Conservation in a Changing Climate
Northeast Region

Climate Change in the Northeast: 

To view the powerpoint presentations from these sessions, please visit our Conference Powerpoints page.

June 3, 2008

Plenary Session 2

Terrestrial Ecosystems, Douglas Inkley


What are the key issues from this session?

Climate Change in New England (by end of century)

  • Temperature: 3°-7° F increase with low emission scenario; 6°-13° F increase with high emission scenario
  • Precipitation: models not as reliable as temperature; up to 25% increase (Hadley model)
  • Snow cover: areas experiencing 30+ days of snow cover will be fewer
  • Sea level rise: variable; 1+ meter rise over much of New England

Habitat & Wildlife Impacts

  • Community types: maple-beech community creeps north; oak-hickory expands into New England from South
  • Only 1/3 of current national wildlife refuges in Eastern Region will be in same biome by turn of century
  • Prairie pothole region: waterfowl factory for U.S.; will be drier with increasing temperature, resulting in lower waterfowl production
  • Birds will overwinter further north due to more open water (ice free) areas and available food
  • Trout habitat: 50-100% lost by next century
  • Altered species distribution – birds: 44% decline current songbird species in New England, 14% net decline; state birds may disappear (e.g., Baltimore oriole – MD)
  • Invasive species expanding: hemlock woolly adelgid moving north
  • Spread infectious diseases: lyme disease expands north as bacteria-carrying tick moves north; hemorrhagic disease increases as longer seasons enable disease-transmitting midge to reproduce more often

Can you identify action items and any institutional changes/connections/tools needed to accomplish them?

Helping habitats and wildlife survive climate change

  • Reduce non-climate stressors (chemicals, urban sprawl, water diversion, etc.)
  • Reduce risk of catastrophic fires
  • Control invasive species
  • Maintain healthy, connected, genetically diverse populations
  • Restore natural habitats and protect existing habitats
  • Account for climate change in our management
  • Expect extreme events
  • Monitor habitats and wildlife
  • Fund wildlife conservation

Reducing global warming pollution

  • Reduce carbon emissions: produce electricity efficiently, use electricity efficiently, vehicle efficiency, solar and wind power, biofuels, carbon capture and storage
  • Climate Security Act: legislation introduced in Senate; 2% annual reduction CO2, natural resource funding

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Threats to Coastal Bluffs and Beaches, Joe Kelley


  1. Described general patterns of shoreline erosion across the United States.
  2. Summarized the effects ice has on land mass – the process of loading and unloading as ice builds and melts, respectively.
  3.  Talked about historic patterns of sea level rise over 7000 years and how beaches and salt marshes had tremendous amount of time to develop. Recent rates of sea level rise are unprecedented.
  4. Coastal bluffs are susceptible to collapse not only via wave action, but by saturation with groundwater during spring melt. Most landowners are unaware of the possible hazards of owning/living on coastal properties containing erosive bluffs. Problems, because they are not eligible for federal flood insurance or home owner’s insurance won’t cover property or house damage. Erosion of sediment from bluffs are the sources of sediment for bays and beaches. Public is also not aware of the role that erosion plays in building/creating beaches used for recreation. Very hard to predict at local scale where bluff erosion will occur. Bluff erosion is an event driven (episodic) process. Sea level rise may increase rate of episodes.
  5. If coastal wetlands have “room” to expand as sea level rises, they will be maintained. Problems arise when landward edge of the wetland is developed, so that they cannot expand. Sea level rise can also transform high salt marsh to tidal flats through pooling of water – this process is very dynamic.
  6. Few barrier beaches in New England. Sea level rise impacts on beaches are modeled on barrier beaches, so the projected impacts really don’t apply to the New England situation. Gravel beaches that are backed by bedrock, don’t have a chance of enduring sea level rise. Future of spits in the face of sea level is difficult to predict as effects will be variable. Managers may need to be tolerant of future changes.


  • How will public access to beaches be affected by sea level rise? Public beaches will move landward with increased sea level, so access can be maintained, but just in a different location.
  • What are the management options to protect marshes, where there is no place for the marshes to migrate (when developed on landward side)? No political will to make hard decisions to restore developed areas and limited science options short of removing the development.
  • What is likely effect of restoring tidal flow to estuaries/marshes with larger culverts in face of sea level rise? Increased flow and prism of flow with higher sea levels may result in increased erosion in areas removed from the location of restored tidal flow.

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For a disk with many of these presentations, contact
Richard O. Bennett, Ph.D.
Regional Science Advisor
Northeast Region
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Last updated: December 16, 2011