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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.

Rewetting Pocosin Peatlands to Mitigate Climate Change

   peatlandsThere is a tremendous opportunity to reduce GHG emissions, restore hydrology, reduce fire frequency and intensity, and improve resilience to climate change by rewetting peatlands. Photo by Sara Ward/USFWS

In its 2015 Global Lands Report, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) notes that at least 20 percent of global emissions of human-caused greenhouse gases (GHG) can be offset through protecting, restoring and enhancing such managed natural landscapes as grasslands, forests and wetlands. With the National Wildlife Refuge System responsible for more than 850 million acres of land and water, the Service’s management practices can be a natural climate solution, capable of meeting the Service’s wildlife mission while simultaneously achieving climate adaptation and mitigation.

For example, did you know that the Service collaborated with conservation organizations and other private entities on projects that have restored more than 80,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests and will sequester more than 33 million tons of carbon?

The Service can expand this approach to other priority ecosystems where the restoration need and carbon sequestration capacity are great. Peatlands, such as those at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, are one such ecosystem, and the Service is collaborating with partners to increase resiliency to climate change by restoring the hydrology of these carbon-rich wetlands.

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
  • 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’?

Pocosins are unique peat-based wetlands, also known as south­eastern shrub bogs, which occur from southern Virginia to northern Florida along the southeastern Coastal Plain. The typically thick (up to 14 feet) layer of peat soil underlying pocosins has acted as a chemical sponge over geologic time, locking up metals, carbon and nitrogen in vegetation and the deepening soil layer. North Carolina’s Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula has the greatest pocosin acreage in the United States, but, like peatlands all over the country, 70 percent of this habitat in Albemarle has been drained and converted to agriculture and forestry since the 1960s.

Drained pocosin peatlands present several problems: They are a source of carbon emissions and are particularly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires that emit large amounts of carbon and negatively impact wildlife habitat and air quality.

Peatland forests are gaining global recognition for their tremendous carbon sequestration potential. Restoring the wetland hydrology in peatlands stops the loss of carbon via peat oxidation while allowing carbon seques­tration via soil and biomass accumulation to resume (halting surface elevation loss and enhancing resiliency in low lying pocosins vulnerable to sea-level rise). Partnerships with TNC, North Carolina and others have already restored 20,000 acres of pocosins at Pocosin Lakes Refuge, which the Service estimates should ultimately sequester more than 21 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Given the magnitude of the carbon-mitigation benefit and the geographic scope of restoration needed (nearly a half million acres of degraded pocosin wetlands in North Carolina alone), the Service has partnered with TNC, TerraCarbon, East Carolina University and the U.S. Geological Survey to implement a 1,300-acre peatland restoration demonstration project at the refuge to test a first-of-its-kind accounting methodology to quantify the carbon-sequestration benefits gained.

The accounting methodology is undergoing review for adoption as an eligible method to verify carbon offsets. Approval could provide entities a new way to offset their carbon impact that, because of the amount of carbon retained in restored peatlands, could offer a high return on investment. Additionally, these entities might not otherwise have broad interests in restoration efforts. But the value of peatland restoration could entice nontraditional partners to help meet priority Service restoration, land conser­vation and monitoring goals in peatland habitats nationwide while meaningfully contributing to achieving GHG emission reduction targets.

SARA WARD, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, Southeast Region


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

Rising to the Urgent Challenge of Climate Change

   sea level riseBecause of sea-level rise, salt water intrusion is killing the pond pine pocosin habitat at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

The unmistakable signs of a rapidly changing climate are everywhere.—.increased global air temperature; melting glaciers; rising seas; more frequent and intense weather events, droughts and wildfires; flowers blooming earlier and lakes freezing later; migratory birds delaying their flights south; among many, many indicators.

No geographic region is immune to what is, and will continue to be, the transformational conservation challenge of our time.

While numerous fish and wildlife species will still thrive, some populations and species may decline, many will shift their ranges substantially, and others may be lost despite the best efforts to intervene.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. But as the late Fish and Wildlife Service Director Sam Hamilton said, “We must act now, as if the future of fish and wildlife and people hangs in the balance—for indeed, all indications are that it does.”

   strategy

Rising to the Urgent Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change is the Service’s framework to uphold public trust responsibilities and help ensure the sustainability of fish, wildlife, plants and habitats in the face of accelerating climate change.

The plan is threefold:

Adaptation.—.minimize the impacts of climate change on native fish and wildlife using the best science available to inform decisions and actions;

Mitigation.—.decrease greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere by reducing the Service’s emissions and supporting carbon sequestration; and

Engagement.—.work with partners to seek solutions.

   glacierFloating ice from a glacier melting at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Read on for just a glimpse of the widespread efforts by Service staff with partners to safeguard natural as well as important cultural resources to make the greatest difference in swinging the balance forward.

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

LAURA MACLEAN, Science Applications, Headquarter


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

Building Resilience to Climate Change One Landscape at a Time

  RoseateSpoonbill Roseate spoonbills at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in Southwest Florida. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Approximately 2,216 Disney Magic Kingdoms… that’s the equivalent number of acres of habitat that Florida could lose to sea-level rise and urbanization by 2060. That’s just Florida. Across the country, conservation challenges like sea-level rise, urbanization, land-use changes and invasive species emphasize the critical need to identify, conserve and restore important lands and waters, and make them more resilient to a changing climate.

Southwest Florida is one of seven landscape-scale partnerships selected to participate in the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative along with the California Headwaters, California's North-Central Coast and Russian River Watershed, Crown of the Continent, Great Lakes Coastal, Hawai’i, and Puget Sound's Snohomish River Watershed.

The Initiative is a key part of President Obama’s Interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience’s Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources (Priority Agenda), a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive commitment across the federal government to collaborate with partners to build the resilience of natural resources in the U.S. 

Great Lakes coast. Photo by NOAA

The culmination of this nearly two-year effort resulted today in an event hosted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the release of the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative final report and companion website

“America's natural resources are vulnerable to many threats, including invasive species, habitat loss, pollution, and extreme weather. Climate change is compounding the impacts from these challenges,” said Christy Goldfuss, Managing Director of White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The Resilient Lands and Water Initiative provides our nation’s natural resource managers with lessons learned and tools that can help them prepare their own landscapes for a rapidly changing future.”  

The final report and website feature the accomplishments of the seven partnerships and describe overarching challenges, lessons learned, and recommendations. The website also provides links to decision support tools, maps and related websites developed by the individual partnerships.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been engaged in the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative through the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). Five of the seven projects leveraged LCC leadership, capacity, public-private partnerships, and/or resources: including Southwest Florida-Peninsular Florida LCC; Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands-Upper Midwest and Great Lakes LCC; Hawai’i-Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative; Crown of the Continent-Great Northern LCC; and California's North-Central Coast and Russian River Watershed-California LCC. 

   SW Florida storymapA screen capture of a story map created by the Southwest Florida partnership.

“No one group will be able to do it all,” said Steve Traxler, Science Coordinator for the Peninsular Florida LCC, in talking about the future of conservation. “I hope the Initiative will be a catalyst to encourage similar resilience efforts to look around for opportunities to build relationships and collaborate to be a unified voice for their landscapes.”

The Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative supports the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (NFWPCAS) whose first goal is to build and maintain an ecologically connected network of terrestrial, coastal and marine conservation areas that are likely to be resilient to climate change and support a broad range of fish, wildlife and plants under changing conditions. To learn more, visit www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/partnerships.php.

 

Going Coastal

   Tijuana Slough Refuge aerial Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, on the Mexican border south of San Diego, is one of 180 coastal refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk

Healthy coastal habitat is vital breeding, nesting, feeding and resting territory for fish, wildlife and migrating birds. Humans also derive substantial benefits from healthy coastal habitat. It improves storm resiliency, flood control, water quality, insect control, erosion control, carbon sequestration of greenhouse gases, and access to recreation.

This is especially important because while coastal counties make up only 10 percent of the lower 48 states’ land mass, they are home to more than half of the lower 48 states’ population.

This week, the Refuge System presents Going Coastal, a photo essay that highlights a handful of national wildlife refuges near coastal habitat restored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its private and public partners.

 Great Bay Refuge, NH Salt Marsh Creek   A creek meanders through a salt marsh on its way toward the Atlantic Ocean at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire. Photo by Katherine Whittemore/USFWS

Fish and Wildlife Service employees work with private and public landowners to restore coastal habitat and estuary ecosystems. Employees with knowledge of local communities, their natural resources, environmental challenges, and political and economic issues collaborate with local partners to develop conservation strategies and leverage funding for projects.

Through the Coastal Program, the Fish and Wildlife Service has restored 557,790 acres of coastal wetland and upland habitat, restored more than 2,625 miles of stream habitat, and helped protect more than 2.1 million acres of important wildlife habitat since 1985.

   Bird at Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge against sunGreat White Heron National Wildlife Refuge is one of four refuges in the Florida Keys, a locale where the “living shoreline” concept is being used. Photo by Mickey Foster

In addition to longstanding coastal restoration practices, the Fish and Wildlife Service and partners are using two new concepts.

In the Florida Keys, home to National Key Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron and Key West National Wildlife Refuges, the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with partners on a new concept known as living shorelines. Living shorelines use plants, sand and as little rock or concrete as possible to control shoreline erosion. “I see living shorelines as a win-win-win,” says John Schmerfeld, who oversees the Coastal Program. “Living shorelines are generally less expensive, usually more effective, and always greatly enhance the ecosystem services of near-shore estuarine and vegetated habitats.”

 

   Ding Darling Refuge, FL, mangroves Mangrove habitat, such as this at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, captures carbon from the atmosphere in what is called blue carbon sequestration. Photo by Karen Leggett/USFWS

Blue carbon sequestration is an even newer concept. Coastal blue carbon is the carbon stored by and sequestered in coastal ecosystems. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service are leading a blue carbon pilot project in the low-lying Pacific islands of Micronesia. The project is assessing the vulnerability of mangrove ecosystems to climate change and sea-level rise, developing strategies to increase the resilience of mangroves, and evaluating the feasibility of funding mangrove conservation through the marketing of blue carbon credits. The information collected and lessons learned from the pilot program will be transferable to other islands in the Pacific and Caribbean.

Going Coastal is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly online stories that use photos to highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System front page each Wednesday. The stories are archived here.

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