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Last modified: Tuesday, August 19, 2008

IU law professor co-authors EPA report on adapting to climate change

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 19, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Rising global temperatures are already affecting sensitive ecosystems in the United States, but improved management strategies can make those areas more resilient to climate change, according to a report co-authored by an environmental law expert at Indiana University.

The report, titled Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources, was released this summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Robert L. Fischman, professor of law at the IU School of Law--Bloomington, was a contributing author for the 100-page chapter on national wildlife refuges.

Robert Fischman

Robert Fischman

Print-Quality Photo

The report also includes chapters on other management systems within what Fischman calls "the conservation estate" -- national forests, national parks, wild and scenic rivers, national estuaries and marine protected areas.

Fischman, the leading expert on laws governing the management of the national wildlife refuge system, said climate change presents serious threats to refuges, many of which are located in coastal areas that are vulnerable to rising sea levels and Arctic and near-Arctic regions affected by warming. But for a variety of reasons, he said, the refuge system could be a leader in adapting to climate change.

"I think climate change presents an urgency we haven't felt before," he said. "It's a challenge, but it's also an opportunity."

Fischman said it is important to help ecosystems adapt to climate change at the same time efforts are made to slow climate change by controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Human-induced climate change is already occurring, he said, and even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will continue.

"The longer we wait to adapt to climate change, the more options for adaptation will be foreclosed," he said.

The EPA report takes the approach of using management goals for each protected area to develop strategies to increase the resilience of each ecosystem. Resilience refers to the ability of an ecosystem to absorb change or disturbance without shifting to a different type of system.

The report says that, in many cases, management practices used against other threats -- such as pollution, habitat destruction and development pressures -- can also reduce the impact of climate change. Those practices include buffer zones near vulnerable habitats, corridors that connect sensitive areas and cooperation with adjoining landowners.

Fischman said national wildlife refuges may be the "often-ignored middle child" of the conservation estate, but they have advantages when it comes to adapting to climate change.

Because many refuges were established to protect migrating birds, he said, they are likely to be managed as part of dynamic systems, not as isolated properties. Their managers have experience with such strategies as focusing on sensitive corridors, developing partnerships with property owners and using interventions -- such as impounding lakes and contracting with farmers to grow certain crops -- to create ecosystems and protect species.

Refuges often occupy property that has been damaged by excessive logging, farming or grazing or by military use. In that way, they are more like areas outside of the conservation estate -- and more like protected lands in countries other than the U.S. -- than the pristine and often magnificent national parks. They can also better serve as a model for effective adaptation strategies.

Finally, the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, with its mandate to administer a "national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats," provides a modern and flexible legal framework for strategies to adapt to climate change.

"A network is the right metaphor for the kind of management of the conservation estate that we need to move toward," Fischman said.

To read the full report, go to http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-4/final-report/#finalreport. To speak with Fischman, call 812-855-4565 or e-mail rfischma@indiana.edu.