Thinking Nationally, Acting Locally on Climate Change
By JP Leous
Bristle-thighed curlew. Bar-tailed Godwit. Spectacled Eider. Black Oystercatcher. Kittiwakes. Glaucous-winged gulls. As I sat in a break-out discussion with ecologists at the Western Landscape Conservation Cooperative meeting in Anchorage, AK one thing became clear: I’m glad I wasn’t named by an ornithologist. Another, more troubling, point also became clear: species across the Arctic are coming under increasing threat from climate change—and there’s much work to be done if Alaska’s children are to enjoy the abundance of wildlife their grandparents knew.
The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and their partner Climate Science Centers are joint initiatives spearheaded by the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. The goal here is to get experts to work across agencies, geographic lines, and academic disciplines—sharing science, identifying information gaps, devising common priorities, and generally increasing efficiency with the goal of addressing climate impacts on the ground. The stakes could not be higher—all the species (and many more) listed above are in harm’s way due to climate change—and we don’t have the luxury of time nor limitless pocketbooks to throw at the problem.
Keeping our wildlands, and the communities and wildlife that depend on them strong in a warming world will require a host of coordinated responses both at the policy level as well as work on the ground. Those neck-deep in this field call this work “climate change adaptation”—but it’s helpful to think of it as “climate-smart conservation.” For large, intact landscapes (like those found up here in Alaska) the main goal is to keep them that way by guiding development in ways that don’t fragment habitat and otherwise carve up the landscape. Since many of these birds depend on the sea for their food it’s also important to think about policies that protect marine ecosystems as a critical component of on-land climate-smart conservation.
Where habitat has been degraded, by unwanted old logging roads for example, it cannot provide the same quality services like clean air and water. Fortunately projects rehabilitating wildlands can put people to work today —ensuring it has the best possible chance of weathering the oncoming climate storm and stimulating the local economy
Planning now for future climate effects will certainly take increased coordination and cooperation across agencies, as seen at this LCC meeting—but the returns will be far greater. Hopefully the important planning engaged in this week will translate to action both on the ground here in Alaska —and on Capitol Hill. Additional funding for both scientific research and project implementation is desperately needed. Making these investments today will create and protect a wide array of jobs , protect valuable ecosystem services (think clean air and water), and be far less costly than waiting to address climate impacts down the road.
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