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 4, 2008

Plenary Session 1

Managing Resources in an Era of Change, Wendi Weber, Deputy Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

It is clear that climate change poses threats to the landscape.  We may differ in our opinions as to the extent but we can’t afford the risk of inaction or delay. The Fish and Wildlife Service is extremely excited about this workshop and the continued coordination with our various partners to address important ecosystems as the landscape changes.

All Service programs are and will examine the effects of:

  • Changing fire regimes,
  • changes in water resources accessibility,
  • changing patterns of rain and snowfall,
  • the impacts of altered hydrology on rivers and wetlands,
  • rising sea level effects on coastal resources, including our NWRs,
  • changing patterns of rain and snowfall, and
  • the impacts of the above on the abundance and distribution of fish, wildlife, and plant species.

First, I will highlight a few of the on-going activities the Service is engaged in currently to address potential impacts of climate change.

Then I will talk about the activities the Service is engaged in to address climate change impacts in out years.

1.   Current Activities

A.  Climate Change Workshops

The Service in partnership with others is conducting forums similar to this one around the country.  These workshops are designed to enhance our understanding of climate change impacts, strengthen communication and collaboration among partners, and begin a dialogue with partners on collaborative approaches that can be taken to address climate change impacts.


B.  Strategic Habitat Conservation

We are addressing climate change through a Strategic habitat conservation (SHC) approach. SHC is a science-based framework for making management decisions about where and how to deliver conservation efficiently to achieve specific biological outcomes. Although originally focused on habitat conservation, in Region 5 this strategic conservation approach will include all Service programs and address both habitat and non-habitat factors limiting fish and wildlife populations. SHC is a way of thinking about and doing business that requires us to set specific biological goals, allows us to make strategic decisions about our work, and encourages us to constantly reassess and improve our actions.

Strategic habitat conservation incorporates these elements – biological planning, conservation design, delivery, monitoring and research – in a framework that allows change (adaptive) and repetition (iterative).

Clearly, climate change will be examined as one of many threats facing fish and wildlife resources.

C.  Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM)

The Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) simulates the dominant processes involved in wetland conversions and shoreline modifications during long-term sea level rise. 

Map distributions of wetlands are predicted under conditions of accelerated sea level rise, and results are summarized in tabular and graphical form.
These modeling efforts support biological planning, provide valuable information for designing management strategies, and help plan the future growth of the NWR system (where to purchase/conserve lands).

SLAMM incorporates data from the National Wetlands Inventory

To date 18 refuges have been completed nationally, with an additional 45 to be completed in FY 2008 – 15 in the Northeast.

Region 5 refuges include Back Bay, Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Shore VA, Featherstone, James River, Martin, Mason Neck, Occoquan Bay, Pea Island, Plum Tree Island, Presquile, Rhappahannock River, Supawna Meadows, and Wallop Island.

Specifically in the Northeast, Refuges are installing Surface Elevation Table (SETS) and Monitoring devices to measure salt marsh elevation.  In addition, they are implementing the salt marsh integrity index to determine the biological integrity for tidal marshes on coastal refuges and adjacent landscapes.  Indices will be developed on 7 pilot coastal refuges for 2010.

D.  Habitat Restoration and Carbon Sequestration

Terrestrial carbon sequestration uses plants to take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store, or sequester, it in woody vegetation for decades or more, helping to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Service is partnering with dozens of private corporations and government and non-government organizations, to restore and enhance thousands of acres of native forest and wildlife habitat on national wildlife refuges in the southeastern United States. 

These partnerships have been powered by landscape-scale conservation design made possible through our Strategic Habitat Conservation framework.

The strategic use of reforestation for habitat restoration and carbon sequestration is a prime example of the Service’s goal of achieving the greatest conservation good out of each and every activity we undertake on the ground. 
Since 1992, the Service has worked with its corporate partners to restore native habitat to more than 65,000 acres of federal and privately owned lands (Region 4). 

E.  Endangered Species

The Service’s Endangered Species Program has been addressing climate change in various listing and recovery actions for more than a year. It is likely that with increasing temperatures the risk of species extinction also increases.

Pre-eminent among these has been the proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species due to loss of its Arctic sea ice habitat. 

In addition, listing actions related to penguins, the wolverine, walrus, and the Rio Grande Cutthroat trout, as well as biological opinions for the Delta smelt and delisting of the West Virginia flying squirrel have all considered climate change.

This is an ongoing process and will be an increasing demand and responsibility for the Service.

F.  Other Activities

Migratory Birds

The Migratory Bird program is engaged with numerous research partners on studies on aspects of climate change with the goal of understanding the effects of slow, progressive changes in climate, sea level, land use, and short-term disturbances like hurricanes on coastal barrier systems.  For example, a pilot project proposed at the Virginia Coastal Reserve will produce information on nest site locations and productivity for oystercatchers that can be combined with information on changes in beach elevation and dynamics under an altered climate to produce a vulnerability assessment.


The Fisheries Program will expand monitoring, assessment and evaluation efforts on key species such as Atlantic salmon, American shad, striped bass, river herrings, American eel, and brook trout. Scientists believe that rising temperatures could shift fish distributions around the country, and move boundaries that separate cold-water species such as brook trout and Atlantic salmon from warm-water fish such as largemouth bass northward as much as 300 miles by mid-century. Such a shift in range has already been noted for the endangered Atlantic salmon.

As freshwater flows into estuaries are reduced, changes in salinity and temperature will also have dramatic effects upon spawning, reproduction, growth, and survival of these keystone anadromous species. Sea level rise coupled with severe alterations in existing infrastructure and habitats will have profound impacts to anadromous fish migration and fish passage issues. Development of statistically robust monitoring and assessment models linked to critical habitat alterations will be crucial for the continued effective management of these species. Fisheries program biologists will work as members of regional Conservation Assessment Teams to ensure that species population assessment models are linked to habitat restoration projects.

Invasive Species
Generally, environmental change favors species which are opportunistic and are habitat “generalists.”  As we experience rapid change in climate we expect to encounter increasing species invasion into North American ecosystems.

The Service is beginning efforts to consider the implications of climate for invasive species management, and this effort will require cooperation and coordination with other federal agencies, states, tribes, and non-governmental organizations. 



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a staged approach to address climate change. 

Beginning in FY2008 we are assessing our existing effort, and hosting a series of regional workshops and a national workshop, exploring emerging knowledge and reaching out to partners. 

In FY2009, we will apply what we are learning, focusing capacities and efforts in strategic and biologically-based landscape planning, targeting conservation priorities on-the-ground, and educating ourselves and others and building awareness and support. 

For FY2010, we are designing an initial comprehensive budget proposal, providing the platform from which we will define a holistic and ambitious strategic vision for FY2011-2013 and beyond.  This vision will enable the Service to -

  • Be among the world leaders in addressing climate change effects on biological diversity;
  • implement sustainable landscape-scale conservation addressing climate change effects on fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats;
  • leverage resources and develop creative partnerships;
  • develop a balanced focus among adaptation, mitigation and education; and
  • significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

For the Service to be a world leader, our response will need to balance among these 5 five objectives.

The Service will focus its efforts on landscape scale conservation of fish and wildlife resources, utilizing the Strategic Habitat Conservation science-based framework (biological planning, conservation design, on-the-ground delivery, and monitoring and research) as a basis to make “climate successful decisions”.
To accomplish this, the Service will build a firm foundation by establishing a core capacity in conservation planning and design in areas such as;

  • Geospatial Analysis and Modeling Expertise
  • Hydrology expertise
  • Statistical design and analysis
  • Design and build a training curriculum (NCTC), and
  • Enhance communications at local, national, and international levels

Getting our work done on-the-ground will require new approaches and priorities in protecting land and water resources.  Protecting and restoring habitat essential for climate sensitive species, providing landscape/habitat connectivity will be essential for species to adapt in response to climate related changes on the landscape.  Providing habitat connectivity will promote species migration and movement in response to climate change. 

Planning, designing, and implementing actions for fish and wildlife resources is not enough.  Monitoring and evaluation will be necessary to determine if biological objectives have been met or not.  We must learn from what we do and adapt as new information points us in a different direction. 

Through monitoring and evaluation efforts, research activities will be identified that will improve our ability to predict expected biological outcomes associated with our actions.  Likewise, it will be imperative that we conduct research to test assumptions made during planning and design, and fill in information/data gaps.

At first an emphasis will be placed on building a core capacity in biological planning and design but over time as capacity is developed, emphasis will shift to conservation delivery and on research and monitoring.

Carbon Footprint – Assessment and Mitigation

To lead by example, the Service will identify and implement appropriate protocols for assessing our carbon footprint (establish baselines).

Although the Service has a long-term commitment to carbon sequestration through reforestation and habitat restoration and conservation, the sheer acreage that must be conserved prohibits us from becoming carbon neutral via this avenue alone. 
We plan to reduce the Service’s carbon footprint by accelerating investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable design (fleet management, solar, wind, other sustainable energy sources, green building designs etc.). Furthermore we are dedicated to reducing to our travel and communicating more using modern technology like web conferencing.

Additionally, we believe our investments will not only reduce our carbon footprint but will result in financial savings as well.

Climate Change Strategic Planning Team

The importance and urgency of determining an effective strategy for response to changing climate grows with each passing day.  It is increasingly apparent that changing climate is a dominant force shaping ecological processes, and that Congress will likely enact legislation within the next year or so. 

As such, the Service has put together a Climate Change Strategic Planning Team that is charged with;

  • Developing a 5 year Strategic Plan (FY 2009-2013) that provides a vision, goals and objectives, and establishes an overall purpose and direction in responding to climate change, and
  • Developing an Action Plan that will provide a “road map” or comprehensive implementation framework for accomplishing the goals and objectives established by the Strategic Plan under various funding scenarios. 

The Team is comprised of representatives from each Region and major Program area (NWR, MB, FHC, EA, IA, CIO, LE, Science Advisor)

The Action Plan will –

        • describe the specific policies, actions, technology, information, personnel, and other factors required to achieve the goals and objectives of the Strategic Plan;
        • define priorities among the above, in the context of scaled funding scenarios; and
        • identify measures to evaluate progress.

Guiding principles of the Plans include;

  • the Plans will be framed in terms of adaptation, mitigation, and education.
  • goals and objectives will be expressed within the framework of Strategic Habitat Conservation, i.e., (1) Conservation Planning & Design; (2) Conservation Delivery; and (3) Research & Monitoring.\
  • the team will consider the results of all Regional Climate Change Workshops.
  • the Action Plan will consider at least 4 funding scenarios for the 5-year period.   
    • Nominal Growth Scenario – 5% nominal growth in resource management accounts from FY 2009-13;
    • Real Growth Scenario – $50 million in FY 2010, $20 million in FY 2011, $10 million in FY 2012, and 5% nominal growth thereafter;
    • Legislative Funding Low Scenario –  $50 M in FY 2010; $87.5 M in FY 2011; $125 M in FY 2012; $250 M in FY 2013; and
    • Legislative Funding High Scenario –  $50 million in FY 2010;  $250 M in FY 2011; $500 M in FY 2012; $1,000 M in FY 2013.

Both Plans are will be completed by mid October/November, 2008.


In closing, I personally want to thank all of you for attending this workshop and look forward to working cooperatively with our partners as we collectively address the challenges in front of us in response to climate change.  I want to reiterate the importance of open and frank dialogue among partners as we move forward in planning and implementing actions for natural resource conservation. Our overall approach entails working together to leverage resources and talents by focusing strategically on specific biological objectives, activities, and outcomes.  

Thank you

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Managing Resources in an Era of Change – managers panel

Objective: Representatives from federal and state agencies will discuss the steps their organizations are taking to address climate change issues in order to meet their agency’s mission.


Bert Frost – National Park Service
Wendi Weber – US Fish and Wildlife Service
Grover Fugate – Coastal Resources Management Council, Rhode Island
Jack Buckley – Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Bert –

  • NPS has had a long running program in climate change for 20-25 years. When DOI moved research into NBS, and then USGS, our climate change portion moved to USGS. Didn’t lose the science but lost the nexus – the day-to-day interactions. Since the mid 90s we have been without a climate change program.
  • We started to think about it again with the DOI TF development. A number of NPS people participated in this (Mike Soukup, Barry Sullivan, Leigh Welling and others). Mike and Bert started to think about building new capacity. Leigh was initially asked to do a detail to help coordinate and develop what our approach should be on the issue and then started doing it full time with the start of FY08. It has become clear there is a lot interest.
  • Regional leadership has been very helpful in moving this issue forward for us. The Pacific West Regional Director, Jon Jarvis, stepped up the need to take action before anyone else. Jon held a series of “zone meetings” for his superintendents and he made taking an action on climate change part of the performance plans of each superintendent in his region. Many others are now beginning to take actions to communicate climate change through their parks and to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations.
  • From the servicewide perspective we are putting together a strategy that involves all the Directorates and will include participation of all regions and programs. We are thinking of the climate change response strategy in terms of six overall components.
    • Legal and Policy – many issues that will arise with respect to climate involve legal precedent and the need for policy guidance. Basically, there are two major areas to consider: how operations affect climate change (basically looking at the carbon footprint of projects and operations) and how climate change affects park resources and operations. There is not a lot of guidance out there but there a Secretarial Order that states climate change needs to be brought into all planning. We are working with our Office of Policy to develop a series of white papers on a range of issues.
    • Planning – this is really where it is at. We have to incorporate climate change into all of our planning docs and processes. We have a new Chief of Planning, Patrick Gregerson, who is well aware of the need. We will focus initially on how to incorporate climate change into our General Management Planning documents – which are the fundamental guiding document for park planning. These are aimed to guide management on 13 to 20 year time scales so one challenge is to address how climate change predictions and forecasts (which are generally on longer time scales) can be brought to bear on shorter term planning. A major emphasis for us right now is to explore Scenario Planning as a tool for helping us guide long range planning.
    • Science – parks offer many opportunities for understanding how climate change impacts natural and cultural systems. USGS is our primary science partner and this is strong relationship for getting the research needed to guide management decisions. We also have internal mechanisms for accomplishing our science needs, including the 17 Research Learning Centers and 32 Inventory and Monitoring Networks.  A major emphasis over the next few months will be identifying knowledge gaps where we need more science and research and to encourage localized studies for gaining that information.
    • Resource Stewardship – climate change presents serious challenges for resource protection. We need to develop lists of vulnerable species, habitats, and systems at risk. We know we are going to have to make hard choices and will need to work with partners to establish conservation needs and priorities. We need triage lists to focus our efforts where it can be most effective. This is fundamentally about developing adaptation strategies that will help systems adapt and will allow managers the flexibility to change tactics when the need arises. Impacts to cultural resources are an important piece of this. For example, we have many archeological sites that are potentially under threat from climate change due to changes in precipitation and erosional patterns, sea level rise, and other impacts. 
    • Greenhouse Gas Mitigation and Sustainable Operations – We’ve had a Climate Friendly Parks Program for over 5 years now that works with parks to evaluate their emissions and develop action plans to reduce them. This a partnership program with EPA that fundamentally addresses the cause of global warming. There is now a web-based tool that parks can use to do the emissions calculation. While the total footprint from parks is probably not a significant number in terms of global emissions, we need to become carbon neutral in order to lead by example. The program also encourages a range of other sustainable programs and operations including green building design, construction, and deconstruction as well as transportation alternatives. Again, our Pacific West Region is setting the standard for mitigation actions.
    • Education and Outreach – communicating the impacts of climate change and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to change is an important component for the NPS to address in a climate change response strategy. Audiences include park staff, partners, and the public. Managers and interpreters need help understanding and communicating the implications of regional and global scientific studies to specific park resources. The public has come to expect high quality and up-to-date resource information when they visit parks. A number of efforts are underway to develop these messages, including creation of waysides, site bulletins, resource briefings, brochures, and other interpretive and education products. The Alaska Region has taken a strong lead in this arena with the creation of a national brochure on climate change as well as a traveling display for conferences and is collaborating with our Washington office on a new web-based seminar series for educating park employees.

Wendi –

  • It is clear that climate change is posing many threats. We may differ in opinion about the extent but we can’t afford to not take any action.
  • We need to develop both short and long term goals. Some of the key areas of concern are:

Water resources
Rain and snow fall / Altered hydrology
Sea level rise
Impacts to abundance of plants and animals

  • The FWS has launched a series of regional workshops on climate change. The Alaska Region kicked it off in 2007 and the remaining regions are holding workshops in 2008.
  • Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) is a new, improved way of doing business.  Region 5 in the NE is the one that started this. Requires specific biological goals and uses adaptive management. The approach incorporates planning, conservation, monitoring, and research. And its iterative. Also using Wetland conversion and shoreline modification models (SLAM models) that are summarized in graphical and tabular form. Help plan for future growth of wetland systems; looking at salt marshes.
  • Another issue we are paying close attention to is carbon sequestration, especially with regard to using habitat restoration. The SE Region is using the SHC approach to evaluate carbon sequestration on 65,000 acres.
  • Endangered species program – is engaged in identifying and protecting species under threat from climate change.
  • Migratory bird program – oyster catchers nesting sites with known climate changes
  • Fisheries – looking at impacts to cold water species especially. (i,e, endangered Atlantic salmon). Sea level rise coupled with other impacts. Linking species population assessment models to habitat restoration.
  • Invasive species management. This is something that has to be done with partners.
  • Overall we are taking a staged approach:
  • doing the workshops
  • implementing the outcome
  • 2010 designing a comprehensive budget proposal – including landscape scale conservation
  • foundation – building a core capacity. Geospatial skills, training center, enhanced communication with partners
  • landscape level connectivity – promote species migration and movement. Using adaptive management and coupling this with research.
  • carbon footprint – establishing baselines. Sustainable energy and green energy. Reducing travel. Energy efficiency is also cost efficient
  • developing a strategy – 5 year. 2009-2013. establish direction/roadmap. Reps from each region and program area. Framed in terms of adaptation, education, and mitigation. 4 funding scenarios over a 5-year period.

Jack –

  • Within the state of MA, the Governor has instructed a climate change roadmap to be developed.
  • A separate group is looking at adaptation with respect to infrastructure.
  • Adaptation with respect to wildlife is the focus of this presentation. One key element in everything we do is our state wildlife action plan. Currently 1 billion environmental bills. One of the few states that is addressing climate change with respect to wildlife and developing an action plan.
  • Partnerships – working with state and federal partners: TNC and others; state land trust organizations.
  • We are talking about things we haven’t talked about before and developing consistent messaging.
  • National conservation priorities – working with other NE states and FWS toward developing approaches to habitat designation.
  • We are taking a modeling approach to everything we are doing.
  • Three main areas of focus:
  • endangered species protection
  • land acquisition - spending up to $10 million on land protection. The process is driven by science. We have detailed steps that are quantified that we use to set priorities.
  • habitat protection – there are sets of species that are critical (i.e. turtles). Indicator species. We know we will not save biodiversity through regulation. We must do conservation planning. Using mitigation funds directly to support conservation planning.
    • Taking existing systems and infusing the notions of climate change. This means recalibrating programs to get the outcome we want with respect to climate change.
    • Setting priorities means making hard choices – triage. We are going to have to make decide what to focus on and how to allocate resources.
    • Need to consider the context. There are also lots of other stressors with respect to impacts. We can’t take our eyes off of this.
    • We have tools, may not know exactly where we are going but we are trying to be flexible. How to make restoration programs adapative with respect to cc.


Grover –

  • Policy and Management Implications of Climate Change
  • Climate change – summers could feel like SC or GA
  • Metro bay – the Achilles heel of the NE (FEMA) narrowing of the bay causes the storm surges to rise.
  • Sea level rise – increased erosion; salt water intrusion (groundwater contamination; ISDS failure); more susceptibility to storm surges for coastal and properties farther inland
  • Shoreline change – very exposed. Lots of erosion. People can’t build seawalls to protect their structures. Storms surges impacting historic structures.
  • Policy retreat: what is the solution?. Moving structures? Road protection? Are there other ways to protect besides moving structures?
  • They are in a sediment starved situation in RI. Underlying substrate.
  • 3 development categories:
  • developed (82%);
  • in development;
  • undeveloped.
    • Different zoning – depends on where the waves will reach. Now they have to start thinking about how the zoning will change with climate change.
    • Ecosystem impacts – how to protect the marshes
      • What things are changing and how fast?
      • What processes cause these changes?
      • What are predictions for the future?
        • What does the future hold? A lot current data is lining up on the worst case scenarios.
        • Opinion polling – 86% of the public doesn’t believe that cc is a factor in the impacts they are experiencing. This is a failure of our communication of science. So they are looking into ways to communicate this better.
        • Modeling studies help to visualize the information. Have taken features that are popular and well known and showing visualization for sea level rise. This has hit home with the public.
        • Many buildings behind the barriers are not built to floodplain standards. This is of concern and they are starting to build this into some of their policies.
        • Adaptation response strategy:
          • Adopted a new regulation and policy that incorporates cc. will be a systemic change for the agency. Rate of 3-5 feet by 2100 is the adopted rate for planning; includes subsidence.
          • Living shoreline; rolling setbacks; upgrading existing policies-setbacks.


Buckley – state agencies don’t always work together. But cc cuts across disciplines. Are there efforts to coordinate in MA.

Grover: how do rolling easements work? Acknowledgment that sea level rise is occurring. Allows the structure to be removed as it becomes a part of beach face. The owner acknowledges this up front.

Bert and Wendi – both commented about the need to assess carbon footprints. What efforts are being made within DOI to share knowledge and avoid duplication. CLIP tool is adaptable. We have a SO and an EO to reduce the carbon footprint. Doing the green building gets more visibility. Can be a little frustrating working with GSA – need to get them on the same page.

Tom Armstrong – some of the options addressed carbon management included lowering the emissions. We all have our priorities but we also have a lot in common. How can we best compliment on another rather than compete and be redundant. There is the opportunity to coordinate. Where is the entry point for science information into your plans? Is there a single point of entry?

Bert – there are many points of entry but for us – we have to do it at the GMP level. We are focusing on that now. This relationship is evolving.

Buckley. Not just the science but getting the different components of the science to interact together and coordinate to get the right answer.

Wendi – we need to work as partners with the USGS – not just have them provide us with information. We need to develop teams. Establish baselines.

We need the science as insurance if nothing else. We need the science to influence public opinion – but sometimes we have divergent science that confuses to public.

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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