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A Talk on the Wild Side.

New Jersey: Biologists Utilizing New Tools to Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change

Biologists standing on grass with a cityscape behind them

Refuge biologists head to the field at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to study ways to manage marsh habitats in the face of climate change. The refuge hosted a workshop in 2010 so biologists from Northeastern national wildlife refuges could learn how to manage salt marshes to adapt to climate change. Photo: Bill Butcher, USFWS. 

Photo iconPhotos: View photos of E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Watch a video about the climate change assessment tool

Edwin. B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey, is among the first wildlife refuges in the country to complete the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Shorebird Habitat, which not only measures how vulnerable a habitat is to the effects of climate change, but also enables managers to consider how to sustain such habitats.  The assessment looks at a range of stressors, including sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of storms, and changes in precipitation and temperature.  

The assessment shows that climate change threats at Forsythe Refuge will be magnified over time, with much higher risk in 2100 as compared to 2025.  Potential risks include sea level rise inundating habitats, storms destroying beaches and dunes, erosion of tidal creek banks, ocean acidification affecting invertebrates that birds feed on, and heavy rainfall causing greater runoff of pollutants into tidal flats.

Refuge staff is using the assessment results to develop a habitat management plan.

Forsythe Refuge mainly consists of tidal salt meadow and marsh. Tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds, wading birds, ducks and geese use the refuge in the spring and fall to rest and eat the rich food resources. Other birds remain through the summer to nest and raise their young. 

Nesting habitats for American oystercatcher and piping plover, as well as stopover habitat for red knot during its lengthy fall migration are particularly vulnerable. 

A landscape shot

Biologists are using new tools to predict the effects of climate change at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: USFWS.

Refuge wildlife biologist Dorie Stolley spent a year working with Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to develop the assessment, and then conducted it on three wildlife refuges.  She says the results on Forsythe Refuge clearly show that it is critical to reduce certain human-caused stressors.  One such stressor -- ATV use -- is not allowed on the refuge during piping plover breeding season.

Plans are underway to reduce some natural stressors as well. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to undertaking several projects to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable habitats.  The refuge will work this summer on controlling Asian sand sedge, a non-native plant that invades beaches and dunes to such an extent that beach-nesting birds can no longer use them.    

Forsythe Refuge doesn’t fight the effects of climate change alone.  The Service works closely with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Rutgers University, the Barnegat Bay Partnership, and volunteers. 

Biologists stand in grass with a measuring tool

Biologists measuring sea levels during a climate change workshop. Photo: Bill Butcher, USFWS.

Learning about salt marsh ecology and climate change

Forsythe Refuge hosted a workshop in 2010 so biologists from Northeastern national wildlife refuges could learn from specialized scientists how to manage salt marshes to adapt to climate change and to try new biological practices in the field.

“Our goal is to get people comfortable dealing with conceptual models and talking about processes. We must understand the processes to save the species,” according to Susan C. Adamowicz, a regional refuge biologist, who co-led the workshop.  She believes that people should not think about climate change as a doomsday scenario.

“It is a complicated issue – as serious as any environmental endeavor we’ve ever tackled. But with our partners, the Service has a tremendous amount of expertise to create an informed and coherent response,” Adamowicz says.

Climate Change Focus: Adaptation 

Author: Frank Wolff 

Contacts: Terri Edwards, USFWS, 413-253-8324, Terri_Edwards@fws.gov

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