New Government Report Affirms Importance of Wilderness Protection for Addressing Climate Change

Jun 17, 2009

ANCHORAGE – Responding to a major new government science report on global climate change released at the White House yesterday, The Wilderness Society’s Alaska Regional Office said that the report affirms the need for urgent action and the importance of protecting critical wildlife habitat and undisturbed natural areas.

The report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, summarizes peer-reviewed science to highlight both observed and projected climate changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. A chapter devoted to Alaska details some of the most immediate and profound changes, with alarming implications for the environment and for people.

“This report highlights the fact that ecosystems are already under stress in many ways,” said Dr. Wendy Loya, an ecologist with The Wilderness Society in Anchorage. “Because more change is coming, and scientists are not certain exactly how ecosystems are going to respond, one of the most important things we can do to address climate change is create the best possible conditions to help animals, plants, and people adjust. Protecting natural areas and connecting them to each other is one way to do that.”

Protecting and connecting natural areas is one form of “adaptation” — one of two important strategies for addressing climate change that the new government report mentions, along with “mitigation.” The Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill now being considered by Congress includes funding for natural resources adaptation.

The Wilderness Society is already taking steps to encourage adaptation in Alaska with its campaigns to protect critical wildlife habitat and cultural resources throughout the state. The organization is also working closely with federal land management agencies to apply the most current climate science to future planning and other decisions being made about how to manage Alaska’s natural and cultural resources. Agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have begun discussions about how to connect protected landscapes to one another so that plants and animals have a better chance of migrating or seeking refuge from changing conditions.

“As this government climate report describes, extreme weather events and rapid changes to habitat could threaten to stress some species to dangerous thresholds,” explained Loya. “Human activity can add to that stress and push species past the point of recovery. But, by setting aside unfragmented wild places free from human impacts, we hope to minimize extinctions.”

“Wilderness protection can moderate the domino effects of climate change that will have not just ecological, but also social and economic consequences,” added Anne Gore, Science Education Manager at The Wilderness Society. “The take-away message from this report is that urgent action is needed. We must pass climate legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and fund adaptation strategies. But one of the most important things we can do right here, right now in Alaska is to protect our wild places so that nature can adapt — on its own — to change.”