DOINews: USFWS Director Ashe: We Can, and Must, Help Natural World Adapt to Climate Change

Last edited 09/05/2019

A version of this message was posted June 3 on USFWS Director Dan Ashe's Director's Corner.

The National Climate Assessment released a few weeks ago 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 over whether climate change is disrupting the natural systems that support life on Earth is over. But two questions remain to be answered by human society: How catastrophic will the effects of this disruption be if we do nothing? And what can be done to avert the worst impacts?

Neal Smith NWR
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell (second from left) learns about the work going on at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.

Photo by Doreen VanRyswyk, USFWS.

Fortunately, we still have time to act to help wildlife and natural systems cope with a rapidly changing climate – and to protect the web of life that sustains the Earth's human population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was one of the lead agencies behind the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy released last year, which is guiding the United States' government's efforts to address climate change impacts to wildlife and natural systems. We're also proud to be part of a National Wildlife Federation partnership that last month released Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice.

The Climate-Smart guide offers wildlife managers and planners a process for evaluating resource challenges in a changing climate, and provides guidance for developing adaptation plans to address those challenges. It offers ways to overcome obstacles and to evaluate and choose the best course of action to address observed and predicted climate change impacts.

Tallgrass prairie
Native tall-grass prairie vegetation helps protect the soil year-round. Photo by Friends of Neal Smith NWR and the Prairie Learning Center.

The scale and intensity of climate change impacts pose an enormous challenge to our society. It's tempting to just throw up our hands and say “there's nothing we can do.”

But there is hope, and we are making real progress. Here are just a few examples of what's happening now:

  • Efforts are underway to restore native trout habitat in the Blackfoot River in Montana by planting riparian vegetation and making other improvements. These actions help cutthroat trout in the short term to withstand drought and in the long term by slowing impacts of climate change on stream temperatures.
  • Partners at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa 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 in the Red River and Lower Mississippi River valleys in Louisiana, partners are reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and restoring habitat that feeds and shelters shorebirds, blackbirds, warblers and others.

Efforts like these are happening across the country, and the world. And in each case, there are roles for citizens to play – a difference that you can make personally.

Ultimately, coping with the disruptions of climate change is as much about people as it is about the natural world. Because the ecosystems that support the world's wildlife also provide clean air, clean water, food, shelter and employment for the world's human population.

Our survival and quality of life as a species is inextricably linked to the health of these ecosystems. And what happens in the next hundred years will have profound implications for human 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 our descendants.

I hope you'll be a part of ongoing and future efforts to find solutions that work for both people and wildlife. Everyone has a stake in the outcome of those efforts – and with your help, we can succeed.

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