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Climate Change Adaptation for the US National Wildlife Refuge System

TitleClimate Change Adaptation for the US National Wildlife Refuge System
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsGriffith, B, J. Scott, M, Adamcik, R, Ashe, D, Czech, B, Fischman, R, Gonzales, P, Lawler, J, McGuire, DA, Pidgorna, A
JournalEnvironmental Management

Since its establishment in 1903, the NationalWildlife Refuge System (NWRS) has grown to 635 unitsand 37 Wetland Management Districts in the United Statesand its territories. These units provide the seasonal habitatsnecessary for migratory waterfowl and other species tocomplete their annual life cycles. Habitat conversion andfragmentation, invasive species, pollution, and competitionfor water have stressed refuges for decades, but theinteraction of climate change with these stressors presentsthe most recent, pervasive, and complex conservationchallenge to the NWRS. Geographic isolation and smallunit size compound the challenges of climate change, but acombined emphasis on species that refuges were establishedto conserve and on maintaining biological integrity,diversity, and environmental health provides the NWRSwith substantial latitude to respond. Individual symptomsof climate change can be addressed at the refuge level, butthe strategic response requires system-wide planning. Adynamic vision of the NWRS in a changing climate, anexplicit national strategic plan to implement that vision,and an assessment of representation, redundancy, size, andtotal number of units in relation to conservation targets arethe first steps toward adaptation. This adaptation mustbegin immediately and be built on more closely integratedresearch and management. Rigorous projections of possiblefutures are required to facilitate adaptation to change.Furthermore, the effective conservation footprint of theNWRS must be increased through land acquisition, creativepartnerships, and educational programs in order for theNWRS to meet its legal mandate to maintain the biologicalintegrity, diversity, and environmental health of the systemand the species and ecosystems that it supports.