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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Iowa: The Power of Prairies

Root length and complexity

This root illustration shows the variation in root system length and complexity for several common prairie species. Download. Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Biologists at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Iowa have been studying carbon sequestration on the prairie for more than 15 years. Their research has been the springboard for a national research effort which is based on the idea that grasslands have the capacity to store large amounts of carbon.

The ability to store carbon is a valuable ecological service in today’s changing climate. Carbon, which is emitted both naturally and by human activities such as burning coal to create electricity, is a greenhouse gas that is increasing in the Earth’s atmosphere. Reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, a group of more than 2,000 climate scientists from around the world, say increased greenhouse gases are causing global warming, which is leading to sea level rise, higher temperatures, and altered rain patterns.

Most of the prairie’s carbon sequestration happens below ground, where prairie roots can dig into the soil to depths up to 15 feet and more. Prairies can store much more carbon below ground than a forest can store above ground, according to Dr. Cynthia A. Cambardella, a soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

To quantify this information, Cambardella and a team of research scientists collected soil cores to a depth of four feet from each of 19 reconstructed prairies ranging in age from one to 17 years within the Neal Smith Refuge in May of 2000, 2005, and 2010.

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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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Rhode Island: Refuges Go Green for a Brighter Future

Shot of the visitor center
The Kettle Pond Visitor Center utilizes alternative energy sources, natural lighting and recycled materials. Photo: USFWS. Download.

In a state whose motto is “Hope,” Rhode Island national wildlife refuges are working toward a brighter future by conserving energy and reducing their carbon footprint through use of alternative energy sources, natural lighting and recycled materials.

The 14,000 square foot Kettle Pond Visitor Center building at the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex recently installed a photovoltaic system on the roof to harness clean energy from the sun. This solar power system is projected to produce about 37,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year—about 25 percent of the center’s annual power use.

“Using energy from the sun is one of the many steps being taken on the national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island to conserve and reduce our use of energy from traditional sources of fossil fuel,” said Janis Nepshinsky, visitor services manager for the Refuge Complex.

The center also gets energy from the earth through a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the earth’s constant underground temperature to heat and cool the building. These systems are among the most efficient heating and cooling technologies available, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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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

- Download Transcript (PDF)

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

- Download Transcript (PDF)

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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Maryland: Restoring Native Forests Helps Animals Adapt at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Marshland

There are many reasons why the marshes have been disappearing. Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know-- sea level rise. Photo: USFWS.

It takes less than three hours to drive from the nation’s capital to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  But the bald eagles, abundant waterfowl and fish that are a world away from Capitol Hill are losing ground to the widening Blackwater River and rising sea level in the Chesapeake Bay.

People have been partly responsible for the marshes’ disappearance: by introducing nutria, voracious grass-eating rodents; and by building roads, bridges, canals and ditches that have affected water flow over time.

Nature has had a hand, including erosion from wind and waves, more frequent powerful storm surges, land subsidence and – now we know – sea level rise.

Blackwater Refuge Manager Suzanne Baird has an arsenal of tools that she and her staff, along with conservation partners, may use to protect refuge lands as a coastal haven for fish and wildlife along the Chesapeake Bay. Some measures to counteract marsh loss include creating new marsh, controlling invasive species, and pumping in soil to bolster marsh areas.

The simple act of planting trees creates wooded areas or corridors for animals to roam as the marshes continue to shrink. Blackwater Refuge has lost about 5,000 acres of marshland since the 1940s. Moreover, tree-planting also fights a central cause of climate change: the build-up of greenhouse gases.

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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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New Mexico: Getting Off the Electric Grid

A wind turbine near mountains

San Andres National Wildlife Refuge launched its energy independence in 2005 with installation of a 6,000-watt hybrid solar cell and wind energy system. That met approximately 80 percent of the refuge’s electrical needs. The 3,600-watt expansion in 2010 was installed to cover the higher electric usage during the sweltering months of June-September. (Photo by Coby Bartram/USFWS)

What did San Andres National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Mexico -- winner of a 2008 Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Award and a Department of Energy award -- pay for electricity in mid-February to mid-March this year?

Nothing.

In fact, right now, the refuge has a $176 credit for returning electricity to the grid for two billing cycles. In years past, the refuge would have averaged about $300 per month.

San Andres Refuge is hardly alone in its quest for energy efficiency. As part of its climate change strategy, the Service has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, reflecting the broad understanding that use of fossil fuels --- including in the production of electricity --- is a major contributor to climate change.

The Service is reducing its carbon footprint by cutting usage during peak hours, where possible; switching to alternative fuels; and installing ENERGY STAR® appliances, among other moves. Service employees are driving more alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles and using more biodiesel fuels. At least 2.5 percent of the Service’s electricity use comes from renewable energy sources; that number is expected to climb dramatically over the next several months as projects funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 are completed.

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Louisiana: Re-planting Forests, Reducing CO2 and Saving Wildlife

A red tractor in a field
Mitigation iconLocation: Lower Mississippi River and Red River Valleys, Louisiana  
Climate Change Impact: Mitigation, to reduce greenhouse gases through biological carbon sequestration (planting trees)
Acres reforested or restored on national wildlife refuges in Louisiana since 1998: Approximately 41,000

Engagement icon

Camera iconPhotos: Tree Planting at Grand Cote and Lake Ophelia

Video iconVideo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59cIzj7Zplc

Photo at left: A tractor plants trees at Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Stacy Shelton, USFWS.

Over the last century, the bayous, swamplands and forested wetlands of Louisiana were cleared, channeled and drastically altered to make room for farms and industry.  As development spread, the state’s wildlife – including ducks, songbirds and the Louisiana black bear -- have seen their habitats shrink apace. 

The toll is apparent even on national wildlife refuges, areas set aside by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically to protect and conserve wildlife.

“Every day, we hear about the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon or Indonesia,” says The Conservation Fund’s Louisiana state director Ray Herndon, “but it has happened in the Gulf Coast area, too. Migratory bird populations have lost more than 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest habitat over the last century along the Red River and lower Mississippi River valleys. Habitat destruction is more pronounced here than in any other area of the United States.”

Less than 5 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest remains.

Ducks flying over open land

Ducks and geese fly above wetlands at Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. The refuge is an important rest stop for migrating birds making their way from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico and back along the Mississippi Flyway. The Conservation Fund is helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restore the historic bottomland hardwood forests that feed and shelter shorebirds, blackbirds, warblers and other birds.  Credit: Stacy Shelton/USFWS.

The Fund and the Service, along with energy companies and other partners, are reversing that trend. The goal is to restore the landscape that was degraded by overuse, to benefit both people and wildlife.

More than half the 80,000 acres of reforested or restored land in the Southeast is on 12 national wildlife refuges in Louisiana. The Fund, Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy and other partners have also helped the Service add about 31,400 acres of mostly unproductive farmland to its refuges in Louisiana. The Red River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2000 in western Louisiana, was the first refuge created through carbon sequestration partnerships.

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