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A Talk on the Wild Side.

South Dakota: No Ducking Climate Change Impacts to Prairie Pothole Wetlands

A northern shovler takes flight off water

Northern shovelers take flight at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota.  Prairie Pothole wetlands are at risk from a number of factors. Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS.

Photo iconPhotos: South Dakota Photoset on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Embedded in story after "More"

The mallard feeding at the local park.  The flock of northern shovelers passing overhead.  The nesting pair of blue-winged teal.  All are common ducks and all depend on the rich habitat of North America’s wetlands – habitat that may be affected by climate change.

The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) - named for its many glacial depressions, commonly referred to as potholes - is seasonally home to many wetland bird species.  The region is often referred to as North America’s “duck factory” because the potholes support more than 50 percent of the continent’s breeding waterfowl. South Dakota contains a large portion of the remaining wetlands in the PPR, which contribute significantly to annual production of wetland birds, including migratory waterfowl.

As European settlers moved into the PPR, more than half of its potholes were lost. Subsequent generations drained potholes at a rapid rate to create fields fit for agriculture.  The once plentiful prairie wetlands declined in number.

The establishment of many national wildlife refuges since the 1930s, and waterfowl production areas (WPAs) since the 1960s, has helped to preserve habitat as many of the PPR’s wetlands were drained.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) works with partners like Ducks Unlimited to protect vital waterfowl habitat in the PPR by purchasing permanent easements from willing landowners protecting covered wetlands in perpetuity from draining, filling, or burning.

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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.

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Nebraska: Wetland Studies Provide Insight into Bird Habitat in a Changing Climate

Birds as far as the eye can see

Long-billed Dowitchers feeding. Joint venture scientists, the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative and state partners in Nebraska are working to develop science-based strategies that can help resource managers increase resilience of Rainwater Basin wetlands to climate change. Photo: Joel Jorgensen/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

During spring migration, as shorebirds, waterfowl and waterbirds make their way from wintering habitats to their northern breeding grounds, the broad Central flyway migratory corridors constrict in central Nebraska, funneling millions of birds through the state’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex. 

Rainwater Basin wetlands are shallow playa wetlands that fill each spring with snowmelt.  The flooded wetlands provide critical foraging habitat for millions of waterfowl and shorebirds annually.  While in the Rainwater Basin, birds acquire significant energy and nutrient reserves that they will need to continue migration and initiate nesting.   

In addition to providing critical resting habitat for birds, Rainwater Basin wetlands are the major source of groundwater recharge to the region’s aquifer – meaning they help replenish underground water, ensuring a sustainable supply for birds and humans.

During the past decade, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture has acquired geo-referenced aerial photographs and is analyzing them in a Geographical Information System to monitor and delineate available habitat and contemporary wetland function.  With funding provided by the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative, joint venture scientists and their colleagues with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit are analyzing these data in the context of climate change. 

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Montana: Helping Wildlife Make “Connections” on the Landscape

A grizzly bear turning its head
A project supported by the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative aims to identify landscape-scale movement opportunities for the grizzly bear and other wildlife species in Montana and Idaho, and adjacent cross-border areas of British Columbia and Alberta. Photo: Terry Tollefsbol/USFWS. Download.

Biologists in Montana and other Rocky Mountain states are looking for ways to identify and maintain connected areas that can help wildlife adjust to changes in climate.

As human influence on the natural landscape increases, climate change causes seasonal ranges and food sources for wildlife to shift, and habitats become more fragmented due to highways and development, scientists need better ways to secure opportunities for wildlife to move between large blocks of protected public land and increase the resiliency of these populations to climate change impacts. 

A project supported by the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) aims to identify landscape-scale movement opportunities for wildlife species in Montana and Idaho, and adjacent cross-border areas of British Columbia and Alberta. The project is one of the first approved for funding by the newly formed Great Northern LCC, one of 21 collaboratives nationwide that form a network of conservation partnerships working to ensure the sustainability of America’s land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. 

Biologists recognize that the changing climate and other environmental stressors may alter the distribution of foods and ranges within ecosystems -- resulting in significant changes in distribution of species on the landscape and making enabling wildlife to move freely and safely even more important.  This project will provide information biologists need to maintain connectivity between important habitats.

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Louisiana: Re-planting Forests, Reducing CO2 and Saving Wildlife

A red tractor in a field
Mitigation iconLocation: Lower Mississippi River and Red River Valleys, Louisiana  
Climate Change Impact: Mitigation, to reduce greenhouse gases through biological carbon sequestration (planting trees)
Acres reforested or restored on national wildlife refuges in Louisiana since 1998: Approximately 41,000

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Camera iconPhotos: Tree Planting at Grand Cote and Lake Ophelia

Video iconVideo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59cIzj7Zplc

Photo at left: A tractor plants trees at Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Stacy Shelton, USFWS.

Over the last century, the bayous, swamplands and forested wetlands of Louisiana were cleared, channeled and drastically altered to make room for farms and industry.  As development spread, the state’s wildlife – including ducks, songbirds and the Louisiana black bear -- have seen their habitats shrink apace. 

The toll is apparent even on national wildlife refuges, areas set aside by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically to protect and conserve wildlife.

“Every day, we hear about the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon or Indonesia,” says The Conservation Fund’s Louisiana state director Ray Herndon, “but it has happened in the Gulf Coast area, too. Migratory bird populations have lost more than 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest habitat over the last century along the Red River and lower Mississippi River valleys. Habitat destruction is more pronounced here than in any other area of the United States.”

Less than 5 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest remains.

Ducks flying over open land

Ducks and geese fly above wetlands at Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. The refuge is an important rest stop for migrating birds making their way from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico and back along the Mississippi Flyway. The Conservation Fund is helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restore the historic bottomland hardwood forests that feed and shelter shorebirds, blackbirds, warblers and other birds.  Credit: Stacy Shelton/USFWS.

The Fund and the Service, along with energy companies and other partners, are reversing that trend. The goal is to restore the landscape that was degraded by overuse, to benefit both people and wildlife.

More than half the 80,000 acres of reforested or restored land in the Southeast is on 12 national wildlife refuges in Louisiana. The Fund, Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy and other partners have also helped the Service add about 31,400 acres of mostly unproductive farmland to its refuges in Louisiana. The Red River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2000 in western Louisiana, was the first refuge created through carbon sequestration partnerships.

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