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10/19/2011

Getting Serious About Addressing Climate Disruption


DeerThis year’s drought in Texas has had sudden, far reaching and in some cases irreversible impacts on the state’s fish, wildlife and natural areas.  The lack of water is causing once common animals like deer, pronghorn and bobwhite quail to dwindle to a fraction of their former numbers in some areas.  Fisheries managers have been driven to rescue endangered smalleye and sharpnose shiners from the evaporating Brazos River.  The lack of water flowing from Texas waterways into coastal bays has increased salinity levels and caused the largest Red Tide in years in the Gulf of Mexico.  With hunting, fishing and wildlife watching supporting an economy worth over $8.3 billion to Texas businesses, the impact of the drought will be as far reaching for people as it is for fish and wildlife.

With our world having already passed dangerous thresholds for emissions of carbon pollution, events like those in Texas are becoming the new normal and demanding that conservationists build on the strategies and tools that helped our natural heritage recover from the overharvesting and the dustbowl of the past.  Our new world requires a new practice that helps the land we depend on adapt to new climate conditions.

If this past Saturday’s New York Times is to be believed, U.S. efforts to address climate disruption are for all purposes non-existent. While it’s true that Congress, especially the House of Representatives, has shirked its responsibility to protect Americans from events like those in Texas, state and federal natural resource agencies have been actively pursuing efforts to help America’s lands and waters, and the people and wildlife that depend on them, adapt to climate disruption.Working with partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has restored over 120,000 acres of habitats in the Southeast, in the process planting more than 22 million trees that will capture more than 33 million tons of climate-altering pollution over the next 90 years.  Expansion of this effort is expected to plant an additional 400,000 trees annually, cleaning an additional 300,000 tons of carbon pollution out of our air.  Under the agency’s Climate Change Strategic Plan vulnerable coastlines in North Carolina are being reinforced with oyster reefs and vegetation to help safeguard them in the face of rising sea levels.

Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has been implementing a visionary program to promote climate adaptation on the 193 million acres of lands they are responsible for, lands that provide water for 3,400 communities across the country.  Their program includes the adoption of a National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change that forest managers are being held accountable for implementing.  Over 120 Climate Change Coordinators have been appointed by the agency across the country to oversee implementation of the roadmap including adopting new strategies to prevent catastrophic wildfires, safeguard wildlife habitat and secure waterways.

The National Park Service’s Climate Change Response Program is working to reduce the carbon footprint of park operations and help the natural wonders of our parklands adjust to changing conditions. Under the Climate Friendly Parks initiative Yellowstone, Yosemite, Olympic and other crown jewels have made measurable commitments to reduce their climate-altering emissions by adopting renewable energy, improving fleet efficiency and other means.

These and other efforts show America is serious about addressing the realities of climate disruption and how they will impact our country.  Sadly, too many members of Congress still aren’t part of the majority of Americans who are sure that climate disruption is real and a threat to our safety and security.  Maybe they need a trip to drought ravaged Texas? 

-- Catherine Semcer, Senior Washington DC Representative, Resilient Habitats Campaign

Photo courtesy Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

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