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11/08/2011

The Importance of Creating Resilient Habitats

Fran HuntClimate change is the largest threat that our natural heritage has ever faced. We must now actively work to create resilient habitats where plants, animals, and people are able to survive and thrive on a warmer planet.

To fully protect wildlife and wild places for future generations to experience and enjoy, we need to expand the way we think about conservation. Protecting isolated places is no longer enough. Science tells us that we must also look to the areas that connect and surround our cores wild places. And we must block damaging uses of these important lands, such as logging, drilling and mining.  The key is to protect large connected areas to create healthy natural systems - or resilient habitats - that are better able to adjust to shifting temperatures, precipitation patterns and migration routes.

For example, America’s Arctic is our nation's final conservation frontier. The coastal waters, rolling tundra, wild rivers, and precious wetlands, ponds, and deep lakes of the Arctic support a stunning array of wildlife. Nearly 200 bird species nest on the tundra and wetlands, while caribou, musk oxen, wolverines, and grizzly roam the vast expanses of wild lands. The world’s largest carnivorous land species, the polar bear, is also found roaming the land masses and ice sheets of the Artic. 

Polarbear3The severe effects of global warming on Arctic habitats and wildlife serve as an early warning to the dilemma that other wildlife will face as the globe heats up. Average temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere the world, with devastating effects not only on sea ice, but on tundra, permafrost, and forests. Melting sea ice makes coastal areas more vulnerable to storm surges. Thawing permafrost accelerates erosion. Rising temperatures increase the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires, and are already causing insect outbreaks in the tundra and forests.

The Arctic is just one of many wild places we must protect from climate disruption by making it a resilient habitat. Fortunately, the Obama Administration is recommending protecting a critical core wildland area in the region, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Wilderness designation would safeguard this critically important place for caribou and other wildlife and prevent damaging oil and gas drilling operations in this remote pristine wildland.  Tell the Administration you support keeping it as wilderness.

Beyond the Arctic, we must protect and connect our wild places so that wildlife can move safely from one place to another. Creating a network of wild places will allow imperiled plants and animals to move to more hospitable homes as the climate changes and also help them escape the impacts of drilling, logging and other growing threats. Giving wildlife room to roam will result in healthier populations, now and in the future

Moose2As conditions on the ground shift, so will the home ranges of plants and animals. For example, warming temperatures will continue to push some wildlife north or to higher elevations where it is cooler. Increased droughts will put wildlife on the move in various directions in search of more reliable water sources.  To plan for this, we must restore critical buffer areas around our current parks and other wild areas. Those buffers, like the corridors, will allow wildlife the room it needs to adjust and survive.

Successfully creating healthy natural systems will help ensure that our wild places and wildlife are able to survive in our rapidly changing world.  Healthy natural systems also benefit our communities by cleaning and storing drinking water, filtering our air and providing protection against extreme weather events.  And of course they offer countless opportunities to explore and enjoy!

For more than a century the Sierra Club has worked to protect America's wild places, wildlife, and natural heritage. Today our outdoor heritage faces new and growing threats-- from destructive energy development, to unsustainable logging and a rapidly changing climate. We must protect, connect, and restore our wildlands, forests and waterways to function as healthy natural systems, not isolated pieces, to create resilient habitats where plants, animals and people can survive and thrive in a changing world.

-- Fran Hunt, Director of the Sierra Club Resilient Habitats Campaign

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