Earth Day 2017: Blogs from the Wildlife Conservation Society

How Nature Is the Best Teacher When It Comes to Adapting to Climate Change

Moosewood Lake region in Maine where the Trust for Public Land worked with local, state and federal agencies to establish the nation’s first climate-focused national wildlife refuge. Photo © Jerry Monkman.

By Liz Tully, Darren Long, and Molly Cross
April 20, 2017

Earth Day reminds us all of the many problems that climate change is creating for our planet. Now more than ever, we need tangible solutions to grapple with the damaging effects climate change is having on our wildlife, our ecosystems, and our communities. Nature is constantly adapting to disturbance and holds many lessons for how we can as well.

While the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has long invested in nature-based solutions to cut carbon emissions and slow down climate change, we know that a full climate strategy must include helping communities and ecosystems be better adapted to the impacts of climate change: eroding coastlines, disappearing wetlands, extreme droughts, intense flooding and much more.

This is why WCS, with the support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, has been putting our money where our mouth is — making financial investments to catalyze innovative, cutting-edge solutions to climate change over the past five years through the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund.

The WCS Climate Adaptation Fund is the first and largest philanthropic effort solely focused on support for on-the-ground conservation actions that help restore and fortify natural systems to improve the adaptive capacity of wildlife and wild places that are under threat. By the end of 2017, we will have granted out over $14 million to U.S.-based conservation organizations doing this ground-breaking work.

A crew of volunteers working with The Nature Conservancy CA at the Gonzales Farm in the Upper Pajaro River Floodplain to reestablish the floodplain’s critical function as a wildlife corridor. Photo © Ethan Inlander.

With our grant partners working across a range of challenges — from thinning forests to reduce the intensity of wildfires to creating living shorelines that can both improve habitats and withstand stronger wave action — the Climate Adaptation Fund is building the case that climate-informed projects make for conservation investments that are smart, sustainable, and effective in the long-term.

In a report that we are soon releasing, “14 Solutions,” WCS offers numerous examples of how conservation practitioners and communities are using climate science and cutting-edge strategies to better equip ecosystems and species to handle problems created by climate change.

Across the drought-stricken West, WCS partners are assisting in the recovery of beavers in landscapes where they once were abundant. As these hard-working animals build dams, they create stream meanders and activate side channels that slow snowpack runoff , increase riparian habitat, and store more water above and below ground. These changes help offset decline sin high elevation winter snows and extend continuous stream flows in the summer, when it is needed the most by animals, farmers, and communities.

In another example, WCS funded the Sky Island Alliance to manage the transition of fire-affected ecosystems in Arizona. One of the methods employed by Sky Islands was to create erosion control structures called “Zuni bowls” to mitigate the damage to streams from post-fire flood runoff. The bowls also trap rainfall and retain soil moisture, creating pockets on the landscape that are now less likely to burn.

A crew of volunteers working with Sky Islands Alliance to prepare landscapes for more intense wildfires. Photo © Sky Islands Alliance.

The projects that we are funding are also demonstrating that climate resilience is possible at all scales. Our grantees work with diverse audiences across the country with varying comfort and knowledge levels around climate change.

The WCS Climate Adaptation Fund prioritizes and support strong communications strategies for our grant recipients to help others understand the challenges and successes of on-the-ground adaptation projects around the country. These communications have already turned small investments into multi-million dollar projects by attracting both government and private funding for sea-level rise adaptation in Maryland, cold-water stream restoration in Virginia, and re-filling seasonal playa ponds for migrating birds in the Great Plains.

In this exciting and emergent field of climate adaptation, we believe that other conservation practitioners and the ecosystems they work to protect will benefit from the knowledge gained by our grant partners through their on-the-ground actions and climate-informed projects.

Join us in our effort by evaluating how climate change will affect your systems, species, and local communities, learn from these climate-smart projects, and do something about it.

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Liz Tully is program manager for the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund. Darren Long is Lead and Director for Climate Adaptation at WCS. Molly Cross is Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator for the WCS Americas program.

WCS Conservation Solutions

By discovering how to save nature, we can inspire everyone to work with us to protect wildlife in the last wild places on Earth.

Wildlife Conservation Society

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

WCS Conservation Solutions

By discovering how to save nature, we can inspire everyone to work with us to protect wildlife in the last wild places on Earth.

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