“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Refuge System climate change coordinator John Schmerfeld includes that quote, attributed to Charles Darwin, on every email he sends.


The number two recommendation in Conserving the Future calls for development of a climate change implementation plan for the National Wildlife Refuge System. That puts Schmerfeld squarely in the conversation on three Conserving the Future implementation teams—science, planning and strategic growth.


Common to all three teams are issues of landscape–level conservation, vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning. “Implementing consistent adaptation strategies throughout the Refuge System will be challenging,” says Schmerfeld, “because refuges are not experiencing climate change uniformly across the continent. Perhaps the greatest challenges will occur at inland refuges where impacts may be subtle or slower to resolve.”


In terms of growing the Refuge System strategically, decisions about where to purchase land or encourage easements should take into consideration potential changes in species ranges and habitat. Along the Atlantic flyway, for example, coastal freshwater habitat is the most imperiled by sea level rise and most favored by waterfowl. How should refuges plan?


Coastal refuges are already dealing with sea level rise caused by warming temperatures. A new report called Surging Seas from the nonprofit organization Climate Central says the sea has risen eight inches globally during the last century. “Sea level rise is not some distant problem that we can just let our children deal with. The risks are imminent and serious,” said report lead author Ben Strauss of Climate Central. The Surging Seas Web site includes a map showing risk zones for 3,000 coastal towns, cities, counties and states.


Adaptation, mitigation and engagement are the three pillars of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Climate Strategy. Schmerfeld will be identifying ways to address each pillar in the next round of Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) that each refuge is required to complete.


Friends most directly enter the picture under engagement. Friends can work to reduce their own carbon footprint and that of their organization. Friends can also work in their local communities, collaborating with refuge staff to explain management determinations, providing transparency about challenges and tough decisions.


“Make it local, make it relevant,” advises Schmerfeld. “What is your local story? How is climate change affecting your community? What are your local problems and your solutions?”


More on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Climate Change Strategy at fws.gov/home/climatechange/strategy.html.


The Service has some information tools you can use to communicate about climate change: fws.gov/home/climatechange/toolkit.html.


Surging Seas report and map athttp://sealevel.climatecentral.org/surgingseas/.


American white pelicans arrive sooner each spring at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, ND, a possible impact of climate change that leaves chicks vulnerable to spring storms.
American white pelicans arrive sooner each spring at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, ND, a possible impact of climate change that leaves chicks vulnerable to spring storms.
Credit: USFWS