Climate Change Affecting National Wildlife Refuges

Climate change poses one of the greatest conservation threats of the 21st century. Rising sea levels have begun to affect fish and wildlife habitats, including those used by shorebirds and sea turtles that nest on coastal national wildlife refuges. (See Planning for Sea Level Rise ) It also works with other environmental threats and stressors, including destructive fires, water shortages, invasive species and disease, to increase conservation impacts. The National Wildlife Refuge System is determining just how vulnerable individual refuges are to climate change and other stressors in order to develop management strategies. (See Refuge Resource Vulnerability Assessments.)

Hart Mine Marsh
Hart Mine Marsh, Cibola National Wildlife Refuge,AZ
Credit: Alexander Stephens

Several U.S. and Mexican government and nonprofit agencies, including the Refuge System, have piloted a Habitat Climate Change Vulnerability Index approach to help identify the adaption strategies with the best chance of success in specific ecological regions. The project focused on 10 major upland, riparian and aquatic community types found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The work was reviewed by a panel of experts, who revised and applied the vulnerability assessments presented here. Among the partners in the project are the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the nonprofit NatureServe.