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Michelle Staudinger and Toni Lyn Morelli release “Integrating Climate Change into the State Wildlife Action Plans”

Posted: July 9th, 2015
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Courtesy of UMass News and Media Relations

UMass Amherst Scientists Assist State Wildlife Managers with Conservation, Climate Science Data

June 29, 2015

Contact: Janet Lathrop 413/545-0444

AMHERST, Mass. – State fish and wildlife agencies across the Northeast and Midwestare now updating their 10-year state wildlife action plans and climate change is a bigger concern than ever before. To help them gauge what’s ahead, scientists at the Northeast Climate Science Center (NECSC) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today offer a report on response to climate change for hundreds of regional species of greatest conservation need.

Authors Michelle Staudinger and Toni Lyn Morelli, both ecologists with U.S. Geological Survey, and adjunct faculty in the department of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst, with NECSC postdoctoral fellow Alexander Bryan released the report synthesizing the latest information on ecological vulnerability and species response to climate variation and change in the center’s 22-state area, which stretches from Maine to Minnesota in the west and south to Virginia.

Species of greatest conservation need include brook trout in much of New England, as well as American shad, Atlantic sturgeon, wood turtle, several bats, Eastern hellbender salamander, piping plover, blackpoll warbler, wood thrush, moose, spruce grouse and hundreds more birds, insects, amphibians, fish mammals, reptiles and freshwater mussels, all “natural heritage species,” Staudinger explains.

“It’s a regional guide to what we know about climate impacts and species responses to those impacts,” she adds. “This report is different because it focuses on synthesizing information on regional species of greatest conservation need, which are the focus of each state’s plans.”

The ecologist points out that, “There is an overwhelming amount of information that comes out, sometimes on a daily basis, about how climate change may affect individual species and ecosystems in the future. We know that states are now updating their Wildlife Action Plans to meet an October deadline in the 10-year revision cycle. We also know that they have to include climate change in their planning strategies, and many are not trained in climate science. In fact, several have told us this directly, that this is going to be a challenge for them.”

“So, when we were looking for ways to make a positive contribution in our region, this seemed to be a naturally good fit,” Staudinger adds. “We intend and hope that this information will help managers who are writing state plans, especially with incorporating climate change, so they can discuss climate change vulnerability in a knowledgeable way, and so they will have references on how specific species are responding. They will have access to our current understanding of the species-specific climate change impacts by state and ecoregion.”

John O’Leary, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and member of the U.S. Department of Interior’s advisory committee on climate change adaptation science, says the new report will be extremely valuable to state planners. “This is a great thing for a lot of reasons,” he says. “The state wildlife action plans are due in a few months, and we at the state level are trying to save many of our common species from facing really difficult problems in the future.”

“Including climate change in our action plans is critical,” he adds. “With this report, the Northeast Climate Science Center provides us with the science, and we are the ones who will put it into action.”

The 200-page report, which includes many maps, charts and synthesis tables, provides summaries of climate change assessments and projections for approximately twenty climate variables such as air temperature, precipitation, soil moisture and sea level rise. It also has a regional overview of existing climate change vulnerability assessments, plus species and habitats at greatest risk to climate impacts. It offers short- and long-term adaptation strategies and actions available to natural resource agencies for conserving wildlife and ecosystems.

The authors collaborated with a range of partners including the environmental firm Terwilliger Consulting, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and Wildlife Conservation Society, with input from state wildlife action plan coordinators, the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.