Science Applications
Southwest Region

Climate Change in the Southwest

Photo of a playa with a mixed water fowl flock at Muleshoe NWR
Photo of a playa with a mixed water fowl flock at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: USFWS.

The following information is adapted from the U.S. Global Change Research Program 2013 Draft National Climate Assessment:

Compiled by scientists and engineers from around the world, evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. It tells an unambiguous story: The planet is warming. In the United States, the most recent decade was the nation’s hottest on record.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region includes Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, part of the broader geographical southwest—the hottest and driest part of the country, and also the one with the fastest growing population. The availability of water has defined this landscape more than anything else. It is an issue that is as directly vital to people as it is to wildlife.

That’s why climate change poses major challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter and, in southern parts, significantly drier. Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack create ripple effects throughout the region, as water scarcity is an issue for municipalities, irrigation-dependent agriculture, forestry, and the overall hydrology and ecology of the landscape. More widespread wildfire and insect outbreaks are creating significant economic and environmental losses. Some populous coastal areas are experiencing disrupted water flow, such as sea level rise, increased flooding, storm surges, and more extreme erosion, affecting municipal infrastructure, major transportation and shipping routes, and fragile, wildlife-rich habitats.

The most difficult aspect of dealing with climate change is the uncertainty of it. Climate change is especially disruptive to society because our institutions and infrastructure have been designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the variable one of the present and future.

This is relevant to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s approach to conservation as well. Today, we have to focus much more on predicting rapid and sometimes extreme environmental changes so that we can develop the information, tools, and applications needed to sustain wildlife populations in this new arena of complex ecological, sociological, and economic interactions.

This recognition is what has spurred the Fish and Wildlife Service’s investments in advancing emerging climate science, establishing Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and designating “surrogate species” to focus our efforts alongside a broad community of partners. All of these are key elements of the agency’s modernized approach to conservation, called Strategic Habitat Conservation.


Climate Science Centers

The U.S. Department of the Interior operates a National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center at the national headquarters of the U.S. Geological Survey. Eight regional Climate Science Centers are now expanding the scope and geographic reach of climate-science efforts nationwide. The centers provide scientific information, tools, and techniques to help conservation professionals and others anticipate, monitor, and adapt to changing climate conditions at regional and local scales.

Climate Science Centers map Link to Alaska CSC Link to Pacific Islands CSC Link to Northwest CSC Link to Southwest CSC Link to North Central CSC Link to South Central CSC Link to Northeast CSC Link to Southeast CSC Link to Southeast CSC

How You Can Help

Small changes in our everyday lives can make a big difference for the environment, now and in the future. Click here to learn more about how you can help mitigate the effects of climate change and support wildlife conservation where you live.

For more information on the Science Applications program and how we’re helping the conservation community deal with climate change, please contact:
James Broska, Assistant Regional Director for Science Applications, 505.248.6928
or call 505.248.6277 to leave a message.

Learn more

Our Stories logo
How we are carrying out Strategic Habitat Conservation in the Southwest


Regional Reports and Research

2013 Southwest Climate Change Assessment


National Reports and Research

Rising to the Urgent Challenge Climate Change Strategy from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy

2013 Draft National Climate Assessment from the Global Change Research Program


Global Reports and Research

2013 Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Other Resources

The following are links to other leading organizations that have extensive information on climate change.

Regional Information

Climate Assessment for the Southwest

Southwest Climate Science Center

South Central Climate Science Center

North Central Climate Science Center

Southeast Climate Science Center


National Information

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Conservation in a Changing Climate website

U.S. Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers

The Wildlife Society’s Climate Change Library

U.S. Global Change Research Program Resource Library


Global Information

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Last updated: April 5, 2017