Wildlife Agencies Create a Consensus Plan for Adapting to Climate Threats

Article excerpt

American wildlife will need a lot of human help to get through the coming era of climate change, from controlling invasive competitors to creating natural escape corridors via conserved, interconnected habitat.

And the nation's resource agencies need to improve their coordination starting now, with emphasis on critically important steps that can be taken in the next five years.

So says the National Climate Adaptation Strategy issued Tuesday. Two years in the making, it's a consensus roadmap built by an unusual collaborative of state, tribal and federal wildlife agencies, assisted by scientific, educational and conservation organizations.

In all, the authors say, some 55,000 individual Americans have contributed to this "first nationwide, joint adaptation strategy by the three levels of government that have primary authority and responsibility for the living natural resources of the United States."

In case that sounds like so much rehash to you, let me underline some things this new report is not:

* It is not another survey of what we now know and don't yet know about patterns of climate change and their likely impact.

* It is not a new program of rules or policy directives, and though Congress directed its creation it is not a top-down federal plan.

* It is not a renewable-energy agenda that merely uses wildlife as window-dressing to attract more support.

* It is not a feel-good stakeholder exercise in listing a bunch of win-win ways for polluters and conservationists to pluck and share some low-hanging fruit.

* It is not even, primarily, a call for further research and deliberation, though the gaps in our current understanding are addressed in a can-do kind of way.

A call for concerted action

This is a call for adaptive action -- swift and concerted action- -using the tools and resources now available, by the very agencies already doing this kind of work, newly aligned behind a unifying strategy they wrote themselves.

I caught up with Jim Manolis, who leads the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources team dealing with climate issues, and he said he thinks the National Climate Adaptation Strategy "is going to be an important document."

Other reports have dealt with climate impacts on wildlife, he said, and intergovernmental cooperation isn't a new idea. But this report's sharp focus and broad buy-in will make it influential.

Manolis is not praising his own handiwork here. DNR was not among the state-level collaborators, though some DNR managers took part in early discussions of the project within the national Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Whether agencies adapt their missions to follow the roadmap more closely or not, the ability to explain their programs in the context of a broad national consensus will probably make it easier to answer skeptics in, say, a legislative hearing or citizen forum.

The dollar worth of wildlife

The report is highly pragmatic, and part of its pragmatism lies in reminding Americans about the worth of wildlife as economic drivers. An excerpt, lightly compressed:

Hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related recreation in the United States is estimated to contribute $122 billion to our nation's economy annually.

The U.S. seafood industry -- most of which is based on wild, free- ranging marine species -- supported approximately 1 million full- and part-time jobs and generated $116 billion in sales impacts and $32 billion in income impacts in 2009.

Marine recreational fishing also contributes to coastal areas as an economic engine; in 2009, approximately 74 million saltwater fishing trips occurred along U. …

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