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Conservation in a Changing Climate

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The Climate of Conservation Series

National Wildlife Refuge System Climate Change

Climate Change Today

A flooded landscape of Texas plains
Aerial footage of a flooded portion of San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge near the Texas coast.

Climate change presents a growing threat to the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats in profound ways. Due to the effects of climate change, some populations may decline, many will shift their ranges substantially, and still others will face increased risk of extinction. Some species will survive in the wild only through direct and continuous intervention by wildlife and fisheries managers.

The challenge of conserving wildlife and ecosystems in the age of climate change will requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners to apply the skill, determination, creativity, and commitment to conserving the nation’s natural resources that have defined the American conservation movement since its inception more than 160 years ago.

It is within our power to slow and manage for its effects

There are two primary ways the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responding to climate change: adaptation and mitigation. The Service is focused on helping fish, plants, and wildlife adjust to the impacts of climate change, as well as moderating the effects of a changing climate using cutting-edge science in conservation, land and species management, and habitat restoration.

Adaptation involves adapting and adjusting to the ongoing effects of climate change. This includes planned, science-based management actions that we take to help reduce the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats.

Adaptation forms the core of the Service’s response to climate change and is the centerpiece of our Strategic Plan. This adaptive response to climate change will involve:

  • Strategic conservation of wildlife habitats within sustainable landscapes.
  • Conserving the most climate-vulnerable species through various activities, including but not limited to identifying priority water needs, addressing habitat fragmentation, managing genetic resources, reducing non-climate stressors, and other resource management actions.
  • Informing stakeholders on conservation issues related to energy development and energy policy and help facilitate development of renewable energy sources in a manner that helps conserve species and avoids or minimizes significant impacts to sensitive fish, wildlife, and plant species.

Mitigation refers to reducing emissions and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Mitigation efforts can be as large as a national strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or they can be as small as a habitat restoration project in your back yard. Mitigation can including reducing our “carbon footprint” by using less energy, consuming fewer materials, and altering our land management practices.

Mitigation is also achieved through biological carbon sequestration, the process in which carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is taken up by plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon.

Sequestering carbon in vegetation such as forests or native prairie grasses can often restore or improve habitat and directly benefit other plants as well as fish and wildlife - and, in many cases, efforts to restore or conserve these ecosystems have cascading effects such as cleaner water, better resilience to wildfire, flooding, and storms, and natural habitats for wildlife and people to enjoy.

The Service is committed to mitigating the effects of climate change by:

  • Developing expertise in biological carbon sequestration — sequestering greenhouse gases in plant biomass, while also creating or restoring priority native plants, fish and wildlife habitats — and foster efforts to sequester carbon on lands it manages.
  • Facilitating habitat conservation through carbon sequestration at the international level. By working with international partners and stakeholders to help reduce deforestation rates in key areas, such as tropical forests, the Service will help preserve areas critical to biodiversity conservation and support greenhouse gas mitigation.

 

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