Administration Outlines Plan To Help Wildlife Adapt To Climate Change

On Tuesday, the Obama administration released the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Adaptation Strategy, a document that provides recommendations for the country to address the threats climate change poses to wildlife and natural resources.

The strategy, which was developed by federal, state and tribal leaders and is meant to be implemented over the next five years, highlights the observed impacts that increased atmospheric CO2 and a changing climate have had on the environment, including ocean acidification, changes in phenology, the spread of invasive species and the shifting of the geographic range of native species. It also lists seven non-binding goals that would help wildlife adapt to climate change. Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the list should serve as an “urgent call to action” for government officials.

Here are the priorities the strategy outlines:

  • Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife, and plant populations and ecosystem functions. Since many endangered and threatened species don’t occur naturally in already protected areas, the strategy aims to identify new areas to protect, keeping the effects climate change will have on species’ ranges in mind. Recommendations include: mapping and conserving high-priority conservation areas that are most likely to withstand the effects of climate change; developing natural corridors, such as tunnels and natural bridges, to allow species to move safely between key habitats; developing market-based incentives to encourage habitat restoration and conservation.
  • Update or develop species, habitat, and land and water management plans, programs and practices to consider climate change. Many agencies don’t take climate change into account when managing their natural resources, and the strategy aims to remedy that. Recommendations include: incorporating climate change effects into species and area management plans; protecting native seed sources by collecting and banking seeds.
  • Enhance capacity for effective management in a changing climate. Natural resource managers often lack a clear understanding of climate change, and most existing conservation laws and regulations weren’t developed to include possible effects of climate change. Recommendations include: identifying gaps in climate change knowledge among natural resource professionals; prioritizing funding for protection programs that incorporate climate change considerations; working with agricultural and business interests to identify impacts of climate change on crop production.
  • Support adaptive management through integrated observation and monitoring and use of decision support tools. The strategy aims to increase the knowledge of the impacts of climate change on natural resources and the effectiveness of mitigation actions. Recommendations include: Collaborating with the National Phenology Network to facilitate monitoring of seasonal plant and animal cycles; conducting risk assessments for priority species and habitats.
  • Increase knowledge and information on impacts and responses of fish, wildlife, and plants to a changing climate. Recommendations include: bringing managers and scientists together to prioritize research needs; conducting research on establishing the value of ecosystem services and how climate change will impact communities; improving modeling of climate change impacts on vulnerable species.
  • Increase awareness and motivate action to safeguard fish, wildlife, and plants in a changing climate. The strategy aims to gain public interest and awareness of the effects climate change has on wildlife. Recommendations include: developing educational materials and teacher training for k-12 classrooms on impacts and responses to climate change; developing outreach efforts aimed at local, state, tribal, and federal government authorities, as well as business and cultural leaders.
  • Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate. Recommendations include: working with farmers to develop and implementing livestock management practices to reduce habitat degradation; implementing the 2011 National Bycatch Report recommendations to increase information of bycatch levels; determining and implementing sustainable harvest levels in a changing climate.

Climate change is already altering ecosystems throughout the world: warmer summers, for instance, mean crops like strawberries and tomatoes can now be grown on the Arctic Circle. It’s also threatening species’ survival, especially migratory species that depend on the cycles of bud burst and insect arrival to feed themselves and their young. A rare possum in Australia could soon be the continent’s first climate change-induced extinction, and one study found dozens of species of lizards could be extinct within the next 50 years due to climate change. But the adaptation strategy may present a chance to lessen these extinction risks; as the LA Times notes, efforts to protect wildlife and natural resources from climate change’s effects have not yet spurred the political backlash that other proposed actions have.