Climate Change - Wildlife & Wildlands

Uploaded by USEPAgov on 22.06.2009

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Step in to the outside… Take a look around. Have you noticed? Nature is different than it used to be.
And not just in your yard; but around the world. Drier summers, fiercer storms, milder winters…
the weather seems to be all over the map and it’s been that way for a while now. The earth’s climate is changing.
Climate is the long-term average of weather conditions and it tells us what it’s “usually”
like outside in a given place. Climate change is when weather patterns vary outside the average over time.
It's not just that temperatures become generally hotter or colder.
But there are also changes in precipitation and snowfall from what we are use to.
The last 100 years or so, the earth’s temperature overall has increased by about 1 degree
Fahrenheit and scientists predict that it might rise another 3 to 8 degrees over the next 100 years.
This is what is meant by the phrase global warming.
Scientists believe that the earth is heating up from an excess amount of greenhouse
gases humans are releasing into the atmosphere when we burn fuel to produce the energy that
powers factories, buildings, homes and cars or when we throw rotting garbage into landfills.
Greenhouses gases are a natural part of the environment and trap heat to keep the Earth warm.
However, greenhouse gas levels are higher than they have been for thousands of years and
are increasing rapidly, leading to higher temperatures.
Climate change is very complicated. But experts agree that accelerated rising global
temperatures have already put some of our natural world at risk and will likely
alter the makeup of entire ecosystems. While in many situations humans can get used
to changes in the environment; fish, animals and plants aren’t so lucky.
As our climate continues to change, wildlife, especially those that are threatened or endangered,
will either adapt to changes or they may disappear forever.
Your habitat is your home, your school and your neighborhood, among other places
where you frequently spend your time. All living things rely on their habitats.
But, climate change is affecting where creatures, plants and trees can live, what food is available
and whether they can adapt fast enough to rapidly changing conditions to guarantee their
species’ long-term survival. Yes, even trees need the right environment to thrive and survive.
Rising temperatures are already changing the environment. And, some of the most intense
climate-related habitat changes are those affecting glaciers and ice-fields in polar and sub-polar climates.
Glaciers are large sheets of ice that move very slowly and they’re retreating or “melting” at a record rate
faster than experts have previously predicted. At one time, Grinnell Glacier in Montana’s Glacier National
Park covered 576 acres, now it barely covers 200 acres and may be gone altogether by the year 2030.
Farther north in the land of ice and sea, Alaska and other Arctic areas are sounding the
alarm as a watch-place for what climate change can do to wildlands and habitat for humans
and animals alike. Over the last several decades, temperatures in the Arctic have increased
at almost twice the rate of temperatures throughout the rest of the world.
Large, thick ice floes are the favorite habitat of the Pacific Walrus. It’s where walrus
herds hunt for food and move with the winds and ocean currents of larger polar ice fields.
In recent years, because of warmer temperatures, the sea ice is much thinner and it’s
breaking up much earlier in the Summer. This pushes mothers and their babies onto land where they have
to abandon their feeding grounds and the calves are at risk of getting trampled
because of dense herds packed into a smaller place. Walrus numbers have been going down and we
fear it’s due to melting ice. If walruses are having trouble going with the “floe,” the safety
and survival of other ocean-dependent species have become a daily concern too.
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When ice pack and glaciers melt into the ocean, they cause sea level to rise. Global warming also
causes ocean water to heat up and expand, which also adds to sea level. Scientists predict that sea
level may continue to rise as much as 3 feet during the next century, eroding coastline, beaches
and precious wildlife ecosystems.
Habitat loss and alteration collectively is a huge challenge for wildlife conservation as it is
you throw in climate change into the mix and it adds another layer of complexity.
We are losing land to development, to beachfront properties, and we are also going to witness sea level rise in the future.
The diamondback terrapin is one of the best species to consider when talking about the power of
climate change and the impact of man on the environment. Turtles have been around for 200 million years.
But turtles have fared poorly in the modern world. The endangered diamondback lives solely in tidal salt marshes,
a type of low-lying coastal wetland that’s a mix of salt and freshwater.
As water rises, the turtles lose their beachfront and nesting sites and the salinity of their habitat changes,
which isn’t good for them. Because of human-built structures, such as seawalls and roadways,
there’s no room for the turtle’s habitat to move inland - you see hatched diamondbacks
having to cross busy roads to get to the ocean. They could disappear in some areas.
Higher air temperatures are causing glaciers to melt, sea level to rise, and our oceans,
rivers and lakes to heat up. Below the surface, warmer water temperatures are harming coral reefs,
like the one off the coast of the Florida Keys.
Coral reefs are colorful underwater ecosystems which teem with life and act as a natural
protective barrier for coastal regions.
Recently, as ocean temperatures become warmer and the ocean become more acidic
this is causing some of the corals to die, if the corals die it can become somewhat difficult for the reef to come back to life.
Warmer temperatures will also impact other types of waterways including rivers, lakes
and streams… home to a variety of freshwater fish species. Throughout their life cycle from spawning through
incubation and rearing stages, species like salmon and trout need cool water and good water flow to survive.
While predictions of climate change are serious for all freshwater fish, they are becoming dire for trout.
It doesn’t take a big jump in water temperature of a stream to wipe out a population of brook trout.
The Appalachian are a relly interesting habitation area. In the lower elevations of the Appalachian mountains,
as much as 97% of the brook trout population could be impacted by climate change.
Another potential consequence associated with climate change is more frequent and severe drought.
In national and state forests, parks and wildlife refuges, wildfires may become much harder to
control and alter the composition of the forests, places we’ve set aside to protect.
Drought could also devastate populations of migratory birds, especially those using the Prairie
Pothole region in the Midwest as their annual flyway to Canada.
prairie pothole region of the northern prairies is absolutely critical for waterfowl.
Here millions of small shallow seasonally flooded wetlands provide breeding habitat for half of america's ducks.
With climate change, those wetlands are drying up and they’re disappearing precisely when the
ducks need them to breed and have their young.
Without the prairie potholes, the ducks will either move or they may produce fewer offspring.
Birds are on the wing flying further north and it’s possible that even the songbirds we see
every day in our yards and parks will fly away in search of a better home.
But birds are not alone in their quest for more suitable climate. From bees to balsam fir trees,
woodpeckers to whales – the direction is pointing north toward cooler temperatures. But what
happens when there are no longer cooler temperatures even up north?
The wildlands that wildlife depend on will continue to change right before our eyes.
Nature is different than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to help protect our natural treasures.
Around the country, every day, people of all ages are helping to change the climate forecast and you can too.
Think about the things you use every day that use power… lights, computers TVs… Just remember to turn
them off when you’re not using them. Remember “3R” reduce, reuse and recycle.
Become your family’s “3R” director and get everyone reducing, reusing and recycling around the house.
By saving energy and keeping trash out of landfills, you’re reducing the amount of greenhouse
gases that could go into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
You can also directly help wildlife and wildlands adapt to climate change by lending a
hand. Animals and plants could use it because they can’t always cope on their own.
Get your friends and family involved and sign up to clean a local stream, park, beach.
Ask your family to conserve water, you wouldn't want to live in a area that was surrounded by garbage
so treat your environment the way you treat your own home.
One thing you can do is bring the environment to you. Create a backyard habitat to attract
birds and frogs and other little organisms, and you can do this by planting native wildflowers,
trees and shurbs, and this will make a perfect home for them.
Why not become a “citizen scientist.” You can join a green-study like Project
Budburst to record the budding and blooming of a typical plant in your neighborhood or count
birds as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count. There‘s lots of projects out there.
We use the data collected to help monitor what’s happening with a particular species are
season’s changing? are migration patterns changing? -- and that helps us
understand how climate change is affecting the world around us.
How about this… Get creative and design your own special project to help animals
who are losing their habitats due to climate change or human development.
The best thing that you can do to start helping wildlife adjust to climate change is to simply step outside and get to know your own habitat.
One thing you can't do is care about something if you don't know it. And one of the best ways of knowing
the outdoors and the environment is to get out in, and get dirty in it.
There are many actions that you can take today to help nature adapt to the threats of climate change.
And what affects fish, animals and plants affects people too. The health of wildlife is often an
early warning of disease and pollution that touch us all. Like healthy bodies, healthy populations
and habitats are better equipped to survive. If everybody does a little something every day,
even the smallest effort will make a big difference for wildlife and wildlands everywhere.
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