Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Minnesota: Warmer Temperatures Take a Toll on Minnesota Moose

A bull moose emerging from a freshwater bath
Video iconVideo: To determine how warming temperatures impact moose populations, scientists capture and study the animals, which can reach 7 feet and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Watch this video to see one of the ways this data is collected.

Minnesota’s iconic moose might be the seven-foot-tall, 1,000 pound version of the canary in the coal mine. The large antlered animal appears on the verge of being pushed out of its southernmost historic range by climate change and other stressors.

Biologists at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say rising temperatures are at least partly to blame for a sharp drop in moose numbers in northwest Minnesota since the early 1990s.  Warming appears to make moose more susceptible to deer-borne parasites and ticks, which often lead to malnutrition and death.

According to aerial winter surveys conducted by the state, northwestern Minnesota’s moose population has dropped from a high of about 4,000 in the early 1980s to fewer than 100 in 2007.  Agassiz Refuge used to boast more than 430 moose; now, it has fewer than 50. 

“For years, Agassiz Refuge was the place to go if you wanted to see moose year-round,” says Agassiz Refuge Manager Maggie Anderson. “Our entrance signs and all of our brochures featured the moose as the emblem of the refuge.” Then, she laments, “in 1995, that all started to change.” These days, moose are rarely seen.

[More]

Maine: Rising Temperatures and Declining Snowfall Spell Trouble for Canada Lynx

A Canada lynx prowling in snow

If snow cover decreases in Maine, the lynx may lose its competitive advantage over other predators. Photo: USFWS.

Photo iconPhotos: See photos from the Canada lynx den study

Video iconVideo: Biologists studying lynx dens in Maine

Canada lynx are uniquely suited for the rigors of life in snowy northern Maine. The furry feline’s thick coat, long, lean legs and massive paws allow it to hunt atop snowpack like a cat on snowshoes. But with temperatures predicted to rise in the coming years, the deep snow cover that the lynx depends on may be significantly reduced, eliminating its competitive advantage over other predators.

While the historic range of Canada lynx used to extend throughout much of the northern United States and the Rockies, today the cat is confined to handful of northern states. Northern Maine currently supports the only viable lynx population in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed Canada lynx as a threatened species in 13 states in 2000. As a federally threatened species whose range has already been greatly diminished, this rare wildcat faces a grave threat in climate change.

“It is hypothesized that as the climate warms, the lynx range will recede and move north,” said John Organ, chief of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration for the Service in the Northeast Region. “Without significant snow cover, Maine’s lynx population could be in jeopardy.”

[More]

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. 

[More]

Wisconsin: Forward Thinking to Restore Native Prairie

A pheasant
Ring-necked pheasant. Photo: Dave Menke.

An innovative program to restore native prairie and slow the spread of non-native plant species that may thrive in Wisconsin’s warming climate is living up to the state’s motto “Forward” – taking bold steps to sustain natural resources into the future.

According to a comprehensive state report, Wisconsin's Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation, climate change models predict a shift to increased moisture and temperature in the decades ahead. By the middle of the century, statewide annual average temperatures are likely to warm by 6-7 degrees Fahrenheit. These changing conditions favor invasive plant and tree species over native prairie.

Tom Kerr, Manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s St. Croix Wetland Management District (District), says many invasive plants have already established themselves, mainly trees that outcompete native grasses. The District manages 7,800 acres in eight counties, providing habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds, threatened and endangered native species and resident wildlife.

Removing the scattered non-native trees – mostly non-native and invasive Russian olive, Siberian elm and buckthorn, as well as trees native to North America like green ash, box elder, pine and cottonwood – also benefits wildlife habitat for grassland species. The non-native trees combine with other trees to provide cover for predators such as skunks, raccoons and fox that threaten nesting waterfowl, pheasants and numerous non-game bird species that depend on large, open grasslands to thrive. 

[More]

North Carolina: Working with Nature to Prepare for the Change

Oyster reefs along the coastline

Artificial oyster reefs parallel to the shoreline is a natural way to slow the rate of erosion by catching wave energy. Photo: USFWS.

Camera iconMore photos: Working with Nature to Prepare for the Change on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Working with Nature to Prepare for the Change on YouTube

What can we do about climate change?

One thing we can do is prepare for it, by working with Mother Nature. At the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, where rising seas are eroding the shoreline, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy are giving the Albemarle Peninsula a fighting chance.

Starting with a $1 million grant from Duke Energy, the partners have constructed artificial oyster reefs along the shoreline, planted salt- and flood-tolerant trees and vegetation, and restored freshwater wetlands. The goal is to give the land and its species, such as forest-dependent birds and black bears, time to adapt to sea level rise, increased salinity and other climate change impacts.

“We want to slow the rate of erosion; we’re not going to stop it,” said Mike Bryant, Project Leader for six national wildlife refuges on coastal North Carolina, including Alligator River. “If we did nothing, we think we’d see large-scale change in habitats from forest to marsh, and that means the wildlife dependent on these forest communities would have to find some other place. We’ll have larger expanses of marsh and then that marsh will succumb -- along with the soil that it’s standing on -- to the sea level rise and we’ll see continued, accelerated rates of erosion.”

[More]

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.

[More]

Delaware: Betting on Survival in Delaware Bay

A close-up of a red knot

A red knot tagged for research rests and refuels in Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Climate changes such as sea-level rise and increasing storm intensity are adding challenges to red knot survival. Photo: Gregory Breese/USFWS.

Camera iconMore photos: Delaware Bay Estuary Project photoset on Flickr

Video iconRelated video: Crash: A Tale of Two Species on PBS.org

Not far from the casinos of Atlantic City, a different kind of wager takes place each May along the shores of Delaware Bay. 

That’s when red knots, birds the size of a coffee mug, stake their future on the eggs laid by tens of thousands of horseshoe crabs. Without enough crab eggs to fuel them, the long-distance fliers may not survive their 10,000-mile spring trek from the southern tip of South America to their Arctic breeding grounds.

In recent years, the red knots’ bet on the crab eggs has been more of a crapshoot. First, the over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait caused an egg shortage. Now, scientists also point to a wild card.

“The peak of horseshoe crabs spawning in Delaware Bay has not always been aligned with the migration of the red knots,” said Gregory Breese, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s project leader for the Delaware Bay Estuary Project. “That could be related to climate change.”

Changing water temperatures in Delaware Bay and more frequent and intense storms appear to be disrupting the synchronization between the spawning of the crabs and the arrival of the red knots. When waters warm, the crabs lay their eggs earlier, and other creatures may beat red knots to the feast.

[More]

Arizona: As Vegetation Moves to Higher Elevations, What Happens to the Pollinators?

Bee on a yellow flower
Bee on flower. Credit: USFWS.

Bees do it.  Flies do it.  Pollinate, that is. 

But what happens when the piñon and Ponderosa pines and aspens of northern Arizona -- vegetation pollinators call home -- move up the mountain as precipitation patterns change due to climate change? 

Some pollinators rely on specific plants.  But can they use a broader spectrum of plants?  Can they live at higher elevations to get to the plants they need? And what if they can’t?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arizona Ecological Services Field Office is addressing those research questions as it works at five sites with the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research Center at Northern Arizona University to compile the first-ever baseline about the diversity and behavior of pollinating insects at varied elevations in northern Arizona. 

Pine trees and mountains

Changes in the precipitation patterns in northern Arizona are affecting Ponderosa pine in the highest elevations of the San Francisco Peaks. Photo by Ron Hemberger/USFWS

Pollinators are critical to maintaining diverse, healthy ecosystems. The Service is entrusted to protect at-risk pollinators, such as hummingbirds and pollinators on national wildlife refuges – and threatened or endangered species that rely on animal pollination.  More than 75 percent of flowering plants, which provide fruits, seeds nuts, and nectar for wildlife, depend on pollinators.  Recent studies indicate some pollinators are already being impacted by climate change.

[More]

California: Incorporating Climate Change into Planning California’s Bay-Delta Future

A duck cleaning its feathers on water

A Northern Pintail. This dabbling duck can be found in much of the Northern Hemisphere, including the San Joaquin Bay-Delta, although in considerably lower numbers than in the past. Credit: Dan Cox, USFWS. Download.

Camera iconMore Photos: San Francisco Bay-Delta on Flickr

As federal, state and local experts continue to examine the factors contributing to the recent decline of California’s Bay-Delta ecosystem, the effects of climate change have surged to the forefront of study.

The Bay-Delta (Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta-San Francisco Bay Estuary) is considered one of the most vital estuary ecosystems in the U.S. The Delta is at the crossroads of federal and state operated delivery systems that transport water from Northern California to agricultural and urban water users to the south.  It’s a source of drinking water for approximately 22 million people while supporting an approximate $30 billion agricultural industry. The Delta and its watersheds also support several threatened and endangered species, and a popular recreational and commercial fishing industry.

But the Bay-Delta is in the throes of a well-chronicled crisis. Four recent years of below average precipitation have hammered this fragile ecosystem, contributing to the puzzling decline of the Delta fishery and the collapse of California's salmon fishing industry. The combination of decreased water supplies (from the drought), and seasonal water restrictions to protect the threatened delta smelt, endangered Chinook salmon and other species, has created a volatile political situation.

A scenic view of trees and water
Credit: Steve Culberson, USFWS.

Climate change, barely mentioned a decade ago, is now considered a major factor in the Delta planning picture. The rise in sea level, temperature, and changes in the timing of rainfall and snowmelt– all considered effects of climate change – are altering the landscape.

[More]

Idaho: Streamflow Responses to Climate Change - Why Elevation and Geology Matter

A gorgeous view of a flowing, rocky creek surrounded by tall evergreens
Adaptation iconLocation: Pacific Northwest  
Climate Change Impact: Streamflow response changes 

 

Engagement icon

The Opal Creek Valley, in the Willamette National Forest, contains 50 waterfalls, five lakes, and 36 miles of hiking trails. It forms the largest intact stand of Old growth forest in the western Cascades and 500-1000 year old trees are common. The most abundant trees are Douglas-fir, Western Redcedar, and Western Hemlock. Credit: David Patte/USFWS.

The waterways of the Pacific Northwest run deep. They unify the region that includes Idaho, Oregon and Washington by connecting the glaciers of its high volcanoes to its fertile valleys to the Pacific Ocean. Water coursing through streams and rivers is the lifeblood critical to urban and agricultural uses and to the vitality of aquatic ecosystems. Many iconic fish species in Idaho and the region such as salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, bull trout and other native trout species, depend upon cool and plentiful stream flows to survive. But climate change is causing many stream flows to respond differently than they have in the past.

A changing climate is already bringing warmer air temperatures, an increasing proportion of winter precipitation falling as rain, earlier snowmelt and reduced spring snow pack. These changes all manifest in stream flow responses with decreased base flows, rising summer water temperatures, and more frequent winter flooding from rain-on-snow events.

Several bull trout up close underwater
Bull trout were listed as threatened in June 1998. Critical habitat was designated in 2005. A recovery plan was drafted in 2005 and has not been finalized. In January 2010, the USFWS proposed a revision of critical habitat. Credit: USFWS.

“The complex work of conserving and recovering fish populations in the Pacific Northwest has grown substantially more challenging in light of our changing climate – this has become increasingly clear in the last several years with recent scientific assessments and projections,” said Dan Shively, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regional Fish Passage and Habitat Partnerships Coordinator.  “Robust and diverse fish communities require healthy watersheds and habitat; or more simply put, an abundance of cool, clean water.”

[More]

More Entries