• Managing The National Wildlife Refuge System With Climate Change: The Interaction Of Policy, Perceptions, And Ecological Knowledge

      Magness, Dawn Robin (2009)
      The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) is committed to conserving fish, wildlife, and plants for current and future generations of Americans. Given a rapidly changing climate, managers may employ various adaptation strategies to meet legislated mandates. I explore how ecological context, policy, perceptions and available ecological knowledge inform adaptation strategies. In Chapter 2, I develop an ecosystem vulnerability framework to better understand how climate change risk and ecosystem resilience interact to impact the NWRS. With GIS, I rank refuges based on historic temperature change, historic precipitation change, and sea-level rise risk. To index resilience, I rank refuges based on refuge size, landscape road density, and elevation range. Using this GIS analysis and the ecosystem vulnerability framework, I categorize the 527 refuges into four groups (refugia, ecosystem maintenance, facilitate transitions, and experiments in natural adaptation) that provide a necessary context for national, strategic adaptation planning. In Chapter 3, I survey 32% of NWRS biologists and managers to understand how policy and their perceptions of climate change influence adaptation choice. Currently, managers and biologists independently decide if climate change is natural or anthropogenic for wildlife management, and this conceptualization becomes important for deciding whether reactionary or anticipatory adaptation approaches are more appropriate. Although respondents considered practicability, they prefer historic condition. Respondents also prefer ecosystems and species adapt naturally. In a rapidly changing climate, natural adaptation may not be feasible without large-scale extinction. Nonetheless, many biologists and managers are uncomfortable with the alternative of manipulating ecosystems and species assemblages toward future conditions. Finally, understanding climate change impacts requires the analysis of complex ecological relationships over time and this complexity creates another barrier for implementing a national adaptation strategy. In Chapter 4, using a data-mining approach on data from scaled-down GCMs and an atypical monitoring approach, I build bioclimatic envelope models to show how the distributions of two passerines will potentially shift in response to climate change over the next 100 years on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. In order to effectively manage species within the context of strategic adaptation planning, the NWRS must design future biological monitoring approaches with spatial modeling in mind.