Written By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The National Climate Assessment released in May puts it bluntly:
Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Scientists and engineers from around the world have meticulously collected this evidence, using satellites and networks of weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. Evidence of climate change is also visible in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and functioning of ecosystems. Taken together, this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.
The scientific debate about whether human-induced climate change is occurring – or whether rising average surface temperatures are disrupting the natural systems that support life on Earth – is over. But two significant questions remain to be answered: How catastrophic will the effects of this disruption be? And what can be done to avert the worst impacts and help wildlife and natural systems cope with those that occur?
These are not easy questions to answer. Fortunately, we still have time to act to sustain the web of life that sustains human population.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the scientific, conservation and business communities to prepare for these impacts and ensure forward-thinking and effective conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats. Guided by the President’s Climate Action Plan and the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, we are leading efforts to protect natural resources.
The scale and intensity of climate change impacts pose an enormous challenge.
But there is hope, and we are making progress. Here are a few examples:
- · At Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, the Service and partners are finding that restoring diverse, native tall-grass prairie vegetation helps protect the soil year-round, slowing overland flow of water. It also helps recharge groundwater and provide important habitat.
- · By planting trees at refuges in the Red River and Lower Mississippi River valleys of Louisiana, the Service and partners are reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and restoring habitat that feeds and shelters songbirds and other wildlife. Similarly, refuges in Texas, Hawaii and Kansas are planting trees to restore habitat and reduce greenhouse gases.
- · Refuge managers in North Carolina and Virginia are helping to restore the natural hydrology of peatland ecosystems, which reduces fire potential and cuts carbon emissions.
- · In California, refuge staff, Coastal Program staff and partners have been working to raise the elevation of former salt marsh areas around Humboldt Bay that have experienced significant subsidence. This project has helped offset the loss of approximately 95 percent of historic salt marsh around the bay, and builds resiliency to climate change and sea-level rise by providing areas for salt marshes to migrate to behind dikes.
- · Biologists and university researchers have been monitoring the ecological impacts of climate change, such as the rising treeline in the mountains and American marten colonization of the lowlands, at Kenai Refuge in Alaska for decades.
- · The Refuge System has worked to reduce its carbon footprint by purchasing hybrid vehicles, constructing low-energy “green” visitor center/headquarters buildings and installing renewable wind and photovoltaic systems.
What happens in the next few decades will have profound implications for society. How we choose to respond here and now – or whether we respond at all – will determine the kind of world in which we and our families live for the foreseeable future, as well as the kind of world we leave to future generations. Everyone has a stake in the outcome of those efforts – and we must succeed.
Biologists and university researchers have been monitoring the ecological impacts of climate change, such as the rising treeline in the mountains, at Kenai Refuge in Alaska for decades. (USFWS)