Global Warming in Alaska: Study by The Wilderness Society predicts changes in a vulnerable state

Lynn Canal Roadless Area, Chugach National Forest. Photo courtesy of USFS.

The Wilderness Society continues to study climate change in Alaska, where some of the most dramatic examples of global warming are being observed.

Our ongoing study, led by Wilderness Society ecologist Dr. Wendy Loya, predicts changes in growing season length, water availability, frequency of fires and the movement of plant and animal species.

The information is being used to help public land managers better understand and address changes taking place in Wildlife Refuges and National Parks.

Loya, working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks SNAP program and several research assistants, analyzed data from global climate and habitat models and developed a system for modeling climate and habitat changes in Alaska. Using GIS mapping tools and various data specific to each study area, Loya and her research team have produced maps and analyses for the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Denali National Park.

Because climate related changes are occurring faster in the Arctic, Alaska’s wildlife may be more vulnerable than in other places in the United States. At the same time, Alaska’s public lands and wilderness areas offer the greatest opportunity for species to adjust to the changes taking place. Knowing what changes to expect is the first step towards taking action. From there, public land managers can develop strategies that better meet the changing needs of the lands and wildlife that live there.

Many of Alaska’s Wildlife Refuges are in the process of revising their management plans, and with this new climate change work, The Wilderness Society is bringing the best available science to bear on these plans. The Park Service has also taken notice of our research, and we are sharing our methods and expertise in hopes that this and other agencies too will adopt our recommendations.