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A Talk on the Wild Side.

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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Florida: Climate Change and the People Factor

A deer reaches upwards to eat fruit

Florida is a unique ecosystem where subtropical wildlife and habitats mix with their cooler-counterparts. Where else could one find an endangered Key deer eating a red mangrove? Accelerating climate change is expected to throw off the delicate balance. Photo: USFWS

Video iconVideo: Scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discuss the effects climate change will have on the state of Florida, stressing the need to develop our science and methods of addressing this massive change.

Nowhere else, with the possible exception of Alaska, is climate change expected to be as dramatic as in Florida. The signs are already here. 

  • In the Florida Keys, just a half-foot rise in sea level over the last 100 years reduced the pine rockland forest on one island by two-thirds. The globally imperiled habitat is home to many plants and animals that exist nowhere else, including the endangered Key deer, a smaller cousin of the white-tailed deer.
  • Along the coasts, beaches are eroding from a combination of sea-level rise and storms, reducing the sea turtles’ nesting habitat.
  • Fifty years ago, sooty terns would arrive in April on Bush Key in the Dry Tortugas National Park, the largest U.S. nesting colony for the seabird. Now they arrive starting in late January.

Florida’s low elevation makes it especially susceptible to sea-level rise, and its fragile ecosystems are sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation. Climate change is also expected to compound multiple threats already facing south Florida’s wildlife and habitat: habitat loss, droughts and competition with exotic species.

For the human population, sea-level rise could drastically affect drinking water supplies and flood protection. Sea water is already creeping into groundwater sources, and flooding is a regular occurrence in some coastal areas.

But as biologists and conservationists begin to grapple with how to safeguard wildlife as climate change accelerates, they need new tools. Most computer models and forecasts won’t do the job. That’s because people play a deciding role, altering ecosystems with new roads, buildings and other infrastructure.

People have to be factored in to future climate scenarios.

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Nevada: Climate Change May Impact Existing Refuge Water Concerns

A greenish blue lagoon surrounded by dry shrubbery

Kings Pool at Ash Meadow National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada is a source of precious water in the desert. Photo: Cyndi Souza, USFWS.

Multimedia iconPodcast: Devils Hole pupfish. This iridescent blue inch-long fish makes its home in the 93 degree waters of Devils Hole, which is located within Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge near the California/Nevada border. The Devils Hole pupfish is found nowhere else in the world.

In southwestern Nevada, the nation’s need for renewable energy and a national wildlife refuge’s need to fulfill its mission is converging with climate change.

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is an anomaly: an oasis of spring-fed wetlands in the Mojave Desert. Even more unusual are the plants and animals that have evolved there. Scientists have found 26 species that they believe exist only on or near the refuge.

When the Bureau of Land Management notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in early 2009 about a right-of-way application to install a solar array on BLM land 10 miles from the refuge, FWS and National Park Service staff considered how the project might affect the refuge and its resources. Most concerning was a proposed wet cooling system that would consume 4,500 acre-feet of water per year – water to be obtained via pumping from a deep-water wells. (An acre-foot is the amount of water required to fill a one-acre area to the depth of one foot.)

Concerns about climate change effects on regional water supplies added to the Service’s sense of urgency.

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505050 Week in Review (Week of May 16th)

If you missed a story in our climate change series this week, don't worry!  We've got the rundown of last week's stories right here. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. As always, we love to hear what you think. 

Maine : Rising Temperatures and Declining Snowfall Spell Trouble for Canada Lynx 
With temperatures predicted to rise in the coming years, the deep snow cover that the Canada lynx depends on may be significantly reduced, eliminating its competitive advantage over other predators. 

Lynx kitten with ear tag for future identification.
Minnesota : Warmer Temperatures Take a Toll on Minnesota Moose 
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. 

Minnesota Moose
Wyoming : Warmer Winter Temperatures Fuel Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation 
Driven by climate changes, Lodgepole pine forests of the Intermountain west are undergoing an unprecedented epidemic of the native mountain pine beetle. 

Three Toed Woodpecker

Mississippi : A Terrapin’s View of Climate Change 

The 10,216-acre Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge is under threat from the very thing that gives it life – the Gulf of Mexico and its changing sea levels. 

Diamondback Terrapin
Texas : In Face of Climate Change, Coast Is Not Clear for Whooping Cranes 
Even though a record-breaking 281 whooping cranes wintered this past season at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas, climate change is a major concern for the charismatic endangered species. 

Whooping Cranes

Texas: In Face of Climate Change, Coast Is Not Clear for Whooping Cranes

Two whooping cranes seem to be dancing across water as they take flight

A pair of whooping cranes skim over tidal marsh habitat at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo is for USFWS use only.

Video iconMultimedia: Video on YouTube; Podcast

Even though a record-breaking 281 whooping cranes wintered this past season at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas, climate change is a major concern for the charismatic endangered species.

The primary threat to the cranes’ survival, according to Aransas Refuge manager Dan Alonso, is rapidly disappearing coastal habitat. Most of the habitat is being devoured by burgeoning real estate development along the Gulf of Mexico, but climate change is exacerbating the problem. A secondary concern related to climate change is the prospect of prolonged drought, which would reduce the flow of freshwater and leave marsh habitat unacceptably saline for cranes.

The Aransas Refuge population – the only natural flock of whooping cranes in North America – nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada in spring and summer. From early fall to December, the cranes migrate in small groups to the Texas refuge. In early spring, they rush 2,500 miles back up to Canada in 15-16 days.

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Missouri: Climate Concerns Add to Challenges Facing Sturgeon Recovery Efforts

A man in USFWS gear holds a pallid sturgeon

Adaptation iconLocation: Lower Missouri River 
Species of Concern: Pallid sturgeon
Engagement iconClimate Change Threat: Changes in water levels and temperature

Camera iconPhotos and Video: Pallid Sturgeon Recovery Photoset with video clips on Flickr

Video iconAudio: Researchers Develop Models to Predict Pallid Sturgeon's Response to Climate Change (on KBIA.org)

Photo at left: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological science technician Brett Witte shows the distinctive coloring, body shape and long, flat snout of an endangered pallid sturgeon. Credit: USFWS.

Above-average fluctuations in rainfall, snowmelt and runoff in the lower Missouri River are complicating U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service efforts to recover endangered pallid sturgeon, one of the continent’s largest freshwater fish.  Unusually low water levels in 2004 and 2006 have been followed by record high levels since 2007, say scientists.  The Service is working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) through the National Climate Change Wildlife Science Center and Science Support Partnership Program to anticipate how a range of such changes may impact pallid sturgeon recovery efforts throughout the region, encompassing Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota.

“Essentially we are trying to build a more comprehensive picture of how the fish may react [to changes in water level and temperature that might be associated with a changing climate],” said Mark Wildhaber, USGS research ecologist.

For centuries, rivers in the West and Midwest teemed with these great fish, which can weigh as much as 60 pounds, and have distinctive long, flat snouts. Then engineers dammed and straightened the Missouri, eliminating tree snags where sturgeon would feed, hide and spawn. Overharvesting by commercial roe fishermen further stressed the species, listed as endangered in 1990. Scientists have only recently begun to factor climate change into the recovery equation.

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