to make that transition. 

“We are causing a transition just as large in a century,” Comstock said.

He told growers that the changes will bring opportunities for experimentation along with several challenges.