– April 12, 2023 –

No longer Zone 8

Longtime Savannah gardeners know that what thrives here now isn’t exactly the same as decades ago. That’s because plant hardiness zones are shifting north as the U.S. warms, as the nonprofit Climate Central reports. The northern part of Coastal Georgia used to be firmly in Zone 8 but as the graph below shows, climate change has pushed upward the 30-year average lowest temperatures.

That makes it easier to grow cold sensitive plants like citrus and harder to grow other plants that require a certain amount of chilly weather to bear fruit, like peaches.

A 30-year average lowest temperature of 20 degrees F marks the cutoff between zones 8 and 9. Higher numbers denote hotter zones in the US Department of Agriculture hardiness zone system.

While the lower portion of the Georgia coast has also seen warmer winters over the long term, it was already in Zone 9 and remains there.

With continued warming in mind, the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station developed a free online tool called the Climate Change Tree Atlas to help guide those planting trees. It lists more than 100 common trees and describes how they’re likely to fare as temperatures increase.

A companion atlas predicts how bird populations are likely to shift, too. The Climate Change Bird Atlas supplies maps and summary data that show how each species’ suitable habitat is projected to change under three different climate models, depending on greenhouse gas emissions. Georgia’s state bird, the brown thrasher, is predicted to become slightly less common in the state with rising temperatures. On the other hand, the brightly colored painting bunting, a neotropical that currently tends to stick to the coast in Georgia, is predicted to spread inland as temperatures rise.

See you next year, solar

Bills related to rooftop solar fared poorly in the legislature this year, with only one of seven such pieces of legislation making it into law, reports Stanley Dunlap of the Georgia Recorder. Georgia gets plenty of sun and already ranks among the top ten states for installed solar. But the vast majority of that is utility scale, fields of solar panels controlled by Georgia Power or an Electric Membership Cooperative, not by individual homeowners. Several bills that sought to make rooftop solar more accessible stalled, including an effort to increase Georgia Power’s cap on the number of households that could benefit from monthly net metering. Ratepayers who have net metering get paid more for the energy they export to the grid, making solar panels a better investment for them. Meanwhile, an effort to give the Public Service Commission oversight of rooftop solar companies also stalled. Solar advocates including the Sierra Club applaud additional oversight, but say the PSC is the wrong agency to do it. Because the legislature meets in two-year cycles, the failed solar bills will have another crack at it in 2024.

rooftop solar panels
Solar panel covers the roof of this home near Savannah High School. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Earth Day on the coast

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 when U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson encouraged young people to fight for environmental causes. At the time, the U.S. had not yet enacted landmark environmental legislation such as the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act. Since 1970, U.S. air and water quality has improved but the burning of fossil fuels has increased by 25% the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting in an average global temperatures increase of risen more than 1 degree F. The emphasis of many Earth Day festivals has shifted to climate change, with a 2023 theme of “Invest in Our Planet.”

Coastal residents have at least three Earth Day gatherings to choose from this year — Brunswick, Darien and Savannah. Those who plan carefully could attend all three.

The Coastal Georgia activities begin April 21, a Friday, at 8 a.m. in Darien. Darien resident and executive coach Timothy Karsten and Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols have organized a day of discussions with panelists including an oyster farmer, environmental advocates and educators, and power company executives. The cost to attend is $20 and includes lunch. Learn more and register at https://coastalearthdayeventwithpsccom.splashthat.com/ The following morning a caravan of EVs with a police escort will drive together from Darien Telephone, 1011 North Way, Darien to the Coastfest Earth Day celebration in Brunswick, leaving at 9 a.m.

Savannah’s Earth Day festival is an evening get-together for the first time with events from 4-8 p.m. April 21 in Daffin Park. The free, family-friendly event celebrates environmental sustainability and conservation efforts in the Savannah community with live performances, educational activities, exhibitions, and food trucks. The theme, “Our Future is Bright,” aims to highlight the city’s 100% Savannah plan to transition to safe, clean, renewable energy over the next decade or so.

Finally, on Saturday, coastal residents can celebrate Earth Day with the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources at CoastFest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mary Ross Waterfront Park at 100 F St., Brunswick. (Coastfest was delayed from its usual October date.) This free, family-friendly event features educational programs, touch tanks, wildlife viewing opportunities, and exhibitors from partner agencies and nonprofit organizations. 

Coastfest will feature live animals. Credit: Ga DNR

Also noted

Correction: Jim Renner is manager of environmental stewardship for Chemours. An item in last week’s Coast Watch misidentified his employer.

Camden County has begun posting Spaceport Camden records on its website. But more than half a million emails about the project have not been released and are in the hands of a Grand Jury, reports Gordon Jackson in the Brunswick News.

Feral pigs roam if introduced to a new area, a new study finds. Over a week-long period the pigs in the study at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, SC, traveled miles in a pattern that resembled spokes on a wheel. Some even found their way home to their original territory. It’s illegal to relocate feral hogs, but it happens, thus the study by UGA researchers in Scientific Reports to figure what they do in a new place.

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

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Mary Landers is a reporter for The Current in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at mary.landers@thecurrentga.org She covered climate and...