‘Climate change is forcing plants and animals to shift where they live and grow more quickly’ — Bobby Magill


One measure of Climate Change — constantly shifting vegetation — is the subject of a new report from the United States Geological Service, the National Wildlife Service and Arizona State University. Here’s the release.

Plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events – such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating – at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.

The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the
scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University in Tempe, authored the assessment.

“These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven’t previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.

Grimm explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species’ survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food.

“The impact of climate change on ecosystems has important implications for people and communities,” said Amanda Staudt, a NWF climate scientist and a lead author on the report. “Shifting climate conditions are affecting valuable ecosystem services, such as the role that coastal habitats play in dampening storm surge or the ability of our forests to provide timber and help filter our drinking water.”

Another key finding is the mounting evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change. The most vulnerable species are those already degraded by other human-caused stressors such as pollution or exploitation, unable to shift their geographic range or timing of key life events, or that have narrow environmental or ecological tolerance. For example, species that must live at high altitudes or live in cold water with a narrow temperature range, such as salmon, face an even greater risk due to climate change.

“The report clearly indicates that as climate change continues to impact ecological systems, a net loss of global species’ diversity, as well as major shifts in the provision of ecosystem services, are quite likely,” said Michelle Staudinger, a lead author of the report and a USGS and University of Missouri scientist.

For example, she added, climate change is already causing shifts in the abundance and geographic range of economically important marine fish. “These changes will almost certainly continue, resulting in some local fisheries declining or disappearing while others may grow and become more valuable if fishing communities can find socially and economically viable ways to adapt to these changes.”

Natural resource managers are already contending with what climate change means for the way they approach conservation. For example, the report stated, land managers are now more focused on the connectivity of protected habitats, which can improve a species’ ability to shift its geographic range to follow optimal conditions for survival.

“The conservation community is grappling with how we manage our natural resources in the face of climate change, so that we can help our ecosystems to continue meeting the needs of both people and wildlife,” said Bruce Stein, a lead author of the report and director of climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.

Other key findings of the report include:

Changes in precipitation and extreme weather events can overwhelm the ability of natural systems to reduce or prevent harm to people from these events. For example, more frequent heavy rainfall events increase the movement of nutrients and pollutants to downstream ecosystems, likely resulting not only in ecosystem change, but also in adverse changes in the quality of drinking water and a greater risk of waterborne-disease outbreaks.

Changes in winter have big and surprising effects on ecosystems and their services. Changes in soil freezing, snow cover and air temperature affect the ability of ecosystems to store carbon, which, in turn, influences agricultural and forest production. Seasonally snow-covered regions are especially susceptible to climate change because small precipitation or temperature shifts can cause large ecosystem changes. Longer growing seasons and warmer winters are already increasing the likelihood of pest outbreaks, leading to tree mortality and more intense, extensive fires. Decreased or unreliable snowfall for winter sports and recreation will likely cause high future economic losses.

The ecosystem services provided by coastal habitats are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise and more severe storms. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are most vulnerable to the loss of coastal protection services provided by wetlands and coral reefs. Along the Pacific coast, long-term dune erosion caused by increasing wave heights is projected to cause problems for communities and for recreational beach activities. However, other kinds of recreation will probably improve due to better weather, with the net effect being that visitors and tourism dollars will shift away from some communities in favor of others.

Climate change adaptation strategies are vital for the conservation of diverse species and effective natural resource policy and management. As more adaptive management approaches are developed, resource managers can enhance the country’s ability to respond to the impacts of climate change through forward-looking and climate science-informed goals and actions.

Ecological monitoring needs to be improved and better coordinated among federal and state agencies to ensure the impacts of climate change are adequately monitored and to support ecological research, management, assessment and policy. Existing tracking networks in the United States will need to improve coverage through time and in geographic area to detect and track climate-induced shifts in ecosystems and species.


Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books – such as this report — underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013. This technical report is available at the USGCRP website, as are other completed technical reports. Additional lead authors of this report include Shawn Carter, USGS: F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy; and Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

A changing climate is stressing out plants, animals and the ecosystems they inhabit to a greater degree than at any other period in human history, according to a U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Federation and University of Arizona report released Tuesday. The report will be part of the federal government’s 2013 National Climate Assessment.

Climate change is forcing plants and animals to shift where they live and grow more quickly than expected, the report concludes. Mountain species are moving upward in elevation at rates up to three times greater than scientists estimated because of a warming climate.

Biological diversity across the planet is expected to decline while extreme weather could mean heavy rains in places that aren’t accustomed to them.

More USGS coverage here.

Forecast news: Major winter storm for Colorado today and tomorrow

Snowpack news: Wolf Creek gets a dumping — 47 inches over the past week #CODrought #COwx


From the Pagosa Daily Post:

Here’s the latest from Wolf Creek Ski Area:

Summit Base Depth: 48″
Midway Base Depth: 46″
New Snow (24 Hours): 21″
New Snow (48 Hours): 39″
New Snow (72 Hours): 42″
New Snow (7 Days): 47″
Year-to-Date: 70″

Drought news: Cattlemen are feeling the effects of the multi-year drought #CODrought




Click on the thumbnail graphics for a trip down memory lane — US Drought Monitor maps from December 2010, December 2011 and December 2012.

From the Bent County Democrate (Candace Krebs):

Areas receiving a U.S. Department of Agriculture drought disaster declaration (which includes most of the Central U.S.) can sell cows and buy them back within four years without incurring a tax penalty. Or at least that’s true through Dec. 31. “If you are worried about grass production for next year, consider cutting back on those cows to take advantage of these provisions by the end of the year,” Deering said. “I don’t know whether they will be available after that.”

In addition to the micro-economic considerations so important to individual producers, economists are also watching the macro-economic impacts of drought on the U.S. cowherd overall. Even with cull cow prices at record levels, data indicates most of the cows being sold are going to new homes instead of being slaughtered, at least for now, Deering said. U.S. cow slaughter is expected be down about 4.5 percent in 2012 compared to last year. Beef cow slaughter is expected to be down almost 13 percent, while dairy cow slaughter is expected to be up about 6 percent. Declines in beef cow slaughter is significant, because the nation’s beef herd is already at its lowest level since the 1950s.

From the La Junta Tribune Democrat (Candace Krebs):

At a recent cow-calf meeting hosted by extension specialists from Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, experts talked about a range of management decisions impacted by current conditions that have increasingly come to resemble the historic multiyear droughts of the 1930s and 1950s. Eastern Colorado received only 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation in the last year and is in worse shape as you travel south. Nebraska is running a similar deficit. Pasture and range conditions over a wide area are in dismal shape, with at least 80 percent of the range rated poor or very poor across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, states that all experienced a string of record-warm temperatures during the past year.

The implications are widespread, starting with a lack of forage and corresponding feed shortages, which have boosted hay prices to at least one-third above last year. “I’ve seen lots of people buying year-old hay for $150 a ton,” said Casey Matney, a Colorado State University range specialist in the Akron office…

Native grass species like buffalo can be grazed down to the ground and still re-grow fairly quickly, Matney said, while others like bluestem require more residue. Regardless, consequences of grazing the range bare include a lack of groundcover to provide shading that keeps soil temps cooler and helps catch snow in the winter. The looming dry winter is likely to take a toll on trees that provide shelter from wind erosion as well. “Junipers and shelterbelts will really be affected by this winter drought,” he noted…

Providing cattle with adequate amounts of fresh, clean water is already a challenge as the drought intensifies.

Silverthorne: Next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force December 18 #CORiver


Here’s the agenda.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

EPA Releases National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change


Here’s the link to the agency’s 2012 Water Program Strategy webpage. Click here to view a copy of the report. From the executive summary:

Climate Change poses significant challenges to water resources and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Water Program (NWP). The NWP 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change addresses climate change in the context of our water programs. It emphasizes assessing and managing risk and incorporating adaptation into core programs. Many of the programs and activities already underway throughout the NWP—such as protecting healthy watersheds and wetlands; managing stormwater with green infrastructure; and improving the efficiency and sustainability of water infrastructure, including promoting energy and water efficiency, reducing pollutants, and protecting drinking water and public health—are even more important to do in light of climate change. However, climate change poses such significant challenges to the nation’s water resources that more transformative approaches will be necessary. These include critical reflection on programmatic assumptions and development and implementation of plans to address climate change’s challenges.

This 2012 Strategy articulates such an approach. The reader is advised not to interpret the framing of individual strategic actions that use terms such as “encourage” or “consider” to mean that the NWP doesn’t recognize the urgency of action. Rather, we recognize that adaptation is itself transformative and requires a collaborative, problem-solving approach, especially in a resource-constrained environment. Further, “adaptive management” doesn’t imply a go-slow or a wait-and-see approach; rather, it is an active approach to understand vulnerability, reduce risk, and prepare for consequences while incorporating new science and lessons learned along the way.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at global temperatures from The New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

For those who might be keeping score, we just passed the 333rd consecutive month of global temperatures above the 20th-century average. November 2012 was the fifth-warmest November since records began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its monthly climate report. The agency calculated that the 10 warmest Novembers on record have all occurred within the past 12 years. The last time global temperatures came in below the 20th-century average for the month of November was in 1976, and the last time any month came in below the average was February 1985…

La Niña years are usually cooler than average globally, so scientists say that to have such years coming in among the top 10 warmest in the historical record is a testament to how much the climate is changing.

Finally, the USFS has released a new report, Understanding the effects of a changing climate on native trout in the Rockies. Here’s the release:

Record setting drought and temperatures like those experienced in 2012 may become the “new normal” that managers of aquatic resources in the Rocky Mountains have to contend with as the century progresses. Exploring the historical patterns and potential consequences of a changing climate on native trout habitats and populations to feed into better risk management assessments is the focus of a new study published in the science journal, Fisheries, “The Past as Prelude to the Future for Understanding 21st-Century Climate Effects on Rocky Mountain Trout.” The study was led by U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Research Fisheries Biologist Daniel Isaak, with collaborators from the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

Many bioclimate models predict that large reductions in native trout populations will occur across the Rocky Mountains during the 21st century but the models lack details about how changes will occur. Long-term monitoring records from case history areas that include river basins in northwest Montana, central Idaho, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, western Wyoming and southern Colorado, show trends in temperature and stream flow that suggest trout habitats have already been altered by climate change during the last 50 years. “Unfortunately, similar long-term records for trout populations are lacking so scientists are unable to confirm simultaneous changes in trout populations,” said Isaak.

The study goes on to state that local monitoring networks of biological, temperature, and stream flow data could be developed in a few years and used with new spatial stream analyses to provide high-resolution climate vulnerability assessments that would provide decision makers with “actionable intelligence” regarding where to most efficiently allocate conservation resources. These monitoring networks and vulnerability assessments could form a cornerstone for interagency collaborations and partnerships between research and management as all parties work to develop and enact the conservation strategies needed to preserve native trout in the Rocky Mountains this century.

A copy of this study is featured in the latest issue of the American Fisheries Society’s Fisheries Magazine at www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42330.