Open Spaces : erosion

Tools of Conservation: Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund

Many of us already are aware of how strongly the health of threatened and endangered species is linked to our own well-being.   Clean air and water, recreational activities, and livelihoods are dependent on habitats that sustain these species.  So how can we ensure a healthy future for our community and protect treasured landscapes for future generations?

The task may be large, but it is a shared responsibility, as the fish, wildlife and plants across America belong to everyone.

Tubby Cove Boardwalk

We have a number of creative tools for actively engage states and landowners to find improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover threatened and endangered species in cost-effective ways.

What is an example of one of those tools?

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Alaska: Across the Wildest State, Climate Change Threatens Many Species and Habitats

A momma polar bear stands with baby bears flanking her on either side

An Alaska polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Melting sea ice has made the polar bear a symbol of climate change impact. Photo: Susanne Miller, USFWS. Download.

Mutlimedia iconAudio: Interview with Alaska Native Elder Christina Westlake

Video: Polar Bear Research on the Chukchi Sea

With an area of more than 375 million acres extending 2,000 miles from east to west and 1,100 miles from north to south, Alaska dwarfs other states. The northernmost state is also unmatched in its range of climates and habitats — and nearly all are feeling impacts from climate change. 

During the last half-century, Alaska has seen some of the most rapid warming on earth, with temperatures rising 1 to almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit across its climate regions and ecosystems. By the year 2100, the average annual temperature of Alaska’s North Slope is projected to rise another 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

 “One big difference between Alaska and the Lower 48 is that here we’re dealing with impacts that have already occurred, not just forecasts of change,” says John Morton, Supervisory Fish and Wildlife Biologist at Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. “And because Alaska hasn’t undergone widespread landscape change from non-climate stressors such as agriculture and development, the impacts of climate change aren’t masked as they are elsewhere.”

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Alabama: Small Changes Can Spell Big Trouble for Vulnerable Species

A diamondback terrapin sits in grass

Diamondback terrapins were once abundant on Dauphin Island, Alabama.  Now, they need state protection in order to survive. Photo: Ryan Hagerty, USFWS. Download.

In Alabama, folks embrace their natural resources.  From the sea turtles and manatees of the Gulf Coast, to the darters and mussels of northern Alabama streams, the state has some of the most diverse wildlife in the nation. This incredible variety of species includes many that are rare, and some that are imperiled.

More than 113 of Alabama’s species are now listed as threatened or endangered, including some 61 freshwater mussels, 10 reptiles, and 21 plants. With so many imperiled species in their care, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists take climate change seriously.  That’s because slight changes in climate can affect the survival of a species.

“Small environmental changes can have big effects in a relatively short period of time, particularly when you are considering such powerful ecosystem drivers as temperature and moisture,” explained Dan Everson, Deputy Field Supervisor for the Service’s Alabama Field Office.  “Many of the plant communities we have come to know and love on the Gulf coast are responsive to relatively subtle changes in moisture.  Because of the flatness of the coastal plain, a few extra inches of ground water, a few extra floods, a slight change in elevation of the tides, or even a few extra inches of rain per year may determine whether our children will continue to admire a slash pine woodland with an understory of pitcher plants and toothache grass, or find themselves instead tripping over cypress knees and palmetto crowns in a tupelo swamp.”

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Maryland: Restoring Native Forests Helps Animals Adapt at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Marshland

There are many reasons why the marshes have been disappearing. Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know-- sea level rise. Photo: USFWS.

It takes less than three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  But the bald eagles, abundant waterfowl and fish that are a world away from Capitol Hill are losing ground to the widening Blackwater River and rising sea level in the Chesapeake Bay.

People have been partly responsible for the marshes’ disappearance: by introducing nutria, voracious grass-eating rodents; and by building roads, bridges, canals and ditches that have affected water flow over time.

Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know – sea level rise.

Blackwater Refuge Manager Suzanne Baird has an arsenal of tools that she and her staff, along with conservation partners, may use to protect refuge lands as a coastal haven for fish and wildlife along the Chesapeake Bay. Some measures to counteract marsh loss include creating new marsh, controlling invasive species, and pumping in soil to bolster marsh areas.

The simple act of planting trees creates wooded areas or corridors for animals to roam as the marshes continue to shrink. Blackwater Refuge has lost about 5,000 acres of marshland since the 1940s. Moreover, tree-planting also fights a central cause of climate change: the build-up of greenhouse gases.

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Connecticut: Shoring up a Shrinking Island for Endangered Roseate Terns

Aerial view of Falkner island, a 4.5 acre crescent shaped island with a rocky coast

An aerial view of Falkner Island, home to the only roseate tern nesting colony in Connecticut Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

The roseate tern is a federally endangered seabird whose favored nesting areas are found on rocky offshore islands and barrier beaches along the north Atlantic coast of the U.S.

Unfortunately, the tern is losing some of its prime seacoast habitat. The land is disappearing due to erosion that may be made worse by climate change. Increasing atmospheric temperatures are linked to rising seas and more intense storms, which eat away at the shore.

Falkner Island, off the Connecticut coast in Long Island Sound, is home each spring to 40 to 50 pairs of nesting roseate terns – the only colony remaining in the state. Most of the terns nest on the north spit of the island, a sand and cobble environment.

Falkner Island is a unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut. Refuge Manager Rick Potvin estimates that the island is losing about 300 to 400 square feet of land each year due to erosion. He predicts that in the next few years the north spit nesting area will revert to tidal zone and will become unsuitable habitat for breeding terns.

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Last updated: June 21, 2012