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On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate

  wood trush, grasshopper sparrow  Wood trush, grasshopper sparrow. Photos by Scott Whittle

By PATRICIA HEGLUND

When I was a young biologist, more than 30 years ago, I was stationed on Adak Naval Air Station at Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge (now part of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge). Out in the Aleutians, the weather was always changing. It could be dead calm one minute and gale force winds in another. Rain squalls would blast from above, pelting your face with millions of icy needles for a few minutes and then the sun would break through. Heavy fog could roll by on 50-knot winds for days on end, and then skies would suddenly clear. The weather was so variable that the Nightly Navy News weather report was called, “Today’s Weather Was…” The unpredictability of the Aleutian weather was, well, predictable and thus, something we were well-prepared for.

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

Today, climate change is throwing an increasing number and magnitude of unexpected extreme weather events at wildlife and land managers. Our uncertainty about the impacts of such change is something managers need to get a hold of so that we can prepare for and respond to such change. In 2011, the Service partnered with NASA’s Ecological Forecasting Program and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to look at the potential impacts of climate change and extreme weather on bird populations on national wildlife refuges in the continental United States.

Birds, and all wildlife, are now experiencing a higher frequency of extreme events, such as droughts or heavy rains, in some places where extreme events were once rare. When combined with higher temperatures, an extreme event can affect the availability of critical resources and be more than a species can bear. As a result, wildlife may move to more suitable areas, abandon breeding attempts or even die. In a recent paper, Dr. Sebastian Martinuzzi and others reported that droughts are expected to become more frequent on some wildlife refuges, particularly in the Southwest, where increasing temperature may already be pushing the limits of some species, so we know we will need strong management there.

   map of Current suitable climate space vs. projected suitable climate space for breeding wood thrush. Current suitable climate space vs. projected suitable climate space for breeding wood thrush.

Even in other areas, drought may have a profound effect on birds. Drs. Brooke Bateman and Andrew Allstadt developed models suggesting that drought and precipitation are particularly important  in shaping the suitable climate range for breeding wood thrush. The projected increase in drought conditions in the southern United States may influence the loss of the region’s suitability as future breeding habitat for the wood thrush by the end of the century. Suitable climate conditions, however, are projected to expand north and east.

   map of Current suitable climate space vs. projected suitable climate space for breeding grasshopper sparrow.Current suitable climate space vs. projected suitable climate space for breeding grasshopper sparrow.

The grasshopper sparrow needs a more even combination of temperature and precipitation conditions, although it appears to favor wetter conditions like those projected for the Midwest in the future. So while its suitable climate range is projected to shrink in the south and west, it is also projected to expand north and east.

Armed with projections like these, we are better able to think about alternative actions the Service can take in response to climate change.

Even in the face of an uncertain climate future, knowing the potential magnitude of change allows the Service to better prepare and act with intention.

Contributing: Anna Pidgeo, Volker Radleoff, Steve Vavrus, Brooke Bateman, Andy Allstadt and Sebastian Martinuzzi, all from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Wayne Thogmartin, U.S. Geological Survey; Tom Albright, University of Nevada-Reno; and Resit Akcakaya, Stony Brooke University

PATRICIA HEGLUND, Division of Biological Resources and Regional Refuge Biologist, Midwest Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy

   Susan Adamowicz, Ph.D.  and Toni Mikula read a surface elevation table Susan Adamowicz, Ph.D. and Toni Mikula read a surface elevation table in a Maine salt marsh. Photo by USFWS

By ANNE POST

Dr. Susan Adamowicz is standing on a salt marsh along the shores of the Webhannet River at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. This refuge is practically her home, where she has worked for the past 13 years as a land management and research demonstration biologist for the Service.

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

Coastal marshes are a habitat she has known and loved since she was a child. But today, salt marshes are facing new and unprecedented threats from climate change. We asked her to talk to us about the important role salt marshes play in protecting coastlines and building coastal resiliency.

Q: What are salt marshes and what makes them important?

Susan: Salt marshes are exciting places to work! They are dynamic areas. Salt marshes form where rivers meet the sea and where the velocity of water is slow enough to allow the sediment to deposit and for plants to take root. Over time, as salt marshes continue to grow, they rise in elevation and expand outward horizontally.

They support a wide variety of wildlife that’s specialized to live in this salty, tidal environment, everything from micro biota to birds such as the saltmarsh sparrow to numerous species of mammals and fish. They also provide excellent services, such as storing carbon, filtering water and providing natural defenses against storms by buffering the force of both storm surges and storm waves.

 interns in the field  Susan Adamowicz shows interns marsh surface elevations that support healthy vegetation growth at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Q: Let’s talk about storms—how did Hurricane Sandy change the way we think about protecting coastal communities?

Susan: The coast was forever changed as was our perception of what it means to live along the coast. We saw the tremendously destructive force of what nature can do, but we also saw how this force can be lessened by having salt marshes in place to protect our shores.

After Hurricane Sandy, I think many of us woke up to the challenge of having to think about our coastal systems in new ways. How might we redesign our coasts so that in some areas we could restore the natural systems, like salt marshes, that can provide more natural flexibility and protection from storm surge, big storm waves or even additional rainfall?

Q: How do we prepare for future storms and sea-level rise and stay resilient?

Susan: Salt marshes play a vital role in the resiliency of coastal systems. Imagine if this salt marsh was not here. There would be no buffer from the turbulence of storms. And because healthy salt marshes can grow higher in elevation, they can provide a continuing protection to human communities if sea levels don’t rise too high too quickly. By being able to handle the force of storms and recover quickly, we say that salt marshes are resilient and they pass this protection on to surrounding human communities.

We’re also using all kinds of new techniques to restore coastal marshes and improve resiliency. Thin-layer deposition is one example. It uses clean dredge sediments to build up the marsh surface elevation to a height that’s optimal for the salt marsh grasses to continue to build the marsh on their own over time. We have several thin-layer deposition projects on national wildlife refuges as a result of Hurricane Sandy funds [for example, at John Chafee National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island and Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey].

Q: You’ve worked in coastal marshes for a long time—how has your work changed and what do you see for the future?

Susan: A lot has changed. We no longer talk about restoring a salt marsh to the configuration it had in the 1600s. Now we talk about restoring the trajectories of salt marsh-building forces so that a salt marsh can sustain itself and have a high degree of integrity over time.

 The salt marsh crew   The salt marsh crew at Rachel Carson NWR search for fish. Photo by Sarah Fensore/USFWS

With super storms, climate change and their effects, we’re seeing unprecedented forces placed on the coast. It’s like Godzilla is walking all over our picnic and we are trying to figure out how best to prepare ourselves, how best to respond to this climate change Godzilla.  I may be exaggerating a little bit, but maybe only a little bit because it has been such a challenge to us.

Some of the models predict that our coastlines are going to be entirely changed by sea-level rise in the next 100 years and I worry a great deal about the kind of planet that my nieces and nephews and their children will inherit.

I take hope in realizing it is not just me alone, but within the family of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and my family of other professional scientists, there are a lot of us that are concerned about the same thing. We want to pass on a healthy planet to future generations. If we can bring these salt marshes 50-75 years into the future, I think we will have done a service for the next generation of scientists, wildlife lovers and folks that live on the coast, a service that they can then build on.

ANNE POST, External Affairs, Northeast Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation

white spruce   This is the only known white spruce north of the Brooks Range to have not been deliberately planted. Photo by Janet Jorgenson/USFWS

By Dr. John M. Morton

White spruce and moose co-exist over most of the North American boreal forest, except northern Alaska. There, long-legged moose have almost finished their colonization of arctic Alaska, following wind-dispersed willows northward as they respond to temperatures warming twice as fast as those in the Lower 48. Invading the treeless tundra just a half century ago, moose are now so common they’re recreationally hunted along the Colville River. Balsam cottonwood, another boreal species, spreads through glacial valleys in the Brooks Range, its seeds dispersing in warming winds.

The white spruce is working hard to catch up to its boreal brethren—moose, willow and cottonwood—which have leapt northward in the warming climate. Tree-rings from spruce on the leading edge of the boreal forest in western Alaska show great growth in recent decades, more so than their counterparts in interior Alaska. But spruce expansion northward is checked by the extreme alpine climate in the Brooks Range, the topographic barrier separating the Arctic Coastal Plain from subarctic spruce forests.

   spruce forestThe white spruce forest thins north of Coldfoot, Alaska, because of the harsh alpine climate. It's quite plausible that a caribou hunter or camper traveling up the Dalton Highway collected firewood near here (as did the author), unintentionally transporting a cone that germinated on the North Slope circa 1999. Photo by John M. Morton/USFWS

Slicing through this barrier, the Dalton Highway (aka “Haul Road”) extends due north 414 miles from just outside Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Sometimes  paved but mostly gravel, it cuts through spruce-covered hills before crossing the Yukon River—heart of the Far North—with a 2,300-foot wooden-decked bridge. Entering the land of midnight sun as it crosses the Arctic Circle, the Dalton Highway passes through Coldfoot—start of the longest service-less road segment (245 miles) in North America—eventually climbing the 4,800-foot-high Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range before descending to Galbraith Lake. Here, the Dalton Highway stretches 130 miles northward across the Arctic coastal plain to where the Trans-Alaska pipeline originates near the Arctic Ocean. 

   onetime northernmost spruce
This 273-year-old white spruce, girdled by a vandal in 2004, once delineated the northernmost extent of the boreal forest along the Dalton Highway. Photo by John M. Morton/USFWS  

Along the way, the white spruce forest thins, challenged by a harsher climate as the Dalton Highway traverses northward and upward in elevation. Just north of Coldfoot, as the road ascends the southern flank of the Brooks Range, a wayside sign alerts occasional travelers of the “Farthest North Spruce Tree.” This tree, now girdled in a random act of vandalism, no longer holds that crown. Spruce have sprouted further upslope, moving one woody cone at a time, perhaps 200 meters a year, a Herculean effort to reach the other side of the mountains where the climate becomes more boreal with each passing year. Modeling suggests that goal might happen in 1,000 years if left to natural dispersal in a world of anthropogenic climate change.

White spruce can survive on the coastal plain beyond the mountains. Bob Marshall, wilderness advocate, unsuccessfully sowed spruce seeds above the treeline in the Brooks Range back in 1939. They’ve since been experimentally planted at Toolik Lake, a long-term ecological research site on the coastal plain, where they grow but have yet to produce cones. And in 2008, a single white spruce seedling was found growing along the Dalton Highway near Galbraith Lake, a popular site for caribou hunting on the other side of the mountains. This tree almost certainly sprouted from a cone on a branch that was collected for firewood by hunters or campers as they drove north through spruce forests en route to the North Slope.

A novel boreal ecosystem is indeed fledging on the Arctic Coastal Plain, albeit a depauperate one. Populated by wind-dispersed woody plants such as willow and cottonwood, spruce forests are conspicuously absent as moose work to evade predators and high winds.

   Looking south as the Dalton Highway climbs the 4,800-foot-high Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range.  Looking south as the Dalton Highway climbs the 4,800-foot-high Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. This mountain range is the topographic barrier that prevents white spruce from "naturally" migrating to the arctic coastal plain during the coming millennium. Photo by John M. Morton/USFWS

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

So why don’t we just transplant spruce, accelerating what is just a matter of time?

We ‘ologists tend to be cautious, not wanting to display hubris about heady decisions like deliberately manipulating biological communities. So we try to control Old World invasives such as white sweetclover creeping up the Dalton Highway, even as we hesitate to manipulate our native spruce. Our inaction allows the random act of a camper or hunter to move the tree beyond the mountains, a decision that could and should have been thoughtfully weighed. Even after the deed is done, the ‘ologists who documented the first spruce to make it to arctic Alaska in the last several thousand years mused about “whether to protect or pull this likely human-introduced seedling or leave its future to chance.” So much angst about naturalness in a world in which its very climate is no longer natural.

When Aldo Leopold penned “to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering,” Leopold almost certainly didn’t envision the sixth extinction. Perhaps climate change needs more emphatic recognition as the unidirectional driver it is to better understand that we are part of nature—like it or not—and helping spruce over the mountain is the transformational thinking needed now to ameliorate the unfolding Anthropocene.

DR. JOHN M. MORTON, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy

The Service is certainly not alone in working to plan for and respond to a changing climate, and since 2010, it has taken a leadership role in developing and implementing a broad, partner-based framework for helping safeguard our valuable natural resources in a changing climate through the collaboratively developed National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale 
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

Since the strategy’s release in March 2013, federal, state and tribal agencies have been working together to support the strategy’s recommendations. For example:

  • California is working with partners to develop a reintroduction plan for winter-run Chinook salmon that will support a more climate-resilient population.
  • An interagency collaboration, led by BLM, is developing a National Seed Strategy to ensure the availability of appropriate seeds in a changing climate.
  • The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is modeling future conditions to estimate the impacts from sea-level rise and storm surge on the near-shore environment of the reservation on Puget Sound in Washington.
  •  The Service is working to incorporate climate change considerations into land acquisition and financial assistance programs.

In 2016, the partnership sponsored and launched the first national Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources to recognize exemplary efforts by both federal and non-federal entities to help safeguard America’s living natural resources from climate change.

Efforts in 2017 will include continuing to promote the strategy goals and framework, highlighting examples of climate adaptation at work, and identifying and addressing areas where more work is needed.

Recommendations of Strategy

In addition to describing the impacts of climate change on U.S. natural systems from forests to grasslands to the Arctic, the adaptation strategy lays out a set of goals, strategies and actions, and describes opportunities for multiple sectors to address these challenges.

Key recommendations:

  • Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife and plant populations and ecosystem functions;
  • Manage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions and provide sustainable use;
  • Enhance capacity for effective management;
  • Support adaptive management through integrated observation and monitoring;
  • Increase knowledge and information on impacts and responses of fish, wildlife and plants;
  • Increase awareness and motivate action; and
  • Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants and ecosystems adapt.

Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scal

 salmonNonglacial streams on the Kenai Peninsula are already reaching lethal temperatures for salmon during short periods in July, due to warming summers and loss of riparian shade caused by spruce bark beetles and green alder sawflies (an exotic species). Working with private landowners, partners can promote re-vegetation of banks with more resilient species. Photo by John M. Morton/USFWS

The 6 million-acre Kenai Peninsula in southcentral Alaska is a spectacular landscape of ice, mountains, forests, fens, tundra, coastal bluffs, rocky shorelines and rivers with lots of salmon. Congress knew the land was special when it conserved three-quarters of the peninsula within Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Chugach National Forest and Kenai Fjords National Park.

But climate change doesn’t respect conservation boundaries. The Kenai is changing quickly, responding to temperatures warming twice as fast as those in the Lower 48. Available water on the western peninsula has declined 60 percent since 1968 as glaciers recede in the Kenai Mountains. Trees and shrubs encroach into warming alpine tundra and drying lowland wetlands. In the aftermath of a 15-year spruce bark beetle outbreak, grassland fires in spring are now common in a boreal ecosystem that has historically only experienced forest fires in summer.

Outside the federal conservation estate, the Kenai is being rapidly developed. Connected to mainland Alaska by a 10-mile wide isthmus and the state highway system, the Kenai is a playground for tourists and Anchorage residents. It is also one of the fastest growing regions in Alaska.

This nexus of a rapidly developing landscape in a rapidly warming climate prompted the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust (KHLT) to ask, “How can we be more strategic about prioritizing private land acquisition for conservation of the Kenai?” Out of that simple question evolved a very local, landscape-scale strategy of habitat conservation called Kenai Mountains to Sea.

 bearOne monitoring metric of sustained ecosystem health will be the sampling of riparian vegetation to confirm that salmon are being dispersed by brown bears and scavengers. Photo by Berkley Bedell

Kenai Mountains to Sea partners — KHLT, the Service, Audubon Alaska, Kenai Watershed Forum and the Cook Inlet Keeper — envision a landscape of connected private and public lands. They are working with willing landowners, agencies and tribal entities, and strengthening longstanding and effective private-public partnerships dedicated to voluntarily conserving and enhancing fish and wildlife habitats for the continuing economic, recreational and cultural benefits to residents and visitors of the Kenai.

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland 
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

Because Kenai’s landscape is changing so dramatically, the partners focused on riparian corridors as enduring features that provide ecological connec­tivity between freshwater headwaters high in the Kenai Mountains and Caribou Hills and their salty mouths in the Cook Inlet and Gulf of Alaska.

Conserving riparian corridors brings many benefits — they save salmon; transport marine-derived nutrients; maintain hydrology; provide green infra­structure for recreation, access, cultural resource site protection, plant dispersal and wildlife movement; connect existing protected areas; and, in a world of rapidly changing vegetation due to climate change, protecting them makes sense for landscape conservation.

But which riparian corridors? Nearly 400 stream outlets (1,800 miles of anadromous salmon habitat) intersect the Kenai’s coastline, so the strategy targets “interjurisdictional” streams, those partly inside and partly outside federal land management. These streams, 20 in total, comprise half of all stream miles for anadromous fish on the peninsula and flow from federal lands through lands of multiple ownerships to the sea. By focusing collective conservation efforts on these interjurisdictional streams, every mile of corridor outside federal boundaries will ultimately leverage three miles of streams on federally managed lands.

After a two-year planning process, the strategic document was formalized in early 2015 along with an interactive, online decision support tool developed by Audubon Alaska. With a $50,000 grant from the Service’s Alaska Coastal Program for KHLT to hire a project coordinator, there have been early and promising successes.

The strategy was critical for securing $5 million to initiate the removal of a fish passage barrier on Crooked Creek, a priority corridor. It also prompted discussions with an Alaska Native Corporation about lever­aging its own land management planning with Kenai Mountains to Sea. And it helped identify possible acquisition of two parcels that separate the Kenai Refuge from the Kasilof River, another priority corridor.

Another benefit of developing the plan is the increased and shared understanding of the changing landscape among project partners and others in the area such as Kenai Peninsula Borough planning department. Kenai Mountains to Sea is indeed a local effort to address climate change at a landscape scale.

DR. JOHN M. MORTON, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Region
DAVID WIGGLESWORTH, Deputy Assistant Regional Director/Fish and Aquatic Conservation, Alaska Region
MANDY BERNARD, Conservation Director, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism

   bleached coralExtensive stand of severely bleached coral at Lisianski Island in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii. Photo by NOAA

By BRIAN HIRES

For more than two decades scientists have been warning of the devastating impacts climate change will have on the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Sharing the meaningful and timely actions the Service is taking with partners to mitigate those impacts is key to smarter, more engaging communications.

As a public affairs officer working on Endangered Species Act and imperiled species issues in the United States, every day I read or hear about species impacted by climate change, including red knots, migratory birds that are losing an important food source in Delaware Bay, Key deer in Florida will likely lose their habitat to flooding, and moose in the Midwest and Northeast that are being devastated by ticks and disease caused by warmer winters.

   key deerThe Florida Key deer's habitat is threatened by sea-level rise and other impacts of accelerated climate change. Photo by John Oberheu

A Most Difficult Issue to Communicate

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

You don’t need to be a communications expert to see what a tremendous challenge it is to make the climate change discussion engaging, constructive and inspiring. Just try to put a positive spin on news involving out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures, melting glaciers and acidifying oceans that spur yet other problems for people, wildlife and ecosystems, all at some uncertain time in the future. These threats include habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, disease, and drought and water availability. Climate change is also mired in both political controversy and an ostensible, but really non-existent, debate over its reality. Further, while we all contribute to climate change through our daily activities, there are few clear actions individuals can take to meaningfully affect the direction of global climate policy negotiations. These traits overwhelm and depress people, even those deeply concerned about the issue, and as a result people tune out on climate change.

For climate change to gain traction in the public mind, say leading climate scholars and social scientists, we must find a way to instill a sense of optimism that we as individuals and as a society can take meaningful action. How can this be possible, however, if leading countries and the planet as a whole continue to increase the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and blow past mitigation targets for avoiding the worse consequences?

Service’s Communications Opportunity

The Service occupies a unique space in our ability to gather diverse stakeholders to mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change on wildlife and engage the public with real solutions that groups and individuals can take. The Service is well-positioned to engage scientists, communicators, state wildlife agencies, conservation groups, federal agencies and private landowners to clarify the climate impacts to imperiled wildlife and ecosystems across the country and then address them.

   Removal of the Westecunk Creek Barrier in Eagleswood, New Jersey, restored fish passage for both migratory and year-round resident fish and increased the resiliency of the ecosystem. Photo by Rebecca Reeves/USFWS

The Service has already been actively forging and leveraging diverse partnerships and implementing forward-thinking solutions. Just a few of the many examples include:

  • Across the country, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) are fostering unparalleled collaborations between state, federal, local and international agencies; tribes and First Nations; nongovernmental organizations; universities; and interested public and private organizations to discover shared  conservation priorities, increase their collective science and management capacity, and address climate resiliency at a level of coordination rarely seen.
  • The Service, U.S. Geological Survey, state wildlife agencies, National Park Service and National Academy of Sciences are developing on “climate vulnerability assessments,” a new strategy for evaluating  the impacts of climate change on plants, wildlife and entire ecosystems and how well they will adapt to that change. Knowing these factors will allow us to create effective, timely conservation strategies for imperiled species.
  • In Florida, the Service is working with partners to model the state’s rapid population growth, sea-level rise, land-use planning and financial resources to conserve wildlife and natural resources in the face of climate change. The Peninsular Florida LCC and the Southeastern Conservation Adaptation Strategy are critical tools in bringing diverse partners together and developing coordinated, region-wide strategies. “We should not decide what land to conserve in today’s world,” says Service senior biologist and science coordinator for the Peninsular Florida LCC Steve Traxler. “We need to look 20 and 50 years down the road to see where migratory birds, the Florida panther and other wildlife can survive.
  • In the South Pacific, where the Service manages coral reef habitat in 11 wildlife refuges, scientists are seeking ways to reduce coral vulnerability to bleaching. Since tropical reefs around the world are dying due to acidification as oceans take up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, our science and conservation efforts could help reefs not only in the South Pacific but around the world.
  • In the Northeast, the Service and is working with local, state and federal stakeholders is removing high-risk dams and other barriers. Reconnecting waterways makes them more resilient to flooding, extreme weather and sea-level rise. Since 2009, our efforts have restored connectivity on thousands of river miles from West Virginia to Maine, and is resulting in cleaner water for local communities, restored fisheries and increased tourism and recreation.
  • In Hawaii, the Service is working with scientists from other agencies and institutions to measure the impacts climate change will have on bird species there that are already barely holding on in the wild. Higher temperatures will allow malaria-carrying mosquitoes to expand their ranges upslope and threaten imperiled bird species such as the akekee, ‘akiapola’au, akikiki, ‘akohekohe and others.
  • In northern and central California, the Service and partners are protecting tidal marsh ecosystems in the face of sea-level rise and to recover imperiled species such as the California clapper rail, salt marsh harvest mouse, Suisun thistle, soft bird’s-beak and California sea-blite.

Public and partner understanding of and support for these efforts, why they are important and what is further needed are critical. As such, the work of Service communicators and public affairs will be equally important. These efforts should get a boost from the National Climate Communications Strategy due later this year. The plan prioritizes improved internal communications and engagement between Service employees and between the Service and our partners. We will also roll out the Climate Portal later this year, a first-of-its-kind tool for Service scientists, leaders, communicators and employees working on climate change to share, collaborate and inspire.

Challenges for Getting There

Given the scale and severity of the threats posed by climate change to America’s wildlife, special places and our way of life, few will argue that much more needs to be urgently done. Are we conserving, collaborating and communicating at a scale and in a time frame that meets the challenge? Are we clear what those challenges are and are we communicating them as well as our successes? As the oldest and most accomplished federal conservation agency in the world with a diverse, skilled workforce and the most powerful conservation tools on the planet, we have an opportunity to engage, inspire and leverage local, national and international stakeholders by resoundingly answering these questions.  

BRIAN HIRES, External Affairs, Headquarters


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate

  monarch Monarchs need milkweed for their caterpillars to eat. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

When factoring in climate change, the monarch butterfly’s uncertain future becomes even murkier.

Some monarch traits — a large range, short generation time and high reproductive rate — may allow them to easily adapt to climate change. Other character­istics, however, such as migration timing, reproduction require­ments and overwintering habitat, rely heavily on temperature cues and may make them vulnerable.

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as severe storms, droughts and temperature fluctuations — one of the symptoms of climate change — are impeding monarch survival. A vast portion of the U.S. monarch population winters in a small area of Mexico, and in 2004, a sudden severe storm killed close to 80 percent of the overwintering monarch population. Drought and excessive heat in the Midwest United States during summer 2012 resulted in low reproduction.

  monarch chartChart courtesy of MonarchWatch.org

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

The 2015-2016 population estimates showed an increase of 225 percent in overwintering habitat from the previous year. This is great news, but it is estimated that more than a million monarch butterflies were hit with a deadly freeze in Texas and Mexico just as spring migration was beginning in March.

The Service is working to better understand just how big a threat climate change is to monarchs.

A Species Status Assessment for the monarch is in the works, and that will use the best available science to characterize the monarch’s ability to sustain populations, taking into consideration threats, stressors and conservation efforts.

Climate change models suggest that monarchs may need to move north from their current range in June and July, which would require a longer migration to Mexico in the fall. Models also predict that in future decades the forest habitat in Mexico may no longer be suitable due to changing climate at the elevation where monarch colonies currently overwinter.

On the plus side, research by Dr. Karen Oberhauser, professor at the University of Minnesota, shows monarchs can withstand temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius and can even weather summer storms by latching onto plants.

Monarchs’ response to climate change may ultimately be driven by how milkweed reacts to the changing climate. Monarch cater­pillars depend on milkweed alone as a host plant, and milkweed is declining throughout the monarch’s range – usually for reasons unrelated to climate change.

“We have to over-engineer the carrying capacity of the landscape, restoring enough [milkweed and native nectar-producing plants] to ensure that the monarch population can withstand catastrophic weather events that may become more frequent due to climate change,” says Ryan Drum, wildlife biologist and the Service’s monarch science lead.

That work is already underway.

  monarchs Monarch butterflies start traveling southward when weather turns cooler, flying between 25 and 30 miles a day. CREDIT: Photo by AnnMarie Krmpotich/USFWS

Starting at Minnesota’s shore of Lake Superior, Interstate 35 heads south for more than 1,500 miles through fields of corn and soybeans and the remnants of Midwestern prairie, until it reaches the Texas chaparral country by the Rio Grande. This interstate overlaps perfectly with the central flyway of migrating eastern monarchs. Imagine the potential of transportation corridors and rights-of-way being designated as monarch habitat. Creating a “Monarch Butterfly Highway” would provide not only corridors of suitable monarch and other pollinator habitat but also an opportunity for Americans to learn about and witness the incredible monarch migration each year.

Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, along with the Federal Highway Administration, have taken the first step in creating this highway. Using a federal strategy, they will promote the health of monarch butterflies, honey bees and other pollinators by using pollinator-friendly management practices along the Interstate 35 corridor.

By joining together with partners, old and new, the Service is working to ensure a future filled with monarchs in the ever-changing climate.

MARA KOENIG, External Affairs, Midwest Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Working Toward Carbon Neutrality

   Desert National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center In 2014, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center in Nevada was awarded LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Photo by USFWS

In 2009, the Service committed to becoming carbon neutral in its business practices by the end of fiscal year 2020. Since that time, several Executive Orders have directed all federal agencies to adopt sustainable business practices by first reducing energy use and cost, and then finding renewable or alternative energy solutions. Taking the lead for the Service in the collection, measurement and reporting on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions are the Divisions of Engineering, Contracting and General Services, and Financial Management within the Headquarters Business Management and Operations (BMO).

So how is the Service doing?

The Service’s GHG emissions have fallen 29 percent from 161,964 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MTCO2e) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 to 115,321 MTCO2e in FY 15. Scope 1 emissions — direct GHG emissions from sources the Service owns or controls (e.g., building energy use) — and Scope 2 emissions — indirect emissions from purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling — both declined 30 percent from FY 2008 to FY 2015 (purchased electricity less renewable energy). Scope 3 emissions, which are from sources the Service does not own or directly control (e.g., employee commuting), fell 27 percent over the same period. The biggest sources of emissions for the Service are purchased electricity (34 percent), employee commuting (22 percent) and the use of its motor vehicle fleet (21 percent).

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change 
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

While the Service has yet to achieve its lofty goal of being a carbon-emitting neutral agency, it is leading other federal agencies in reducing its GHG footprint. A 2015 Executive Order required stringent emissions reductions for federal agencies, and the Service is close to achieving Source 1 and 2 reduction goals (36 percent by 2025 for Interior agencies) and has already met reduction goals for Source 3 emissions (23 percent).

Much of the emissions-reduction success is due to plans developed in 2011 with specific steps the Service could take to achieve reduced emission goals. For instance: To reduce electricity consumption, the Service has conducted energy audits for its facilities and has identified cost-effective, energy-efficient upgrades such as lighting replacements, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) retrofits, and installation of low-e glass. Additionally, new buildings and major renovations must meet federal standards for high perfor­mance and sustainable buildings.

The reduction in the largest source of Scope 3 GHG emissions, employee commuting, has been largely attributed to the expansion and acceptance of teleworking, according to Kim Washington who monitors commuting practices in the Division of Engineering. Washington calculates that since 2012, Headquarters staff has reduced total miles commuting to and from work from 47,706 in 2012 to 26,231 in 2015, nearly a 50 percent reduction in associated GHG emissions.

The Service continues to search for innovative means and methods to further reduce its footprint—it is now developing strategies to incorporate electric, zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles into fleet purchases. The reductions show other federal agencies and the public that a fundamental change in business practices to address arguably the greatest conservation threat won’t sacrifice the ability of the organization to successfully achieve its mission.


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland

   prairie landscapePrairies, like this one, support more than 400 species of birds and other wildlife. Photo by Tammy James

In the Southern Great Plains — where farming, ranching, energy development and rapid population growth intersect with native cultures, wildlife, and other cultural and natural resources — climate change brings a new set of challenges to an already challenged landscape.

Grasslands, one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America, continue to face declines in quality and quantity across the Southern Great Plains. For grassland-dependent species, particularly grassland birds, the loss of native prairie has resulted in dramatic population declines.

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality 
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy
 • WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

For resource managers who want to reverse this trend and increase the size and connec­tivity of grasslands with limited conservation dollars, the question of where to target conservation is critical. Climate change, population growth and changes in land use are all variables to consider while making management decisions. Understanding how, where and to what extent these changes will affect grasslands in the future can help resource managers plan and prioritize, while also ensuring water, food and energy needs are met. In response to this need for new data, the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) has convened a team to develop models that will describe the relationship between climate change and vegetative cover in the region. These models will help stakeholders and resource managers make better long-term decisions about where to invest in grassland conservation, improving outcomes for this unique ecosystem.

Together with LCC members who have expertise in the region’s vegetation and represent likely end-users — managers, planners and researchers — the team has begun to develop climate change impact scenarios for vegetative-cover and land-use change.

“These datatsets will be used as a base layer for conservation decisions for my agency and will inform everything from our Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy to our Landscape Level Conservation planning,” says Allan Janus, research and GIS supervisor at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Steering Committee member  of the Great Plains LCC.

To develop these models, the team is bringing together distinct but related pieces of information developed by partners. These include:

  • Detailed maps of the vegetative cover of Oklahoma and Texas;
  • Assessments of the populations and locations of many key species and ecosystems in the Southern Great Plains;
  • Temperature and climate projections for the South Central United States; and
  • Land-use change projections.

“The South Central Climate Science Center is very pleased to be a partner in this effort,” says Mike Langston, deputy director at the South Central Climate Science Center. Other partners are the North Central Climate Science Center, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science Center and the USGS Fort Collins Science Center. “We believe this work will take modeling of land-cover and land-use change to a new level of usefulness for the agencies and conservation organizations in states covered,” Langston says.

“Cooperative conservation is not about funding scientists to independently produce products we hope managers can use,” says Nicole Athearn, coordinator for the Great Plains LCC. “Rather, we bring together managers and scientists to collaborate on all stages of information and model development, so scientists can develop the kinds of products that meet the needs and address the concerns of resource managers.”

When completed, probably in 2017, this project will provide a suite of scenarios showing possible future landscape condi­tions under different climate and land-use projections. Rather than providing climate information alone, these scenarios will also offer information about how species and habitats might be affected by a variable climate. These scenarios can be used by managers and decision-makers to visualize potential changes in the dynamics of the systems they manage and set conservation priorities accordingly.

Because the resource management decisions made today can have effects for decades, responsible stewardship of grasslands requires future thought. By joining forces through LCCs, partners can demonstrate their commitment to working across boundaries to preserve the nation’s grasslands for genera­tions to come.

AISLINN MAESTAS, External Affairs, Southwest Region, and JESSICA BLACKBAND, Great Plains LCC


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: What’s Your ‘Climate Handprint’?

You’ve probably heard of the term “carbon footprint,” which is a measure of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions you create in your everyday life by commuting to work, powering your home, throwing out the trash, etc.

CLIMATE CHANGE
  • Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change
  • Thinking like a Spruce: The Case for Stewarding Ecological Transformation
  • Conserving Monarch Butterflies in a Changing Climate
  • Moving from the Dire to Stories of Inspiration and Optimism
  • One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency after Hurricane Sandy
  • On the Wings of Change: Bringing Some Predictability to the Uncertainty of our Changing Climate
  • Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change
  • Working Toward Carbon Neutrality
  • Planning for Future Changes in America’s Heartland
  • The Kenai Mountains to Sea Partnership: A Local Effort to Address Climate Change at a Landscape Scale
  • The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy

The footprints we leave behind are important because carbon emissions are linked to climate change, and climate change is impacting wildlife and people. Just by making a few simple changes, you can reduce your footprint:

  • Switch to high-efficiency lightbulbs and look for the Energy Star® label the next time you buy an appliance, electronics or new windows (you’ll save money, too). Buy locally produced foods to cut transportation emissions and bring your own grocery bags to cut down on plastic waste that ends up in landfills. And don’t forget the mighty  Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

You can also start a wave of climate-minded conservation by lending a hand in your community and inspiring others to do the same. Here are just a few ideas to increase your “climate handprint”:

  • Flex your citizen muscle in your hometown by supporting initiatives for a sustainable community. Create a community garden with native plants and shrubs.
  • Incorporate climate good into the recreational teams or clubs that you and family members participate in by carpooling to practices and events, and look for eco-friendly disposable plates and utensils for your next family reunion or neighborhood party.
  • Be a citizen scientist on national projects such as the eBird Trail Tracker, Project BudBurst or the National Phenology Network. Whether you live near a city or in a rural area, you can track and share your observations on what you see happening with native plants and wildlife.
  • Be creative!  The best way to engage others in climate-friendly conservation is to share a fun and easy experience.   

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by climate change; however, you really can make a difference when all of those handprints add up.

LAUREL HILL, Midwest Region, and ALEXANDER NICOLAS, Headquarters


Fish & Wildlife News   This article appeared in the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

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