Obama’s New Climate Strategy Aims to Help Wildlife Adapt

WASHINGTON, DC, October 1, 2010 (ENS) – There is an “urgent need” for a comprehensive national strategy that government agencies can follow to help wildlife adapt to the “unprecedented threat posed by global warming,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says in a new far-reaching strategic plan.

“Climate change is not a distant threat; it is occurring here and now,” the agency says in the plan released this week, titled “Rising to the Urgent Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change.”

“Not only is climate change occurring exceptionally quickly, it is also accelerating,” the Service warns. “If the world changes too quickly many species will not have the time to adapt.”

Migratory Canada geese and Arctic swans in Oregon, January 2007 (Photo by Pixel Packing Mama)

“The growing impacts from climate change on wildlife, plants, and watersheds call for a coordinated and strategic response from the department and its bureaus,” says Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks.

“The Service’s plan is both a call to arms and a clear roadmap for action,” Strickland said. “It is firmly rooted in sound science, an adaptive, landscape-scale conservation approach, and collaboration with partners.”

“Worldwide scientific consensus tells us that human activities have led to large increases in the concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other heat-trapping gases, also known as greenhouse gases, in the Earth’s atmosphere during the past century,” the Service says.

As a result of the growing abundance of these greenhouse gases, the global average air temperature has risen steadily over several decades, particularly since the 1950s, the Service points out. The first decade of the 21st century has proven to be the hottest decade since scientists began recording global temperatures in the 1880s, with the 1990s ranking as the second hottest.

“The unmistakable signs of a rapidly changing climate are everywhere – melting glaciers, heat waves, rising seas, flowers blooming earlier, lakes freezing later, migratory birds delaying their flights south,” the Service warns. “No geographic region is immune.”

The task of responding to the warming climate is immense. The Fish and Wildlife Service is part of the Department of the Interior, which manages one-fifth of the land in the country and manages water supplies for more than 30 million people.

Department of the Interior officials view the strategic plan as a framework within which Interior bureaus will coordinate climate change science and resource management plans and actions among themselves and also as part of the conservation community.

 

Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Rowan Gould says the strategy has been shaped by more than 18 months of intensive work and input from employees, as well as comments from partners, and the public submitted during a two-month comment period last fall.

“That input has given focus and clarity to the plan’s discussion of key climate adaptation efforts such as a National Fish and Wildlife Climate Adaptation Strategy, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and species and habitat vulnerability assessments,” Gould says.

Guided by DOI’s newly created Climate Response Council, the landscape conservation cooperatives will be the primary vehicle through which the Service and partners acquire and apply the best climate change science to inform fish and wildlife management decisions and actions.

“Support from our partners and the American public is critical, because climate change is a challenge that is too large for any one agency, department, or government to tackle alone,” said Gould.

The Fish and Wildlife Service strategic plan has three key elements:

  • Adaptation – helping to reduce the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats
  • Mitigation – taking actions to reduce greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere
  • Engagement – reaching out to Service employees, local, national and international partners in the public and private sectors, key constituencies and stakeholders and the general public to join forces and seek solutions to the challenges posed by climate change to fish and wildlife conservation.

The plan meets with the approval of wildlife conservation NGOs.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration, calls the new plan “an essential first step.”

In Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, Jackson Lake is dried up, September 2008. (Photo by BhoPhotos)

“Defenders looks forward to working closely with the Service as it implements this plan,” said Clark. “All federal agencies must incorporate measures to prevent and respond to climate change in their operations. Now, more than ever, we need a national strategy to guide and coordinate efforts to help wildlife and natural resources adapt to life in a warming world.”

Bob Bendick, director of U.S. government relations for The Nature Conservancy, says the plan “issues a challenge to every Service member and every Service partner to act swiftly and decisively in response to unprecedented change in the natural world, identifying collective wisdom and collaborative action as yardsticks to our success.”

Dave Schad, director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife, says the plan is fair to the states. “The Service’s climate strategy acknowledges and embraces the agency’s role in providing national leadership on this critical issue facing fish and wildlife agencies, while also acknowledging the critical role of states, tribes, and private organizations in delivering fish and wildlife conservation across the country,” he said.

An accompanying action plan details steps the Service is taking now and plans to take during the next five years to implement the strategic plan, such as identifying the most vulnerable species.

One task is to develop a 50 year national strategy to serve as the conservation community’s shared blueprint to guide long-term wildlife adaptation partnerships.

Creation of a national biological inventory and monitoring partnership also is part of the action plan.

The Service will work with the eight Regional Climate Change Response Centers that are being established by the Department of the Interior to synthesize existing data on climate change impacts and management strategies, and help resource managers put them into action on the ground.

“Climate change is altering our planet in ways we have never seen, and requires a fundamental shift in how we think and act to achieve conservation in the 21st century,” Clark said. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Strategic Plan provides the necessary framework for changing the Service’s conservation approach, and sets an example for the rest of the federal government for confronting the challenges of climate change.”

Click here to read the plan, “Rising to the Urgent Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change.”

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