The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a software tool to make it easier for managers, staff and visitors at national wildlife refuges to be more energy efficient.

The CLIR (Climate Leadership in Refuges) tool enables individual refuges to gauge greenhouse gas emissions and comprehensively assess – and over time, reduce – the carbon footprints of facilities, vehicles, workforce and operations. CLIR can help inform refuge visitors of their energy usage, too.

Service Director Dan Ashe approved CLIR in June. It was developed with the Federal Highway Administration. While the tool initially targets about 80 refuges for testing and feedback, it is available on the Service sustainability page (http://go.usa.gov/XYY5) for any field station seeking to understand its greenhouse gas emissions and the sources.

"If you understand that, you can start to address where you have inefficient systems in place that you can reduce and address with investments like solar energy and more efficient power sources," says Refuge System visitor services branch chief Kevin Kilcullen, who helped oversee CLIR’s development. "I think people sort of know this intuitively, but the tool gives you a level of analysis that no one has had before."

Ward Feurt has tried to stay ahead of the climate change curve in his 18 years as manager at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. During his tenure, the refuge has purchased three hybrids and several alternate-fuel vehicles; switched to green fluorescent lighting; installed insulation and double-pane windows.

"What we are trying to achieve is to be less a part of the problem," Feurt says. "I would like to think that the National Wildlife Refuge System has an opportunity to be part of the solution … The CLIR tool is the best thing we have to address what everyone agrees is a worldwide issue."

Tracking energy efficiency requires significant management and administrative effort, Feurt says. CLIR facilitates that effort, provides uniformity, consolidates reports and, importantly, he says, "once data are entered, the information is accessible and doesn’t ever need to be reentered again."

The tool allows a user to calculate how changes in facilities energy consumption (electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, propane), employee vehicle fleet consumption (miles per gallon; gasoline, diesel, biodiesel) and visitor transportation (personal vehicle, group bus, on-refuge tram) would affect a refuge’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Allie Pesano, an intern who worked with Feurt this summer at Rachel Carson Refuge, finds CLIR promising because of its hands-on practicality. "It’ll be a lot easier to see trend lines – and know when we need to take extra steps," she says. She also likes that "it’s pretty user friendly," with a lot of guides and instruction prompts. "It’s not complicated. I’m not too intimidated by it."

For Feurt and Kilcullen, CLIR’s visitor component is vital.

In fact, the initial 80 refuges were selected because they took part in the 2010-12 Visitor Survey Information Tool (VISIT) project conducted with the U.S. Geological Survey. That tool produced calculations about how and how far visitors were traveling to, from and within the participating refuges. For those 80 refuges, visitor numbers and preliminary calculations involving emissions associated with visitation are pre-populated in CLIR.

Feurt plans to use CLIR to analyze the collective carbon footprint of Rachel Carson Refuge’s 250,000 annual visitors – and he looks forward to helping reduce it.

Kilcullen has similar Refuge System-wide aspirations.

"The only way this is really going to be effective is if we get others to understand what’s going on and act as well," he says. "So the bottom line is: It’s all about behavior change for both ourselves and for others."