This plan begins to lay out the strategies needed to protect nature, its component species, and all the essential services that nature provides. It’s not an exaggeration to say that continued protection of these services is nothing short of essential to the survival of all living creatures. Skeptical? Well, have you tried making it through the day without using water? Go on, give it a shot!
The Nature Conservancy is working with partners around the globe to put in place strategies to increase nature’s resilience in the face of climate change and other stressors. Two U.S. examples of this work are in the forests and rivers of the desert Southwest and on the low-country swamp forests of the Atlantic coastal shelf.
- In the Southwest, The Nature Conservancy is working with local stakeholders to lead the Southwest Climate Change Initiative. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are already pushing ecosystems across physiological and ecological thresholds here, causing large-scale forest dieback, large and more intense wildfires which lead to excessive sedimentation and runoff, polluting the Rio Grande Basin, which is Albuquerque’s source of drinking water. In one of the four focal areas of this project, the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, the goal is to build resilient forests to protect the birds and fish that depend on them, and protect life and property from severe wildfire. To date, the strategy being implemented – controlled burns and careful thinning of forest density – is beginning to demonstrate positive results in mitigating the intensity of forest fire burns and their impacts.
- In the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound region in North Carolina, a complex and diverse landscape of swamp forests, marshes, estuarine habitats, and rivers supports amazing biological diversity, including over a dozen endangered and threatened species like the roseate tern and red wolf. This extremely flat and low-lying area is also one of the country’s most susceptible to impacts of sea level rise (relative rate of 3 to 3.3 mm/year), and to wind and wave damage from hurricanes and nor’easters. Just last year, these storms caused significant flooding in the region. Sea level rise and storms like Hurricane Irene are causing shoreline erosion, inundation of low-lying lands, and intrusion of saltwater which leads to vegetation dieback. These are not impacts of the future, but events happening now.
The Nature Conservancy is working with partners, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to plan for and manage habitat transition in this region. Strategies involve maintaining and enhancing marsh buffers, restoring freshwater wetland hydrology, and planting 40 acres (to date, with more planned) of salt-tolerant tree species to slow the rate of habitat transformation and inundation expected to occur with rising seas. We have also been building oyster reefs using limestone and oyster shells to decrease the erosive effects of shoreline wave action, resulting in a measured decrease in marsh erosion behind these natural breakwaters.
Without a blueprint to navigate through the great changes we are seeing around us, public and private conservation efforts will be less effective and efficient. The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy is an important step toward guiding proactive management of our natural resources amid climate change. Working together to put this strategy into action will allow us to find robust conservation solutions that can weather the storms of the future.
Sarah Murdock is Director of U.S. Climate Change Adaptation Policy for The Nature Conservancy
This post is adapted from a recent blog post on Planet Change, devoted to enhancing the conversation on climate change and inspiring actions of all sizes. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Featured photo by: Flickr user USFWS/Southeast, John Froschauer/PDZA (Red Wolves at Point
Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, WA) Used under a Creative Commons license.