Monday, August 3, 2009 - 2:50 PM

OOS 6-5: Managing public lands and resources to accommodate climate change

Brad Griffith, University of Alaska Fairbanks and J. Michael Scott, University of Idaho.

Background/Question/Methods Federal conservation land holdings (e.g. National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, National Forests and other administrative units) provide a significant safety net for vertebrate, invertebrate and plant diversity throughout the United States. Climate change will have heterogeneous and pervasive effects throughout these lands and will add substantial complexity to solving the existing problems of adjacent land conversion and fragmentation, human population growth, and competition for water, among others. We summarize results of a U.S. Climate Change Science Program synthesis and assessment of adaptation options for these lands and focus on the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) as case study.Results/Conclusions A species, rather than physical area, mandate provides NWRS with substantial legal latitude to respond to climate change. Some species will be winners and some will be losers. The NWRS will need to exploit opportunities as well as prepare for negative effects of climate change. Species with limited dispersal abilities in stranded habitats will be at greatest risk. Rigorous and perceptive projections of the possible futures of species, habitats and management options that result from the synergistic effects of climate and non-climate stressors, at all relevant scales, is required. However, waiting for improved climate effect projections before acting is inappropriate in view of the pervasive and immediate nature of the problem; developing a management culture that rewards risk taking would enhance the speed of adaptation to climate change challenges. Expert opinion will need to be used in the initial response stages, and mistakes will be made while adaptation capabilities are being developed. An expansion of planning and budgeting horizons will be necessary. Refuges and other public lands are not fixed islands of safe haven for species and the previous goal of preserving dynamic equilibrium must be abandoned. Managers must manage for capacity to adapt to climate change and focus on a system “state” that provides representative, redundant and resilient populations of species that fulfill the key legal mandate of NWRS to maintain the integrity, diversity, and health of conservation targets. This will require an increase in the effective conservation footprint of NWRS. New institutional partnerships; management responses that transcend traditional political, cultural, and ecological boundaries; greater emphasis on trans-refuge and trans-agency management and research; strong political leadership and re-energized collaborations between the NWRS and its research partners at multiple spatial scales will be required to ensure resilience of the NWRS to the challenge of climate change.