Archive | April, 2012

sunset refuge

National Wildlife Refuges and Sea-Level Rise

The Refuge System is losing ground. Literally. There are over 160 coastal national wildlife refuges, and virtually all of them are experiencing the impacts of sea level rise and coastal storms exacerbated by climate change. Refuges need a system-wide response.

Defenders recently published a new report, National Wildlife Refuges and Sea-Level Rise: Lessons from the Frontlines, based on insights from a national perspective as well as on the ground at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. The report includes recommendations for national policy, on the ground habitat management, and for dealing with local communities, many of which are resistant to the management changes necessary to cope with the rising seas. These recommendations include:

To respond to it effectively, refuge managers must:

• Take a landscape-scale approach to conservation throughout the refuge system.

• Share information throughout the refuge system to avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’ in responding to climate change.

• Receive policy guidance and support from FWS for coordinated climate change responses throughout the refuge system.

With sufficient financial support and manpower, coastal refuges can take steps to help mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise and buy time for species and habitats to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Steps that show promise include:

• Plant salt-tolerant species to minimize the impacts of saltwater intrusion.

• Restore altered hydrology to reduce salt-water intrusion and to regain natural marsh-building processes.

• Restore shoreline reefs to minimize climate-change-mediated coastal erosion.

• Work with partners and the public to develop long-term conservation plans for the next century and beyond.


A large and growing percentage of the American public is skeptical or confused about climate change. To build understanding and support for climate-change-related work at refuges, managers and staff must engage and convince the people who live near refuges. To do this, refuge managers need support and guidance from FWS to:

• Find and present tangible examples the local community can relate to of sea-level-rise impacts that have already occurred.

• Use modeling tools such as SLAMM to provide dramatic, easy-to-grasp visuals of what the landscape will look like in the future.

• Engage in an open community dialog to find out what’s important to locals and to explore alternatives for reaching their goals.

Only by taking a broad, new perspective to finding creative solutions for addressing climate change-related problems and to educating and involving local communities and partners can FWS meet its conservation mission and preserve our refuges, the network of special places where the needs of wildlife come first.

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Getting Strategic about Climate Change Adaptation

Back in February the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and state fish and wildlife agencies put forth a new concept in conservation, the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.   This unprecedented effort brought together 23 federal, state and tribal entities to “to inspire and enable natural resource professionals and other decision makers to take action to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and  ecosystem functions, as well as the human uses, values and benefits these natural systems provide, in a changing climate.”

The strategy is a call to action to protect and restore resilient habitat and habitat corridors, integrate climate change into existing conservation programs, build the conservation community’s capacity to address climate change, invest in coordinated research and monitoring, and provide natural resources managers the tools they need to adapt to a changing environment.

As we all know, a strategy is only as good as the actions that follow from it. And while it is vitally important that we enhance the climate resilience of our natural areas and habitats, climate change is going to affect many other sectors as well, and no one set of preparations should occur in a vacuum. That’s why it was interesting to see the new “Preparing for a Changing Climate: Washington State’s Integrated Climate Response Strategy.  This new plan is truly strategic in addressing climate change adaptation, drawing on the on the National Strategy for elements relating to wildlife, habitats, forests, and aquatic and marine species, but also addresses agriculture, infrastructure, and human health in a single, integrated plan.

Washington’s strategy is divided into nine different overview topics: A) Human Health; B) Ecosystems, Species and Habitats; C) Coasts and Oceans; D) Water Resources; E) Agriculture; F) Forests; G) Infrastructure and the built environment; H) Research and Monitoring; and I) Communication, Awareness, Engagement. The goals and strategies pertaining to natural resources topics closely mirror those of the National Strategy (see table below).

Incorporating the goals and elements of the National Wildlife Adaptation Strategy into the plans of federal and state agencies, tribes, and other conservation partners is the best way to ensure that the National Strategy will actually be implemented to reduce the impacts of climate change on the nation’s biodiversity.


National Strategy Washington State
Goal 1: Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climate.


B-1. Conserve habitat necessary to support healthy fish, wildlife, and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climate, and protect connectivity areas between critical habitats to allow the movement of species in response to climate change.


C-3. Accelerate efforts to protect and restore nearshore habitat and natural processes.


F-1. Conserve and restore healthy, resilient forests across ownership boundaries and large geographic ranges to minimize the threats from climate change and extreme weather events.



Goal 2: Manage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions and provide sustainable cultural, subsistence, recreational, and commercial use in a changing climate. Incorporating climate change information into fish, wildlife, and plant management efforts is essential to safeguarding these valuable natural resources.


 Strategy 2.3 Conserve genetic diversity (all  species)

B-3. Manage species and habitats to

protect ecosystem functions and provide sustainable cultural, recreational, and commercial use in a changing climate.


B-4 also gets at integrating climate change into planning.


F-2. Maintain and protect forest species and genetic diversity across the landscape to ensure long-term conservation of our forest genetic resources and help buffer against impacts of climate change.


Goal 3: Enhance capacity for effective management in a changing climate. B-5. Build capacity and support for the adoption of response strategies that help protect and restore ecosystem function and services at risk from climate change.


C-4. Build local capacity to respond to coastal climate impacts by providing tools to assess vulnerability and advancing research, monitoring, and engagement efforts.


F-4. Build capacity and support for maintaining, enhancing, and restoring resilient and healthy forests.


Goal 4: Support adaptive management in a changing climate through integrated observation and monitoring and use of decision support tools.


H. Research and Monitoring.
Goal 5: Increase knowledge and information on impacts and responses of fish, wildlife and plants to a changing climate.






B-4. Integrate climate adaptation

considerations for species and ecosystems

into natural resource and conservation planning, land use and infrastructure planning, and resource allocation and public investment initiatives.


C-5. Enhance our understanding and monitoring of ocean acidification (pH) in Puget Sound and coastal waters as well as our ability to adapt to and mitigate effects of seawater acidity on shellfish, other marine organisms, and marine ecosystems.



Goal 6: Increase awareness and motivate action to safeguard fish, wildlife and plants in a changing climate.


B-5 also discusses “building support”


I. Awareness and engagement.

Goal 7: Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate. B-2. Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems be more resilient to the effects of climate change.

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LCC Chart

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives: Where the funding has gone

 The establishment of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) is an initiative of the Department of the Interior to better coordinate, collaborate, and build capacity for landscape-scale conservation.  The initiative was launched in response to climate change and other large-scale environmental challenges that cross jurisdictional boundaries, requiring collaborative solutions. Part partnership development, part funding stream for science and technical capacity, there are now LCCs that cover the entire United States and U.S. Territories. Secretary Salazar’s Secretarial Order (No.3289) which ordered the formation of LCCs and CSCs states that: “The conservation community must establish increasingly effective and coordinated mechanisms for science development, the sharing and transfer of science and related information, and the creation of innovative and effective science-based conservation tools, all predicated upon on collaboratively developed priorities.”

In order to better understand what types of projects Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are funding, Defenders broke them down into 5 possible categories: Modeling Impacts, Conservation Planning, On the Ground Monitoring, Data/Information Sharing, Development Collaboration Platforms, and other.  These categories were derived after looking into the kinds of projects the Department of Interior appeared to have intended LCCs to fund and from looking at a sampling of projects LCCs were currently funding. 

When examining the current funding trends of LCCs, we found that in the past two years of funding, most LCCs have dedicate at least half of their funding towards modeling impact projects. As LCCs mature and fill-in critical information and capacity gaps, they need to increase their attention to landscape-level conservation planning. Collaborative planning at the landscape scale and agreeing on shared conservation priorities is the only way we are going to be able to conserve wildlife and ecosystems in the face of a rapidly changing earth.


Categories of Funding

Modeling Impact Projects are those which evaluated historical and predicted data in order to demonstrate clear impacts of climate change and other ecological stressors.  These types of projects include: vulnerability assessments, sea-level rise modeling, risk-mapping, and future distribution mapping. An example of a modeling impacts project from the California LCC is: “Sea-level Rise Modeling Across the California Salt Marsh Gradient for Resource Managers”.

Conservation Planning Projects are those which develop strategies and planning guidelines which respond to climate stressors.  They incorporate the climate science provided by Climate Science Centers (CSCs) and other partners into decision-making tools.  A strong example of a conservation planning project from the California LCC is: “Integrating Science into Decisions: Climate Change/Land Use Change Scenarios and Outreach for Habitat Threat Assessments on California Rangelands.”

On the Ground Monitoring Projects are those which fund studies collecting actual data in the field.  These projects are generally aquatic or avian monitoring or other forms of data collection.  An example of an on the ground project from the Great Northern LCC is: “Establishing aquatic monitoring programs for large-scale Restoration projects: Building understanding for watershed conservation in the face of climate change”

Data/ Information Sharing Projects are those that attempt to combine and make more available the variety of climate change data and information relating to climate change and other natural stressors.  These projects help bring data together across regional, state, and LCC lines so that studies are not repeated and studies can move more quickly.  An example of a data sharing project from the Arctic LCC is: “Fostering Collaboration Across the North America’s Arctic”

Other Projects include those which do not fit into any of the categories and most often are found to be those examining climate change’s effect on cultural resources.


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Managing for the Unknowns: Adaptive Resource Management

I recently posted a guest blog on the Georgetown Public Policy Review discussing adaptive management.  Two key areas that can make or break the success of an adaptive management plan are the strength of the management triggers that frame future decisions, and the quality of information gathered through monitoring that forms the basis for management.  The blog discusses these potential risks and looks at the new Forest Service NFMA planning rule as an avenue for applying good adaptive management principles in practice.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.