Open Spaces: Oregon: Preparing for Change on the North Pacific Coast

Oregon: Preparing for Change on the North Pacific Coast

A long-billed curlew walking in water
A long-billed curlew. The Service is working with the National Wildlife Federation and state and federal partners to assess climate change impacts in marine and coastal environments in Oregon and the North Pacific region. The information will help resource managers take action to safeguard species and habitats in the region. Photo: USFWS.

Coastal and marine environments in Oregon and throughout the North Pacific region are rich in natural wealth, scenic beauty and quality of life. They are also among the first places being affected by climate change and other environmental stressors.

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute in its 2010 Oregon Climate Assessment Report reported that observed and projected effects include loss of coastal wetlands; changes in the abundance and distribution of wildlife, including salmon; increased coastal erosion and flooding from increasing sea levels and wave heights; and impacts to ocean ecosystems from increased temperatures and acidity of seawater. The report emphasized that these changes are already happening and that Oregon needs to prepare and plan for how to adapt both human and natural communities to these changes.

Estuaries all along the West Coast have been greatly affected during the past 100 years by diking, draining and conversion to agriculture or development, says Roy Lowe, refuge manager for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This activity eliminated vast tidal marshes and swamps. For instance, the Coquille River estuary, where Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is located, has suffered a 95 percent loss of the tidal marsh and 93 percent loss of forested wetlands. Lowe says these habitats directly support juvenile salmon and steelhead, waterfowl, wading birds and many other species. In addition, the wetlands also dampen flood and storm effects, trap sediment, sequester carbon and provide essential detritus and nutrients to the lower estuaries and ocean.

A landscape
The Ni-les'tun Tidal Marsh Restoration Project on the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Roy Lowe/ USFWS

“In Oregon, the estuarine impacts of sea-level rise are going to be serious because they are additive to all of the degradation that has occurred over the past century,” Lowe says. “If we are going to mitigate these future impacts we need to develop a plan now and begin instituting it.”

In response to this critical need for science and information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has commissioned the National Wildlife Federation to prepare a report that provides a comprehensive look at climate change impacts in marine and coastal environments in the North Pacific region (Oregon, California, Washington, southeast Alaska, and British Columbia) including implications for biological communities, habitats, and ecosystems, within this geographic area. The report also will include critical information for managers on how to use this information to draft climate change adaptation strategies, give examples of how this is being done in other areas, and present conservation strategies that will help managers integrate climate change science with their on-the-ground actions.

In addition, the Service worked with state and federal partners to organize and co-sponsor a February 2011 workshop in Newport, Oregon on sea-level rise and its effects on Pacific Coast estuaries. Like the National Wildlife Federation report, the workshop was intended to help provide the tools and strategies managers need to plan conservation actions. 

“The report and workshop results will help us move towards taking action,” Lowe said. “We need to redouble our efforts – working with partners – to provide new financial incentives and other landowner programs that restore tidal marsh habitats and that allow room for these habitats to ‘migrate’ upslope over time,” Lowe said, adding that many marshes are currently pinned in by dikes. 

Using this preliminary information as part of a scientific foundation to guide conservation planning and design, the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative will play a leading role in facilitating climate change adaptation in Oregon and the rest of the region. The North Pacific LCC is part of a national and international network of LCCs that is bringing together state and federal agencies, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, universities, existing partnership efforts, and other conservation entities to generate applied science to guide climate change adaptation and to provide a forum for exchange and discussion.

Aldo Leopold wrote that the key to intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces. This time-honored axiom applies to the science employed to manage and protect our environment as much as Leopold intended it to apply to components of ecosystems. Ensuring that the science is complete and that it takes into account the full range of analyses, predictions and possible prescriptions is a principle that properly serves the public interest and honors the best advice Leopold could offer.

 

Climate Change Focus: Engagement

Authors: Mike Carrier and Chris Swenson, USFWS

Contacts: David Patte, USFWS 503-231-2264 david_patte@fws.gov

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Last updated: June 21, 2012