Adaptation and mitigation motivate wildlife managers
The Wildlife Forecast
Friday, January 01, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke
Despite some of the drama that emerged during the
United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December,
the leaders of the world's major polluters - Brazil, India, China,
South Africa and the United States - agreed on a compromise with a
nonbinding agreement. Some thought the agreement a good step;
others were not so sure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the
media that the outcome in Copenhagen was a first step toward a "new
world climate order, nothing more but also nothing less." That
seems to be the consensus among many of the 193 nations represented
at the summit.
The accord states that greenhouse gas emissions
must be reduced enough to prevent average global temperatures from
rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. It is a major accomplishment to
have such disparate nations agreeing that something must be done
and giving it a name. It is now up to the folks on the ground to do
the real work on mitigating climate change impacts while adapting
to those changes already in place.
As I sift through the reports from across the sea,
I ponder what it all means in terms of Florida and wildlife in
particular. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's
(FWC) climate change working groups are weighing the strategies
that fall into two categories: adaptation or mitigation, or maybe
"For a long time we've been discussing everything
in terms of adaptation," said Doug Parsons, FWC's climate change
coordinator. "But we also are involved in mitigation activities
whenever we take degraded or destroyed habitat and bring it back to
a state that will sustain wildlife."
Any habitat that brings back life in and of itself
is contributing to the lessening of carbon emissions. In Florida,
we're doing this as a natural part of wildlife management.
"Doing what we know is healthy for wildlife and
habitat means we are doing what is healthy for humans as well,"
Parsons said. "Even though the scientists agree that climate change
is a reality, when we manage for resilience and adaptation, we are
making wise choices for our future as residents of Florida."
Adaptation goes along with the belief that climate
change is beyond changing - all we can do is make the best of the
situation. The strategies that help wildlife adapt to a changing
climate include such things as creating connectivity between
habitats and providing corridors for wildlife to travel.
Anticipating the fluctuation of the human population moving inland
also is crucial to helping both humans and wildlife adapt. I
received an e-mail the other day from someone who wrote, "Why are
we worrying about the wildlife when humans are going to be having
an equally hard time adapting?"
It's something I hear frequently. And the answer
lies in our connection with wildlife. If native wildlife
disappears, if habitats become unhealthy, if seas cover what is now
livable land, there is not much hope for healthy humans either,
unless we work now to adapt. We will be impacted physically,
environmentally, socially and economically. The depletion of native
wildlife will have reverberations across the whole spectrum of
As the world's nations came together to look at the
big picture, others are already at work making good management
decisions. A partnership between four states in the southeastern
United States will assist with adaptability, while mitigating the
effects of carbon emissions. The FWC, along with agencies from
Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, received grant money from the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase the quality, quantity
and connectivity of priority sandhill sites in the four states.
More than 38,500 acres of sandhill habitat will be restored through
prescribed fire, removal of vegetation not conducive to the habitat
and the replanting of longleaf pine. This habitat improvement will
be welcoming to species such as gopher tortoises and native bird
In addition, Florida and Alabama are working
together, along with The Nature Conservancy, to create a natural
corridor, which will assist wildlife as they adapt to climate
change by moving to climates that are more hospitable.
This project represents one of the best examples of
adaptation and mitigation by providing healthy habitat that will
sequester carbon emissions rather than disperse them into the
"By using appropriate management to restore habitat
quality and connectivity, we're adding to the resiliency of
Florida's wildlife," said Anna Farmer, FWC biologist and co-author
of the grant. "This will ensure that during climate change,
Florida's wildlife will be able to weather the storm."
It may not be on the world stage, but it is
conservation at its best, right where it counts.