A Changing Climate: Vulnerability in California's Eastern Sierra

The Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership & The Sustainable Recreation and Tourism Initiative
Posted on: 12/13/2021 - Updated on: 7/01/2022

Posted by




What: A Changing Climate: Vulnerability in California's Eastern Sierra

Topic: Adaptation & Resilience Assessment, Natural Capital & Ecosystem Services & Analysis Recommended Actions

The Eastern Sierra is a high-desert landscape in California that shares a common border with the state of Nevada. Composed of three California counties (Alpine, Mono, and Inyo), the region is defined by the Sierra Nevada range, the western terminus of the Northern Basin and Range.

More than 90 percent of the region’s 17,148 square miles is managed by federal government agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The principal owner of the region’s private property, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, acquired more than 450 square miles of farm and ranchland in the early years of the 20th century to secure water rights for the Los Angeles region. The remaining private property and gateway communities are dispersed across the region, home to a permanent population of about 35,000 residents.

Unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation have compelled visitation to the region for many generations. The Eastern Sierra hosts both the highest peak and lowest valley in the 48 contiguous United States, as well as the oldest living thing on Earth, the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). Annual visitor estimates range between 4 and 7 million, principally from Southern California, but from across the country and globe as well. Visitation drives the region’s recreation-based tourism economy and represents the primary challenge as well as the essential opportunity for achieving regional economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

The Eastern Sierra region is largely dependent on natural ecosystems and essential resources to sustain the recreation and tourism economy. Climate change poses a threat by potentially increasing the frequency and intensity of natural hazards, which in turn may threaten or destroy critical ecosystem services needed for local communities and visitors. Natural hazards associated with climate change may also adversely affect or degrade the unique landscape in the Eastern Sierra that provides for the recreation-based economy that local communities depend on.

To proactively manage for these potential risks posed by climate change, this report, Vulnerability in California’s Eastern Sierra, summarizes the results of the Sustainable Recreation and Tourism Initiative’s (SRTI’s) “Climate Adaptation and Resilience Assessment,” which includes an Adaptation & Resilience Assessment and a Natural Capital Assessment. Based on these efforts, the report provides Recommended Actions for the Eastern Sierra’s adaptation to climate change. The purpose of this report is to provide an understanding of the economic value supplied by the ecosystem services in the SRTI Study Area, analyze how climate change may threaten the people, assets, and economic benefits of ecosystem services in the region, and specifically focus on how the effects of climate change may directly or indirectly affect outdoor recreation, tourism, and economic stability.

Vulnerability in California’s Eastern Sierra presents the results of two technical analyses: a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and a Natural Capital Assessment. The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment looks at the severity and likelihood of how climatic changes to air quality, increased drought, flooding, wildfires, severe weather, etc. may affect specific populations and recreational activities that contribute to the Study Area’s recreational economy. The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment also analyzes the direct effects to infrastructure and other assets that support these activities. The resulting Vulnerability Assessment Matrix, assigns a vulnerability score for each population and asset according to each climate change hazard analyzed.