At a federal land and wildlife conference held in Boise, Idaho, in June 2008, the focus was on how global warming will affect natural resources management. The take-home message delivered at the end was that "global warming and wildlife do not mix." Natural resource managers there reported that climate change threatens so many species today worldwide that it will be impossible to save them all. Today's wildlife refuges may end up too far south or too low in elevation to house the animals they were created to protect. National parks that the federal government strives to keep in their natural state may eventually face a far different climate than the one they had when they were created. The conference also concluded that wildlife managers and federal policy makers may have to make what is known as "Noah's choice," named after the biblical story of Noah, who saved animals from the flood. With so many species facing extinction and limited resources (such as funding), someone may have to choose which animals will survive and which ones will not.
The conference represents a significant stride for government leadership. It marks the first time that resource agencies have brought together the people who manage the refuges, parks, wildlife populations, forests, and rangeland, encouraging them to work together toward a common goal. The changing reality of the ecosystems they manage is now forcing them to reconsider their priorities and the way they will do their jobs in the future.
Anne Kinsinger, the western regional director of the U.S. Geological Survey, who organized the conference, says, "We realize that so much of what we know is looking backward. That's no longer relevant."
She stresses that currently managers are striving to maintain the ecosystems that have existed for hundreds of years. With global warming, however, maintaining those cooler ecosystems simply will not be possible.
Jeff Burgelt, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said, "Managers are going to face challenges like none they have seen in their careers. As species and the ecological communities on which they depend move north and up mountains to adjust to warming temperatures, existing wildlife refuges will become obsolete and management plans worthless."
"We need to develop an entirely new conservation paradigm," said Jean Brennan, a climate scientist with Defenders of Wildlife. "Instead of protecting the habitat species' needs today, managers must begin to develop predictive tools to preserve their habitat in the future. They need to be able to make it possible for the animals and plants to move to the new areas in a landscape fragmented by human development."
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