The climate crisis is already changing the playing field for wildlife and urgent action is needed to preserve America’s conservation legacy, according to a new report released yesterday by the National Wildlife Federation. Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis examines case studies from across the country illustrating how global warming is altering wildlife habitats. It recommends solutions to protect both wildlife and communities across America from the growing climate-fueled threats such as extreme weather, sea level rise and wildfires.
“Some of America’s most iconic species—from moose to sandhill cranes to sea turtles–are seeing their homes transformed by rapid climate change,” said Dr. Amanda Staudt, climate scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. “Climate disruption is the most serious threat facing America’s wildlife and requires action at the local, state and federal levels.”
The National Wildlife Federation report covers eight regions of the U.S., from the Arctic to the Atlantic coast, and details concrete examples of wildlife struggling to adapt to the climate crisis:
- A recent study looked at 305 species of birds in North America and found that of those, more than half (177) have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the past four decades.
- Climate change is creating conditions fueling more mega-wildfires, which are having devastating impacts on fish and wildlife habitats and are putting people and property in harm’s way.
- Alaska has warmed about twice as much as the continental U.S. and warming is severely altering the Arctic landscape including melting permafrost. In the face of this unprecedented warming, many uniquely polar habitats—like the sea ice that polar bears, seals, and walrus require to hunt—are shrinking fast.
- As superstorm Sandy demonstrated, extreme weather fueled by climate change can turn coastal habitats upside down. Of the 72 National Wildlife Refuges along the Atlantic coast, 35 were temporarily closed because of the storm’s devastation, not to mention the widespread destruction of property and infrastructure.
The report recommends a four-pronged attack to confront the climate crisis’ threats to wildlife and communities:
- Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.
- Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels while avoiding dirty energy choices like coal and tar sands oil.
- Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
- Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather and more severe droughts.
“We know what’s causing the climate changes Americans are seeing in their own backyards and we have the solutions to secure our climate and safeguard our wildlife for future generations,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “What we need is the political leadership to make smart energy choices and wise investments in protecting our natural resources. We can’t leave this problem for our children and grandchildren to fix—they’ll judge us based on what we do now.”
The report comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 inaugural address targeting climate change as a priority. “We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” said President Obama. “That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks.”