It is clear that climate change poses threats to the landscape. We may differ in our opinions as to the extent but we can’t afford the risk of inaction or delay. The Fish and Wildlife Service is extremely excited about this workshop and the continued coordination with our various partners to address important ecosystems as the landscape changes.
All Service programs are and will examine the effects of:
- Changing fire regimes,
- changes in water resources accessibility,
- changing patterns of rain and snowfall,
- the impacts of altered hydrology on rivers and wetlands,
- rising sea level effects on coastal resources, including our NWRs,
- changing patterns of rain and snowfall, and
- the impacts of the above on the abundance and distribution of fish, wildlife, and plant species.
First, I will highlight a few of the on-going activities the Service is engaged in currently to address potential impacts of climate change.
Then I will talk about the activities the Service is engaged in to address climate change impacts in out years.
1. Current Activities
A. Climate Change Workshops
The Service in partnership with others is conducting forums similar to this one around the country. These workshops are designed to enhance our understanding of climate change impacts, strengthen communication and collaboration among partners, and begin a dialogue with partners on collaborative approaches that can be taken to address climate change impacts.
B. Strategic Habitat Conservation
We are addressing climate change through a Strategic habitat conservation (SHC) approach. SHC is a science-based framework for making management decisions about where and how to deliver conservation efficiently to achieve specific biological outcomes. Although originally focused on habitat conservation, in Region 5 this strategic conservation approach will include all Service programs and address both habitat and non-habitat factors limiting fish and wildlife populations. SHC is a way of thinking about and doing business that requires us to set specific biological goals, allows us to make strategic decisions about our work, and encourages us to constantly reassess and improve our actions.
Strategic habitat conservation incorporates these elements – biological planning, conservation design, delivery, monitoring and research – in a framework that allows change (adaptive) and repetition (iterative).
Clearly, climate change will be examined as one of many threats facing fish and wildlife resources.
C. Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM)
The Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) simulates the dominant processes involved in wetland conversions and shoreline modifications during long-term sea level rise.
Map distributions of wetlands are predicted under conditions of accelerated sea level rise, and results are summarized in tabular and graphical form.
These modeling efforts support biological planning, provide valuable information for designing management strategies, and help plan the future growth of the NWR system (where to purchase/conserve lands).
SLAMM incorporates data from the National Wetlands Inventory
To date 18 refuges have been completed nationally, with an additional 45 to be completed in FY 2008 – 15 in the Northeast.
Region 5 refuges include Back Bay, Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Shore VA, Featherstone, James River, Martin, Mason Neck, Occoquan Bay, Pea Island, Plum Tree Island, Presquile, Rhappahannock River, Supawna Meadows, and Wallop Island.
Specifically in the Northeast, Refuges are installing Surface Elevation Table (SETS) and Monitoring devices to measure salt marsh elevation. In addition, they are implementing the salt marsh integrity index to determine the biological integrity for tidal marshes on coastal refuges and adjacent landscapes. Indices will be developed on 7 pilot coastal refuges for 2010.
D. Habitat Restoration and Carbon Sequestration
Terrestrial carbon sequestration uses plants to take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store, or sequester, it in woody vegetation for decades or more, helping to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The Service is partnering with dozens of private corporations and government and non-government organizations, to restore and enhance thousands of acres of native forest and wildlife habitat on national wildlife refuges in the southeastern United States.
These partnerships have been powered by landscape-scale conservation design made possible through our Strategic Habitat Conservation framework.
The strategic use of reforestation for habitat restoration and carbon sequestration is a prime example of the Service’s goal of achieving the greatest conservation good out of each and every activity we undertake on the ground.
Since 1992, the Service has worked with its corporate partners to restore native habitat to more than 65,000 acres of federal and privately owned lands (Region 4).
E. Endangered Species
The Service’s Endangered Species Program has been addressing climate change in various listing and recovery actions for more than a year. It is likely that with increasing temperatures the risk of species extinction also increases.
Pre-eminent among these has been the proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species due to loss of its Arctic sea ice habitat.
In addition, listing actions related to penguins, the wolverine, walrus, and the Rio Grande Cutthroat trout, as well as biological opinions for the Delta smelt and delisting of the West Virginia flying squirrel have all considered climate change.
This is an ongoing process and will be an increasing demand and responsibility for the Service.
F. Other Activities
The Migratory Bird program is engaged with numerous research partners on studies on aspects of climate change with the goal of understanding the effects of slow, progressive changes in climate, sea level, land use, and short-term disturbances like hurricanes on coastal barrier systems. For example, a pilot project proposed at the Virginia Coastal Reserve will produce information on nest site locations and productivity for oystercatchers that can be combined with information on changes in beach elevation and dynamics under an altered climate to produce a vulnerability assessment.
The Fisheries Program will expand monitoring, assessment and evaluation efforts on key species such as Atlantic salmon, American shad, striped bass, river herrings, American eel, and brook trout. Scientists believe that rising temperatures could shift fish distributions around the country, and move boundaries that separate cold-water species such as brook trout and Atlantic salmon from warm-water fish such as largemouth bass northward as much as 300 miles by mid-century. Such a shift in range has already been noted for the endangered Atlantic salmon.
As freshwater flows into estuaries are reduced, changes in salinity and temperature will also have dramatic effects upon spawning, reproduction, growth, and survival of these keystone anadromous species. Sea level rise coupled with severe alterations in existing infrastructure and habitats will have profound impacts to anadromous fish migration and fish passage issues. Development of statistically robust monitoring and assessment models linked to critical habitat alterations will be crucial for the continued effective management of these species. Fisheries program biologists will work as members of regional Conservation Assessment Teams to ensure that species population assessment models are linked to habitat restoration projects.
Generally, environmental change favors species which are opportunistic and are habitat “generalists.” As we experience rapid change in climate we expect to encounter increasing species invasion into North American ecosystems.
The Service is beginning efforts to consider the implications of climate for invasive species management, and this effort will require cooperation and coordination with other federal agencies, states, tribes, and non-governmental organizations.
2. OUTYEAR ACTIVITIES
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a staged approach to address climate change.
Beginning in FY2008 we are assessing our existing effort, and hosting a series of regional workshops and a national workshop, exploring emerging knowledge and reaching out to partners.
In FY2009, we will apply what we are learning, focusing capacities and efforts in strategic and biologically-based landscape planning, targeting conservation priorities on-the-ground, and educating ourselves and others and building awareness and support.
For FY2010, we are designing an initial comprehensive budget proposal, providing the platform from which we will define a holistic and ambitious strategic vision for FY2011-2013 and beyond. This vision will enable the Service to -
- Be among the world leaders in addressing climate change effects on biological diversity;
- implement sustainable landscape-scale conservation addressing climate change effects on fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats;
- leverage resources and develop creative partnerships;
- develop a balanced focus among adaptation, mitigation and education; and
- significantly reduce our carbon footprint.
For the Service to be a world leader, our response will need to balance among these 5 five objectives.
The Service will focus its efforts on landscape scale conservation of fish and wildlife resources, utilizing the Strategic Habitat Conservation science-based framework (biological planning, conservation design, on-the-ground delivery, and monitoring and research) as a basis to make “climate successful decisions”.
To accomplish this, the Service will build a firm foundation by establishing a core capacity in conservation planning and design in areas such as;
- Geospatial Analysis and Modeling Expertise
- Hydrology expertise
- Statistical design and analysis
- Design and build a training curriculum (NCTC), and
- Enhance communications at local, national, and international levels
Getting our work done on-the-ground will require new approaches and priorities in protecting land and water resources. Protecting and restoring habitat essential for climate sensitive species, providing landscape/habitat connectivity will be essential for species to adapt in response to climate related changes on the landscape. Providing habitat connectivity will promote species migration and movement in response to climate change.
Planning, designing, and implementing actions for fish and wildlife resources is not enough. Monitoring and evaluation will be necessary to determine if biological objectives have been met or not. We must learn from what we do and adapt as new information points us in a different direction.
Through monitoring and evaluation efforts, research activities will be identified that will improve our ability to predict expected biological outcomes associated with our actions. Likewise, it will be imperative that we conduct research to test assumptions made during planning and design, and fill in information/data gaps.
At first an emphasis will be placed on building a core capacity in biological planning and design but over time as capacity is developed, emphasis will shift to conservation delivery and on research and monitoring.
Carbon Footprint – Assessment and Mitigation
To lead by example, the Service will identify and implement appropriate protocols for assessing our carbon footprint (establish baselines).
Although the Service has a long-term commitment to carbon sequestration through reforestation and habitat restoration and conservation, the sheer acreage that must be conserved prohibits us from becoming carbon neutral via this avenue alone.
We plan to reduce the Service’s carbon footprint by accelerating investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable design (fleet management, solar, wind, other sustainable energy sources, green building designs etc.). Furthermore we are dedicated to reducing to our travel and communicating more using modern technology like web conferencing.
Additionally, we believe our investments will not only reduce our carbon footprint but will result in financial savings as well.
Climate Change Strategic Planning Team
The importance and urgency of determining an effective strategy for response to changing climate grows with each passing day. It is increasingly apparent that changing climate is a dominant force shaping ecological processes, and that Congress will likely enact legislation within the next year or so.
As such, the Service has put together a Climate Change Strategic Planning Team that is charged with;
- Developing a 5 year Strategic Plan (FY 2009-2013) that provides a vision, goals and objectives, and establishes an overall purpose and direction in responding to climate change, and
- Developing an Action Plan that will provide a “road map” or comprehensive implementation framework for accomplishing the goals and objectives established by the Strategic Plan under various funding scenarios.
The Team is comprised of representatives from each Region and major Program area (NWR, MB, FHC, EA, IA, CIO, LE, Science Advisor)
The Action Plan will –