Open Spaces : engagement

Kansas: Climate-Savvy Restoration Project Makes Wildlife Feel At Home

An open grove with blue sky and very green grass
Go Zero groves, like this one on Marais Des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas, trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They will also help control flooding and enhance water quality along the Marais des Cygnes River. Photo: Jane LeMunyon Photography.

In the state popularized by “The Wizard of Oz,” conservation partners aren’t just dreaming about a better world over the rainbow. They’re joining forces to fight climate change and provide a home for wildlife – now and into the future.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Conservation Fund (TCF) have teamed up to restore 775 acres of native forestland along the Marais des Cygnes River located on the border of Kansas and Missouri.  

The effort is part of The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program, which helps address climate change by providing ways for individuals, organizations, and even entire communities to reduce their carbon footprint, and then offset emissions by planting trees.

Tim Menard, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who splits his time between Kansas’ Flint Hills and Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuges, says the trees not only will trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they will also help control flooding and enhance water quality along the Marais des Cygnes River.

It’s also a win for wildlife.

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Illinois: A Blueprint for Change Unites Conservation Partners

Deer in wooded forest

Winter at Waterfall Glen the Forest Preserve in Lemont, IL. A 2008 assessment of climate change released by Chicago Wilderness indicates that across the upper Midwest, average annual temperatures have risen; ice and snow are melting earlier in spring and arriving later in fall. Photo: Michael Kappel.

Multimedia iconPodcast:  Chicago Wilderness Executive Council Chair Laurel Ross and Executive Director Melinda Pruett-Jones

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Multimedia iconPodcast: Nancy Williamson, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Steven Byers, Illinois Natures Preserve Commission. 

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Rising annual temperatures.  Earlier springs.  Later falls.  Warmer winters.  More frequent heavy rains.  These are some of the ways climate change is expected to affect Illinois and the Midwest. 

But a blueprint for managing change is emerging from the wilderness. 

Chicago Wilderness is a multi-state alliance of more than 250 conservation organizations from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan working together to restore local nature and improve quality of life by protecting the region’s lands and waters – now and into the future.   

“Like conserving biodiversity, addressing climate change is a complex endeavor that requires a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach, says Kristopher Lah with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chicago Field Office, a Chicago Wilderness partner. “Having a 250-member coalition to work with provides the conservation community with the tools and resources to act effectively and efficiently to the compounding threat of climate change.”

A 2008 assessment of climate change and biodiversity released by Chicago Wilderness indicates that across the upper Midwest, average annual temperatures have risen; ice and snow are melting earlier in spring and arriving later in fall; there are fewer cold snaps; heavy rains are occurring twice as frequently as they did a century ago; and there are warmer winters and a longer growing season. 

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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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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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West Virginia: Reforestation Helps the Cerulean Warbler, Reduces CO2

A blue warbler

Cerulean warblers spend their lives in the treetops of the Appalachian Mountains and South America. Deforestation threatens their existence, and is a factor in climate change. Photo: Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Video iconVideo: Clip of a cerulean warbler feeding her young

The forests of West Virginia are home to the breeding grounds for the cerulean warbler, a bright blue songbird famous for its distinctive call.

Unfortunately for the cerulean warbler, those same West Virginia forests are also home to coal mining operations, including mountaintop mining. That’s the practice of cutting down forests, then removing the ridge-tops to access underlying supplies of coal. The practice removes the ridge-tops preferred by the cerulean warbler, and inhibits new tree growth for decades, if not centuries. It’s a factor in the species’ decline, which has a population that’s roughly one-third of what it was 40 years ago.

On a much larger scale, scientists say that mountaintop mining for coal is accelerating climate change in two ways: It removes trees that would otherwise soak up carbon dioxide, and it facilitates the burning of coal to produce electricity, one of the main ways carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is changing the Earth’s climate.

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Kentucky: For Bats Imperiled by a Mystery Disease, Climate Change is One More Unknown

A brown bat being held with gloves with puffy white patches on his nose

A close-up of a bat shows the white coating of fungus on its muzzle indicative of white-nose syndrome, the disease that is decimating North America’s bat populations. How climate change will affect the virus — and the bats — is unknown. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Camera iconPhotos: White-nose syndrome photos from USFWS on Flickr

Much as water gouges Kentucky’s limestone caverns, white-nose syndrome is cutting through North America’s bat populations. The disease, associated with a fungus (Geomyces destructans) that is new to science, is decimating these nighttime insect eaters and alarming biologists.

How climate change will impact the fungus — and the bats — is unknown. A concern is that,  like other conservation challenges such as the spread of invasive and exotic species, climate change could compound the pressures on already stressed species.

First detected in New York in February 2006, white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly through the Northeast and beyond. This spring Kentucky became the 18th state to confirm the presence of the disease or the fungus. Four Canadian provinces are also affected.  So far, the disease has killed more than one million bats. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists fear some bat species may be wiped out completely.

Among other concerned observers: farmers. The agriculture industry counts on bats to eat an estimated $3.7 billion worth of crop pests.

Scientists are unsure how warmer average temperatures will affect the disease pattern. A century-long warming trend has accelerated over the last three decades.

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Ohio: A Kid's-Eye View of Climate Change

A young girl sits smiling with a monarch butterfly on her nose

Connecting children with nature can help them learn about the effects of climate change on wildlife and their habitats. USFWS photo by Vicki Sherry. Download.

Multimedia iconPodcast: Author Georgia Parham speaks with USFWS staff Melanie Cheng about “The Climate Change Challenge” game designed to help teach children about climate impacts

Climate change is a complicated, complex issue. But for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff in Ohio, teaching kids about climate change can be as simple as child’s play.

On Earth Day 2011, the Service teamed up with the Columbus Zoo to give children a hands-on look at the impacts of a changing climate on wildlife.  As part of the activities, staff from the Service’s Reynoldsburg Ecological Services Field Office bring a kid’s-eye view to climate change with games and challenges.

Biologist Melanie Cota and assistant Melanie Cheng lead a game called "The Climate Challenge" to help teach children about the impacts on climate change on birds. The young players assume the role of birds faced with a variety of challenges expected to pose actual threats to birds as the climate changes:

The plants that you rely on for food bloomed and fell early because of a warmer spring. There is just barely enough food for you this year, is one of many scenarios faced by players. 

As they play, children see how climate change is affecting birds through food, habitat and migration, from rising sea levels in coastal nesting areas to early hatch of insects before migrating birds arrive. 

“Although this is meant to be a fun game, I think it sends an important message that we all need to pay attention to because we are already starting to see impacts from climate change on our trust resources,” Cheng said.

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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.”

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Last updated: June 21, 2012