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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Washington: Tide Returns to Nisqually Estuary

Many bird species resting at a wetland

This project is a model of how estuary restoration can happen while providing a mosaic of diverse habitats for fish and migratory birds, quality public access, and education. Photo: Jesse Barham, USFWS. Download.

Photo iconPhotos: Nisqually Restoration and Boardwalk Projects on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Rivers and Tides: Restoring the Nisqually Estuary

River delta restoration projects are considered crucial to provide increased resiliency to large estuary systems – a key tool for adaptation in the face of climate change and related impacts of sea level rise. The Nisqually estuary in Washington State is a shining example.

After a century of diking off tidal flow, the Brown Farm Dike was removed in October 2009, allowing tidal waters to once again inundate 762 acres of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, Washington. Along with 140 acres of tidal wetlands restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, the Nisqually Delta represents the largest tidal marsh restoration project in the Pacific Northwest to assist in recovery of Puget Sound salmon and wildlife populations.

During the past decade, the refuge and close partners, including the Tribe and Ducks Unlimited, have restored more than 22 miles of the historic tidal slough systems and re-connected historic floodplains to the Puget Sound in Washington State, providing the potential to increase salt marsh habitat in the southern reach of Puget Sound by more than 50 percent. The projects have also initiated the restoration of more than 70 acres of riparian surge plain forest, an extremely depleted type of tidal forest important for juvenile salmon and songbirds.

“The project is an important step in the recovery of Puget Sound,” says Refuge Manager Jean Takekawa. “Combined with the 140 acres previously restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, more than 900 acres of the Nisqually estuary have been restored.”

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Michigan: Nesting Behavior May Provide Clues to Climate Change Effects in Bald Eagles

A bald eagle sits in a tree high in the sky

Bald eagles have overcome many challenges to their sustainability as a population. Service biologists are studying climate change effects on Michigan’s eagles.  Photo: Tim Kaufman.

Photo iconPhotos: Bald Eagle Banding in Michigan on Flickr

More than a half century of research has shown that bald eagles along Michigan’s shorelines and rivers are gradually beginning to nest earlier each season -- a potential indication of this iconic species’ response to changes in climate in the upper Midwest.

Bald eagles have overcome many challenges to the sustainability of their populations -- from loss of habitat to contamination of their food sources by pesticides and environmental contaminants.

National legislation banning the use of contaminants such as DDT and PCBs, coupled with habitat restoration in key portions of the eagle’s range, has resulted in a comeback for this beautiful raptor. More than 750 bald eagle pairs today fly the skies of Michigan, up from only 50 to 60 breeding pairs just half a century ago.

In 1961, University of Michigan graduate student Sergej Postupalsky began documenting bald historic and current eagle nesting sites and collecting banding data for the existing population in Michigan. Today, eagle research in Michigan spans state and federal agencies and academic institutions.

The result is more than 40 years of data on nesting, behavior, productivity, survival and overall population dynamics for bald eagles.  It is safe to say the bald eagles of Michigan are among the most documented and well-monitored birds in North America.

More recently, Dave Best, fish and wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) East Lansing Ecological Services Field Office, and Bill Bowerman, from the University of Maryland, have been studying bald eagles as indicators of water quality in the Great Lakes watershed of Michigan.  The two have seen a trend in coastal bald eagle nesting patterns that may point to the effects of the changing climate. 

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Virginia: Researchers use high-tech tools to predict and plan for sea level rise at Chincoteague

Beach and a fence

The Service is using sophisticated technology and models to make sea-level rise predictions at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The information can help managers understand potential changes to salt marshes and other key habitat. Photo: Greg Knadle/USFWS.

The 14,000 acres of pristine beaches, dunes, maritime forest and salt and freshwater marshes that comprise Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of Assateague Island in Virginia are a haven for wildlife, plants and people, who come to fish, crab and watch spectacular wildlife. But like most coastal areas, rising sea level due to a changing climate poses a major threat.

“Comparing older maps of the refuge and the town of Chincoteague with newer maps tells a distinct story,” said Lou Hinds, Chincoteague refuge manager. “The land mass is shrinking and sea level rise is the main culprit.”  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several partners took to the skies to get a more precise understanding of the topography of the refuge’s salt marshes to help predict the impact of salt water intrusion on plants and animals and how the landscape will evolve over time.

In partnership with NASA, the Service used LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipped aircraft to map some of the most environmentally sensitive areas on and surrounding the refuge. The Nature Conservancy conducted its own independent LIDAR flights over the area as well. LIDAR uses pulses of light to map at high resolution the physical features of a landscape.  

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Hawaii: Developing Options for Coral Reef Management in a Changing Climate

A very colorful photo of coral reef and fish

A tropical Pacific coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific abounds with fish. Ocean warming and acidification, tied to climate change, are taking a toll on coral reefs. Photo: Jim Maragos, USFWS. Download.

Photo iconPhotos: Coral reef photos by USFWS on Flickr

Tropical coral reefs are among the world’s most diverse ecosystems, harboring thousands of species in a complex community built by living corals. But in the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, as elsewhere, these ecosystems are declining because of human impacts, including climate change.

“Coral reefs are on the front line of climate change,” explains Jeff Burgett, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and science manager for the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative (PICCC), a conservation research coalition based in Honolulu and part of a national network of 21 such cooperatives. “Scientists around the world are documenting severe impacts to reefs from warming seas, and the lowering pH of the oceans will hurt their ability to recover.”   

In the Pacific, where the Service manages more than one million acres of coral reef habitat in 11 refuges, including the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Service scientists are seeking ways to reduce coral vulnerability. 

High water temperatures stress corals, causing them to expel the algae they normally shelter and nourish. These algae do more than give coral their vivid colors; they also release glucose needed for healthy coral function. Without the symbiotic algae, the white skeleton of the translucent coral animal is exposed. Intense coral bleaching often leads to coral death, as the coral starves without the algae; even corals that regain their algae are weakened, and often succumb to opportunistic diseases. 

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Georgia: Restoring a ‘Wonder Tree’ in a Changing Climate

Longleaf pine on fire

Longleaf pine forests need fire. Fires remove competing woody vegetation and release nutrients, allowing the rich diversity of plant and animal species found in longleaf ecosystems to thrive.  As temperatures rise in a changing climate, wildfires are expected to increase, making the longleaf pine a good bet for the future. Photo: John Maxwell for USFWS. Download.

Photo iconPhotos: Accompanying photoset on Flickr

Mutlimedia iconPodcast: Accompanying podcast on our Endangered Species site

Federal biologist Laurie Fenwood has a special name for her favorite tree, the longleaf pine. She calls it the wonder tree.

“Because it’s good for everything,” said Fenwood, who is leading America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Whatever the question, in the Southeast the answer is longleaf pine.”

Which southern pine tree species is most resistant to beetle infestation? Longleaf.

Which southern pine thrives during wet or dry periods? Longleaf.

Withstands hurricane-force winds? Tolerates fire? Is best for wildlife? Longleaf, longleaf and longleaf.

All of which has led Fenwood and others to a final question and answer: Which southern pine is likely the best suited to a changing climate? Longleaf, of course.

Before the European migration to North America, the longleaf pine forest stretched across more than 90 million acres from southern Virginia to Florida, and as far west as Texas. The tree dominated more than half of Georgia, filling the coastal plain from what is now Fort Benning in West Georgia to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in the southeast part of the state.

Longleaf reigned because it can grow in a broad range of habitats, from dry mountain slopes to sandy, swampy soils. It evolved with the southern pine beetle and frequent fire. Its large taproot provides a firm anchor, helping the tree withstand strong winds. In many aspects, longleaf wins over loblolly and slash pines, although many tree farmers prefer those yellow pines for their faster early growth and easier regeneration.

Today only pockets of the vast longleaf pine forest are left, totaling less than 4 percent of its historic range due to land clearing for development and agriculture, fire suppression, and the conversion of tree farms to short-rotation pines.

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Utah: Managing Water Resources for Fish, Wildlife and People

A man holding a big fish

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Bobby Duran holds the fourth largest endangered Colorado pikeminnow captured in the San Juan River since 1991. In the face of a warming climate and persistent drought, partners are working to recover endangered fish like the Colorado pikeminnow while effectively managing water for human uses in Utah and other Upper Colorado River basin states. Photo: Upper Colorado and San Juan Recovery Programs. Download.

Play iconPodcast: Accompanying podcast from our Endangered Species Program

In the face of a warming climate and persistent drought, people and wildlife along the Colorado River and its tributaries in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming are benefiting from cooperative efforts to recover four species of endangered fishes while effectively managing water for human uses and hydroelectric power generation.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, established in 1988, covers the Colorado River above Glen Canyon dam in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program was established in 1992 to recover the fish in the San Juan River in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.  The partners are state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as environmental groups, water users and power customers, and in the San Juan River, American Indian Tribes. 

These partnerships are recovering endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts. The Upper Colorado Program is also working to recover humpback chub and bonytail.

When the endangered fish recovery programs were established, says Upper Colorado Program Assistant Director Angela Kantola, chronic drought conditions in the west raised concerns that altered river flows might result in completely dry river sections in some years.

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Tennessee: Joint Venture Strives to Determine the Effects of Climate Change on Brook Trout

An adult trout lying on a rock
Adult Brook Trout. These fish, known for their distinct coloring, face fragmented populations, habitat loss, invasive species, degraded streams, longer droughts, more intense wet periods, and temperature changes. Photo: USFWS. Download.

In his book, Shin Deep, Chris Hunt writes about why many fly fishermen pursue brook trout.  

“Its deep colors seem to provide a beacon of light in the near darkness of the evening, almost like a neon beer sign in a dank, dark, but wonderfully familiar tavern.” 

“You can’t help but stare at it.”

This hypnotic appeal draws fly fishermen like Robert Ramsay to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to chase brook trout holed up in cold mountain streams, like the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River that runs along the park’s Chimney Tops trail. “It’s like going back in time when you chase these brook trout in remote, higher elevation streams,” says Ramsay, who works for the Georgia Conservancy and has fly-fished on four continents. “I have a hard time thinking about the Smoky Mountains without brook trout in their streams.

Preventing this scenario is precisely why a growing number of partners are collaborating through the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture to determine how accelerating climate change and other challenges will impact Southern Appalachian brook trout populations in Tennessee and other states, and what biologists can do to protect the iconic fish.

In collaboration with many conservation organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed and released an ambitious strategy for responding to accelerating climate change and addressing its impact on critters like brook trout. The Service and joint venture are working on a climate change monitoring program, targeting 400 sites aimed at taking a closer look at how air and water temperatures impact brook trout.

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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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Indiana: Climate Change Raises Stakes in Efforts to Conserve Endangered Indiana Bat

Two bats being held side-by-side
At right, the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), a close cousin of the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) at left, faces multiple threats from disease, habitat loss and, now, climate change. Photo: Adam Mann, Environmental Solutions and Innovations

Midwest bat populations already faced serious threats, such as the loss of habitat to development, when they were struck four years ago by a deadly disease known as white-nose syndrome. The disease is still killing bats, the endangered Indiana bat among them. How climate change will affect the situation is unclear. But just as in the case of Kentucky bats — described in a story May 11 — scientists fear climate change could add to stressors on the imperiled species. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its Indiana Bat Recovery Plan, first drafted in 1983, to acknowledge that concern.

“We know that temperature is very important to survival of our insectivorous bats that hibernate in caves, including Indiana bats,” says Lori Pruitt, lead Service biologist for the species. “During winter, only a small proportion of caves provide the right conditions for hibernating Indiana bats because these bats have very specific temperature requirements during hibernation. Surface temperature is directly related to cave temperature, so climate change will inevitably affect the suitability of hibernacula.”

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Wyoming: ‘Perfect Storm’ Fuels Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic

An extreme closeup of a mountain pine beetle
Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. Photo: USDA Forest Service. Download.

Lodgepole pine forests in parts of Wyoming and other areas of the Intermountain West are being infested by the native mountain pine beetle – a voracious bug smaller than your little fingernail that is thriving in a warming climate.

Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

The mountain pine beetle is a true predator on many western pine trees because to successfully reproduce, the beetles must kill host trees. They typically kill trees already weakened by disease or old age, but even a healthy tree’s defensive mechanisms can be exhausted when beetle numbers are at epidemic levels. The beetle attacks pines in late summer, dispersing a chemical signal that attracts other beetles to mass-attack the tree. When the beetles bore through the bark of the tree, they introduce blue-stain fungus, which can work quickly to kill the tree. Trees stressed by drought and old-age are unable to produce sufficient defenses to fend off beetle attacks. The beetles form tunnels and lay eggs underneath the bark, which hatch into larvae. The larvae spend the winter underneath the bark and emerge as adults in the summer, beginning the cycle again.

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