Climate Change Will Be Its Highest Priority, Says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Adam Brickley | October 13, 2009 | 9:08pm EDT

BIson, photographed at a National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

( – Over the next five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plans to make climate change its “highest priority.”
According to its new “Action Plan” released last month, the branch of the U.S. Department of Interior charged with protecting fish, wildlife and plants will focus first and foremost on the global weather.
“Climate change must become our highest priority,” a fact sheet attached to the plan said. “Consequently, we will deploy our resources, creativity and energy in a long-term campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard fish, wildlife and their habitats.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it plans to “reach out to the larger conservation community to tackle climate change.”

The Action Plan is part of an overall strategic report titled “Rising to the Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change.” 

That report makes no bones about just how seriously the FWS considers the climate situation to be. “(A)s a Service, we are committed to examining everything we do, every decision we make, and every dollar we spend through the lens of climate change,” it declares on page one.

The report compares the modern fight against climate change to past efforts to ban the pesticide DDT.
“We see climate change as an issue that will unite the conservation community like no other issue since the 1960s, when (environmentalist) Rachel Carson sounded an alarm about pesticides,” the plan said on page three.
On page five, the report says: “(C)limate change has very likely increased the size and number of wildfires, insect outbreaks, pathogens, disease outbreaks, and tree mortality.”
Page eight contains a grim prediction of the potential situation that the FWS think it will confront in the future.
“Rising seas will result in immense pressure to build sea walls and other structures to protect coastal development,” the document says. “These actions will impact the fish, wildlife, and plants that rely upon nearby beaches, salt marshes, and other natural habitats.
“Furthermore, climate change may divert development pressure from coastal areas to higher ground as people seek to escape places threatened by rising seas. Together, all of these stressors will have impact on species that are imperiled today, and they could cause others to become imperiled for the first time.”
The Action Plan, meanwhile, lays out - in copious detail – several short-term actions that the FWS will take in the next five years to address climate issues.
One objective (numbered 6.2 in the plan), states that that the FWS must “share climate change information, education, and training opportunities with external audiences.”
To accomplish that, (Action 6.2.3), the bureau plans to create a “Climate Education Team”--and rely upon utility and public service companies to distribute information aimed at convincing customers that they should be concerned about climate change.
“The Climate Education Team will pursue opportunities to piggy-back on mass-mailings to company’ customers, as appropriate.” The plan schedules this action for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years.
Another action item--“establish electronic means of posting and sharing lessons learned, Service success stories, and other information related to implementing climate change mitigation, adaptation and engagement activities. They will explore all avenues of communication to reach all age groups, with special emphasis on venues for children and young adults.”
The agency will also conduct a National Biological Inventory and Monitoring Partnership that will “generate scientific data needed to understand climate change effects on the distribution and abundance of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats; model predicted population and habitat change; and help us determine if we are achieving our goals.”
In the long term, the FWS plans to focus its climate change efforts on a yet-unwritten “National Fish and Wildlife Adaptation Strategy,” which the report describes as, “a coordinated, multi-organizational plan for landscape conservation across the United States, portions of Mexico and Canada, and certain, more-distant areas in Central and South America.”

The adaptation strategy is described in detail in the cap-and-trade energy bill that is still in Congress. H.R. 2454, the American Energy and Security Act, was passed by the House in June on a 219-212 vote, with 3 congressmen voting "present." The Senate is considering its own version of the legislation.

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