Encouragingly, prairie habitat conservation is gaining recognition in both the scientific and public policy communities as a win-win for landowners, wildlife, and the environment. But the mutual benefits of habitat conservation for waterfowl and for reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are not limited to the prairies. Conservation of boreal forest landscapes, bottomland hardwood forests, and coastal wetlands may also help reduce carbon dioxide levels in addition to providing vital habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. And this could lead to even more support for waterfowl habitat conservation in the future.
While all the possible impacts of climate change are not known, a number of predicted scenarios would have far-reaching impacts on both waterfowl and hunters. By confronting the potential challenges climate change poses to waterfowl today, conservationists can help ensure a secure future for the birds and our waterfowling tradition.
Different Impacts in Different Landscapes
A changing climate could affect waterfowl and their habitats in a number of ways. Some of the most significant potential impacts include:
- More frequent drought and increased demand for water in the Prairie Pothole Region could result in significant losses of key waterfowl breeding habitat.
- Increasing temperatures in the western boreal forest could melt permafrost beneath many shallow wetland basins, potentially reducing wetland habitat in this important waterfowl breeding area.
- Greater variability and increased intensity of seasonal rainfall could affect waterfowl food availability in key migration areas.
- More frequent spring flooding in bottom- land hardwood systems could lead to significant losses of these important waterfowl wintering habitats.
- Rising sea levels could claim vast acreages of coastal marsh and estuarine habitats vital to migrating and wintering waterfowl.
Dawn Browne is DU's manager of conservation programs in the state of Washington.