Climate change factors into conservationist buys

By Haya El Nasser
New York, NY (October 22, 2008)- Climate change is prompting some conservation groups to broaden strategy in buying pristine lands, recognizing that some may be under water in 50 years or undergo other drastic changes. For the first time, land trusts and other conservationists are factoring in evidence that global warming is altering the migration of species, reconfiguring coastlines, and transforming natural habitats.

“Natural habitat in one place now might move 100 miles in 50 years because of climate change,” says Matt Shaffer of The Trust for Public Land. “It’s hard to pinpoint where that migration is going to happen.” Among the changes, The Nature Conservancy is targeting acres that are inland now but will quite likely be near the shoreline as coastal erosion worsens.
In the Albemarle Peninsula near North Carolina’s Outer Banks, sea levels have been rising 2 inches every decade. Up to 469,000 acres of low-lying land could be flooded by as little as a 12-inch increase, the Nature Conservancy says. The group is restoring oyster reefs and identifying trees tolerant of salt in the soil in preparation for stronger waves that cause erosion.
“If you look at any one specific place, it’s very difficult to predict how much warmer it will get, how much wetter, how much drier,” says Bill Stanley, who directs the Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Initiative.
Conservation groups are protecting land on a much larger scale than previously because they say hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent and severe. In the Northeast, the Nature Conservancy is setting aside forestland at least 25,000 acres at a time. In the 1990s, it was making acquisitions of 1,000 to 2,000 acres, says Mark Anderson, director of conservation science for the eastern region.
“Some places are going up to 100,000 acres,” he says. Massive forest acreage can offset tree losses in areas hit by disasters. The Minnesota Land Trust is connecting small parcels of protected land to form long corridors that can accommodate animal species and vegetation through various stages of climate change.
“All of us looking at conservation projects are thinking not so much anymore about what’s on the ground today, but what’s in the future,” President Jane Prohaska says.
The Nature Conservancy is using ClimateWizard, a computer program that can show how temperatures have changed over the past 100 years and how they’re likely to change in the future. It is also updating its strategies to preserve ecosystems in the face of development, agricultural runoff, roads and overfishing.
“In the past, (we) never took climate change into account,” says Jeff DeBlieu of the group’s Climate Change Learning Network. “Now, we’re trying to get much more exact with reduced precipitation, increased temperatures.”
It’s unlikely that groups will steer away from purchases. “We’ve certainly not come to the conclusion that we should abandon coastal areas,” says Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, in a Texas area hard hit by Hurricane Ike. “However, we are going into it with our eyes wide open.”
For the full article, visit USA Today- Climate change factors into conservationist buys.