Obama admin unveils climate adaptation plan for natural resources

Posted: Mar 27, 2013

Written by

Laura Petersen, E&E

The Obama administration, along with state and tribal partners, today released a national strategy urging land managers and lawmakers to take steps to adapt to the changing climate -- a document heralded by some green groups as the strongest statement yet from the government about the need to address the effects of rising greenhouse gases.

The "National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy" was developed by a team of more than 90 officials, roughly two-thirds from federal agencies and the rest from state and tribal governments.

"This Strategy is the beginning of a significant and collective effort to take effective action to reduce risks and to increase the resiliency of our valuable natural resources," reads the highlights brochure. "We cannot afford to wait to respond to the changes we are already seeing, or to prepare for those yet come."

The strategy, developed over the past four years at the direction of Congress, is meant to be a "key part of the nation's larger response to climate change." Its authors tout it as science-based and say it offers examples of practical actions that resources managers have taken that can be applied more widely.

The first half of the 120-page report describes the observed and expected impacts to nation's forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans and other habitats.

"Even if further GHG emissions were halted today, alterations already underway in the Earth's climate will last for hundreds or thousands of years," the report states. "If GHG emissions continue, as is currently more likely, the planet's average temperature is projected to rise by 2.0 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with accompanying major changes in extreme weather events, variable and/or inconsistent weather patterns, sea level rise, and changing ocean conditions including increased acidification."

Noah Matson, vice president of climate change adaptation for Defenders of Wildlife, said the preface is "the most strongly worded language on climate change the U.S. government has written."

Arpita Choudhury, science and research liaison for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, was one of the team members who crafted the document. While natural resource managers' missions won't change, their approach might, she said.

"It's looking at management and conservation through the lens of climate change -- thinking about what a habitat may look like in 50, 100 years and planning for that," Choudhury said.

The report lays out seven goals for natural resource managers. It urges them to conserve and connect habitats; manage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions and allow sustainable use; coordinate integrated monitoring and information systems; conduct research to fill in knowledge gaps; educate the public about climate change and its impacts on natural resources; and reduce nonclimate stressors like habitat loss fragmentation, pollution and invasive species.

Matson said many of the recommended actions are on such large scales that no one government agency can make the necessary preparations, such as creating refuges and wildlife corridors. "You can't do that in isolation; you need a national strategy to accomplish that."

But it will be critical to hold governments accountable to ensure they implement the nonbinding strategy, Matson said. The report calls for establishing an oversight body.

He said Defenders is also looking into whether legislation is needed to authorize the strategy. While it likely would be difficult to get through Congress, Matson said he hopes House Republicans would separate the debate about adaptation from other climate-related legislation.

"There is a message here that should resonate with both sides of the aisle," Matson said. "This has nothing to do with regulating greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels or power plants. It's a completely different type of thing than the cap-and-trade bill."

He echoed the report's warning that climate change cannot be ignored.

"Admittedly, the task ahead is a daunting one, especially if the world fails to make serious efforts to reduce emissions of GHGs," the report states. "But we can make a difference. To do that, we must begin now to prepare for a future unlike the recent past."

Read the Adaptation Strategy.

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