Open Spaces : coastal

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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North Dakota: Climate and Disease Take Toll on American White Pelicans

A baby white pelican with a leg band
A banded white pelican chick at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge faces many threats — including storms, disease and predators — before it is mature enough to fledge. Pelicans’ earlier initiation of nesting is putting the chicks at greater risk. Photo: USFWS. Download.

Each April and May, in a rite of spring, American white pelicans begin arriving in their Northern Plains breeding grounds from the Gulf of Mexico.  But for the last several decades, something has put the large birds ahead of schedule.  That something, researchers believe, is warming tied to climate change — the same change that’s recently brought egrets, ibis and herons to nest on the refuge, well north of their long-time nesting areas.

The early birds are paying for their two-week head start with more chick deaths from severe spring storms.  For the pelicans, this setback comes on top of other major stressors, most notably West Nile Virus. If — and how — the pelicans will adapt is unclear.

One place scientists and wildlife managers are monitoring is Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in central North Dakota. The Chase Lake colony is one of the world’s four largest colonies of American white pelicans. 

As many as 35,000 white pelicans nest on Chase Lake’s remote wilderness islands. That’s up from 50 in 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt established the refuge to protect the species from being hunted to extinction. Despite the colony’s rebound, the great-winged birds are still considered vulnerable because they have so few breeding areas.

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New Jersey: Biologists Utilizing New Tools to Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change

Biologists standing on grass with a cityscape behind them

Refuge biologists head to the field at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to study ways to manage marsh habitats in the face of climate change. The refuge hosted a workshop in 2010 so biologists from Northeastern national wildlife refuges could learn how to manage salt marshes to adapt to climate change. Photo: Bill Butcher, USFWS. 

Photo iconPhotos: View photos of E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Watch a video about the climate change assessment tool

Edwin. B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey, is among the first wildlife refuges in the country to complete the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Shorebird Habitat, which not only measures how vulnerable a habitat is to the effects of climate change, but also enables managers to consider how to sustain such habitats.  The assessment looks at a range of stressors, including sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of storms, and changes in precipitation and temperature.  

The assessment shows that climate change threats at Forsythe Refuge will be magnified over time, with much higher risk in 2100 as compared to 2025.  Potential risks include sea level rise inundating habitats, storms destroying beaches and dunes, erosion of tidal creek banks, ocean acidification affecting invertebrates that birds feed on, and heavy rainfall causing greater runoff of pollutants into tidal flats.

Refuge staff is using the assessment results to develop a habitat management plan.

Forsythe Refuge mainly consists of tidal salt meadow and marsh. Tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds, wading birds, ducks and geese use the refuge in the spring and fall to rest and eat the rich food resources. Other birds remain through the summer to nest and raise their young. 

Nesting habitats for American oystercatcher and piping plover, as well as stopover habitat for red knot during its lengthy fall migration are particularly vulnerable. 

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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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Last updated: June 21, 2012