What is climate change adaptation anyway?

J. P. Leous

Cap. Trade. Renewable Energy Standard. Emissions reduction targets. Offsets. Price collars. Price floors. Allowances.

If you’ve been following the climate debate, you’ve probably heard these terms ad nauseum. Yet another phrase that is critical to the health of our families, economy and culture slips by too often: natural resources adaptation.

What the heck does natural resources adaptation have to do with global warming? We figured that Blog Action Day 2009 (focused on climate change) is the perfect time to dig in and talk about natural resources adaptation.

Long story short, a mountain of scientific evidence calls for sharp greenhouse gas emission reductions now in order to avoid the worst of global warming’s wrath. But regardless of how well we do reducing emissions in the future, the effects of 150-plus years of burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests are not reversible. The pollution already in the atmosphere has changed climates, and will continue to do so for decades to come.  Even if we had turned off the CO2 tap yesterday, we are already saddled with the effects of past global warming pollution. 

For our lands (and plants and wildlife on them), this means changes in temperature and precipitation patterns often well outside of historic trends. The results can affect species migration, water quality and availability and forest health while promoting invasive species, unusually intense fires and more frequent intense storms. These issues in turn affect our health (clean air and water) and economy.

Both the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act  and the recently introduced Senate Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act include provisions for protecting our natural resources from the effects of global warming by ramping up scientific monitoring and enhancing ecosystem health.

"What does 'enhancing ecosystem health' actually mean?"

The quick answer: there are lots of things resource managers can do to improve the health of our forests, parks and refuges in a warming world. From removing invasive species to repairing fish culverts to fixing and removing old, unwanted logging roads, restoration projects are what public lands will need to stay vibrant as climates change. These projects are the original “green jobs”- especially considering there are billions of dollars worth of restoration projects across the country that would get people to work.

For example, in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the Environmental Protection Agency and other U.S. agencies have teamed up with the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a $12 million project to restore 762 acres of the Nisqually delta to its natural habitat after years of damage caused by industrial agriculture.

The project will allow tidal flows to return to the delta, which will in turn aid in Chinook salmon recovery efforts. The effort is currently receiving $3.4 million in funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Restoration efforts will primarily involve dike removal, leveling previous existing channels, and will span several years as one of the largest restoration projects on the West Coast outside of on-going work in San Francisco Bay.

The Wilderness Society and a diverse coalition of groups continue to work hard to ensure natural resources adaptation provisions are funded through the Clean Energy Jobs bill (S.1733), but we need your help! Please send an email to your senators today and urge them to support a strong climate bill that protects our communities by protecting our public lands!

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