Friday, February 19, 2010

Will Climate Change Guide Environmental Decisions?

A piece in The New York Times last week ("Obama Budget Retools FWS for Warming World") written by Patrick Reis and Allison Winter of Greenwire, says that despite a backlog of endangered species issues and a host of current lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service plans to have climate change as a theme for the agency's $1.65 billion discretionary budget plan for fiscal 2011.

"The budget does reflect a switch in our priorities," said Chris Nolin, head of the service's budget division. "Our primary focus is reorienting the agency so we can address climate change. We need to start looking at climate change in everything we do. That was really the focus of this budget."

Part of this would include the acquisition of land that would become corridors for wildlife moving as temperatures rise and habitat changes.

Ironically, there are also environmentalists who are concerned that this may cause the agency to lose ground on endangered species protection.

"We support climate change adaptation. We support renewable energy development. But none of that should be done at the expense of real protections for species," said Noah Greenwald, director of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species program. "With the added threat of climate change, endangered species need even more protection."

A new agency program is called "landscape conservation cooperatives." The idea, which is being used in many other government agencies including Homeland Security, is an effort to both make the process more efficient and less expensive. Uniting federal agencies, states, nonprofits and universities to design strategic regional conservation plans sounds like a good idea. Get all the parties at the same table talking.

The plan is to launch eight cooperatives in 2010 (ultimately 21 landscape regions). The budget includes monies for climate change planning and science, landscape cooperatives and a significant deposit on land acquisition.

$106 million for land is a 12% increase after years of reduced funding in an attempt to create refuges for species being driven out of their native ranges by climate change.

Is climate change still a hot-button issue? Definitely.

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