Climate change puts vivid Northwest fall colors in peril

Climate change puts vivid Northwest fall colors in peril »Play Video
Photo illustration/Bill Goetz KVAL News

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Northwest forests are alive with fall color.

"A lot of my childhood memories are based upon fall, especially being my favorite season," said Chris Neely of the Corvallis Arts Center staff.

The vivid reds, golds and yellows make this time of year special for Oregonians. Can you imagine anything else? | Share your fall photos

Plant biologist Dr. Kate Lajtha at Oregon State can. 

She warns: don't take the colors for granted.

Climate change is likely to dim the colors, she said, messing up the delicate balancing act between daylight and temperature.

"If we keep this warming trend going, there could be some strong changes in Northwest fall colors," Lajtha said.

As the planet warms, droughts could become more likely. 

"The drought may be the most significant thing affecting colors and species in general," Lajtha said.

It means instead of seeing maple and sweet gum trees turn beautiful fall reds, you could see more green leaves dropping in the summer with muted fall colors - a real botanical bummer.

"And if the lack of leaf colors was the worst that happened," Dr. Lajtha added, "then we could shrug our shoulders and say, oh well, that's too bad."

The heavier implications, however, could affect tree crops and what we eat. 

"The worst that can happen is increased pests affecting crops.  It can be loss of biodiversity," said Lajtha.

She hopes the trend can be reversed before time runs out. Otherwise, in the words of Chris Neely, "Poor leaves, poor trees, poor us."

Lajtha said if the climate models are accurate, these fall color changes could start happening in the next few decades.