In addition, sea levels could rise as glaciers melt and warm ocean waters expand. This would inundate bays and coastal marshes vital to waterfowl, especially during the winter. Wedged between the ocean and physical barriers like sea walls, roads, and cities, these marshes have nowhere to “migrate” and would simply disappear. The Chenier Plain marshes of Louisiana, which support more than 1.3 million waterfowl today, would no longer support significant numbers of waterfowl if the rising Gulf of Mexico swallows the marshes. Similarly, Chesapeake Bay could lose 45 percent of its current waterfowl habitat to sea-level rise in the future.
Is There a Silver Lining?
As society more fully accounts for the environmental costs of energy extraction and production, new opportunities may emerge for waterfowl conservation. A “cap and trade” system, aimed at reducing GHG emissions, bears watching. The cap—a limit on emissions—would come with associated GHG “allowances” held by companies. If the initial allowances are sold by auction, which is one possibility, sales will generate an estimated $645 billion from 2012 to 2019. While there is much debate about how this money should be used, a portion of the revenue could be allocated for helping wildlife adapt to climate change.
These “adaptation funds” could be used for conservation projects that not only help ducks cope with climate change but also address broader societal needs. For example, rebuilding Gulf Coast marshes will also help buffer coastal communities against hurricanes. Securing highly diverse native prairie will not only ensure duck nesting habitat for the future but also help ranchers and grass-based agriculture cope with more severe and frequent droughts.
Another possible dimension to cap and trade legislation is “offset credits” that can be bought and sold to help companies meet their emission obligations. Biological offsets are derived from the ability of plants to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store carbon in their roots, leaves, and wood. DU can create offset credits that benefit ducks and the atmosphere by replanting grasslands and bottomland hardwood trees, protecting and restoring pothole wetlands, and securing easements that prohibit plowing of native prairie. When grasslands are plowed, carbon stored in the soil is released into the atmosphere as CO2. Worldwide, 20 percent of global CO2 emissions are created by land conversion, so it’s only natural that avoiding such destruction and restoring wildlife habitat should be part of the climate-change solution.
If we are going to ensure a bright future for waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited must engage in discussions about our energy future and capitalize on emerging opportunities. As we have always done, DU will rely on science to identify the real threats and develop pragmatic solutions that will lead to clean new energy sources and healthy duck populations.
Dr. Jim Ringelman is a director of conservation programs at DU's Great Plains Regional Office in Bismarck, N.D.