While waiting for the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to re-awaken with the arrival of great waves of waterfowl migrating south, I’ve been looking at some timely information about climate change. Global warming, in my opinion, directly affects the mission of the refuge. While the US Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers are doing all they can to return refuge land along the Tualatin River to conditions more like the habitat in which wildlife thrived for thousands of years, it’s increasingly clear we really are not in control of some key variables of that habitat. Forces way beyond our control will likely change the refuge and its inhabitants in irreversible ways.

What really brought this home to me was the the Audubon Society‘s Birds and Climate Change Report, released in early September. The report used citizen-scientist observations (primarily annual bird surveys) gathered over three decades to document how climate change is affecting the annual ranges of 588 North American birds. They combined that data with established climate change scenarios and projected how seasonal ranges are likely to change by 2080. From the report:

Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.

Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate threatened and expected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.

The more I delve into the report the more I marvel at the work Audubon has done. What a great service to wildlife conservation.

The website  contains interactive maps and tables enabling readers to view forecast changes in ranges for specific birds. It also contains tables listing affected birds on a state-by-state basis with maps showing the change in ranges over coming decades. The Pacific Flyway, which the TRNWR serves, is going to be heavily affected. Many of the birds seen regularly on the refuge will face conditions forcing them further north for appropriate habitat, especially during the critical summer breeding time. Birds from the Oregon list of “threatened” or “endangered” species include:

  • Ring-neck Duck
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Gadwall
  • Redhead
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Bufflehead
  • Golden Eagle
  • and many more.

In addition, the report makes a serious effort to anticipate ways that various species may adapt to changing conditions, or not. The report suggests some birds will be able to change their location and adapt well; others may stay in place and “suffer” the consequences; and others may face extinction, the worst-case scenario.

Another thing to keep in mind is that birds are indicator species for likely impacts on a whole range of flora and fauna. So the whole ecosystem of plants and wildlife on the refuge will face changing climate conditions. To me the whole concept of “habitat conservation” needs to be re-thought. There’s only so much you can do within the boundaries of the refuge. It’s a case where we need to act locally for sure, but we need to think globally and join with others to reduce climate change.

I recommend anyone interested in conservation of birds and habitat read the full Birds and Climate Change Report (PDF link here). I, for one, intend to make climate change a top talking point in my interactions with the public.


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