You don’t have to look far to see that we are living in a time of rapid environmental change. An increase in severe and erratic storms and floods, sea level rise, and forest fires are having devastating consequences – both for human communities and for all the plants and animals that make up the natural world we rely on.
Over the last 50 years, Americans have seen a 20 percent increase in the heaviest downpours. Recent research
demonstrates that the proportion of category 4-5 hurricanes has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent in only 35 years (Holland and Bruyere, 2012). Wildfires have burned up to 9 million acres of land annually in recent years, an increase from an average of 4-5 million acres. Such trends of extreme precipitation and drought conditions, as well as river and coastal flooding, are predicted to increase in frequency as the earth continues to warm and sea levels continue to rise.
In 2012, an estimated 67 percent of the $160 billion in globally insured disaster losses were attributed to storms and extreme weather events in the U.S. (Adventist). The number of billion dollar (adjusted for inflation) events that occurred in the U.S. from 1996-2011 — 87 — is roughly double that from 1980-1995 (NATGEO). I can relate, as coastal flooding from a big storm devastated homes in my town again this year, after a similar experience in 2010.
There are actions that can and should be taken that will help ensure that nature is able to continue providing the essential services of food provision, flood absorption and water quality protection in the face of these impacts. Ecosystem services – in other words the benefits that nature provides for people – are crucial to our survival and they are dependent on healthy, functioning and resilient natural systems.
A report just released by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Department of the Interior (DOI) and other federal and state partners details strategies and actions that all levels of government, working cooperatively, should implement. These government agencies assembled a partnership of more than 100 members from federal, state, and tribal fish and wildlife conservation organizations to draft The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.