Tag Archives: climate change

Sharing Lessons Learned

Staff from the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, located in North Carolina and Virginia, has entered into a Sister Protected Area Arrangement with Sebangau National Park in Indonesia. Through this partnership, the two nationally protected areas will work together to share expertise in environmental restoration and the development of ecotourism.

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Participants of the Ecotourism Workshop conducted by the USFWS during their last visit to Indonesia, Credit: DOI-ITAP

As exciting as this partnership sounds, you may be wondering why Great Dismal Swamp was chosen to become a “sister” to a national park half a world away. Well, there are actually very good reasons!

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Deforestation outside of Sebangau National Park for a palm oil production plantation, Credit: DOI-ITAP

Both Great Dismal Swamp and Sebangau encompass vast peatlands that have historically been drained of water to support timber harvesting operations. Prior to becoming a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974, Great Dismal Swamp was owned by timber companies, who created ditches to drain the peatlands, making it easier to remove trees. Similarly, much of the peatlands in Sebangau have been drained through the formation of canals that were created to move timber down river to market. Because the once rich peatland forests have been drained and deforested, both areas have suffered frequent forest fires that have further devastated the area’s ecology.

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Devastation from the 2008 wildfire at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: USFWS

Why are wetlands such as peatlands important to conserve? Wetlands provide many direct services to people, like cleaning our drinking water, protecting us from floods, and providing habitat for many species of wildlife. In addition, Great Dismal Swamp and Sebangau are refuges for endangered species. Great Dismal Swamp is home to the red-cockaded woodpecker and the canebreak rattlesnake, while Sebangau hosts the largest orangutan population in any protected area in Indonesia.

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A wild orangutan spotted in a peat swamp forest in Indonesia, Credit: Daniel Murdiyarso, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Peatlands are particularly important to the issue of climate change because they store huge amounts of carbon in their wet soils. Although they only cover about 3 percent of the world’s land area, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all of the trees in the world’s forests combined! When peat soils are drained and exposed to oxygen from the atmosphere, those stores of carbon are released as carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas scientists say is a major cause of global warming. Even more devastating are the amounts of carbon dioxide released if these dry soils are burned in forest fires.

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Layers of dry peat soil were destroyed during a wildfire at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, leaving these plant roots exposed, Credit: USFWS

At Great Dismal Swamp, scientists have been working for years to rewet the peatland soils. They have installed weirs, devices that can be used to control water levels, into the ditches throughout the refuge to slow drainage and raise water levels. Through a $3.1 million project supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, 13 additional weirs will be added or replaced at the refuge. By managing water levels, the Service and partners hope to bring back the natural resources that have been lost, along with the benefits they provide, such as protection from floods. Also, because the refuge will be able to raise or lower water levels as needed, the peatlands will become more resilient to the predicted effects of climate change.

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A half-moon riser structure installed to slow drainage and re-wet the peat soils at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: USFWS

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A large weir at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, another water control structure used to slow drainage and raise water levels, Credit: USFWS

Sebangau, which was only established as a Federal National Park in 2004, is still in the beginning of its restoration journey. Through the Sister Protected Area Arrangement, the staff at Great Dismal Swamp has committed to helping them navigate through this journey. Great Dismal Swamp personnel will offer training in hydrological restoration and monitoring, endangered species management, and the development of ecotourism in the Park.

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USFWS Hydrologist Fred Wurster discussing groundwater well installation with Indonesian conservationists, Credit: DOI-ITAP

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Great Dismal Swamp and Sebangau staff “trekking” along an interpretive trail in Sebangau National Park, Credit: DOI-ITAP

Each year for five years, the staffs of the protected areas will meet in person, once at Great Dismal Swamp and once at Sebangau. In addition, an Indonesian intern will spend one month at Great Dismal Swamp this spring, learning how hydrology is managed at the refuge.

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Great Dismal Swamp staff travelling by klotoeks, a boat traditional to the area, into Sebangau National Park, Credit: DOI-ITAP

Chris Lowie, refuge manager at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, says he has learned a lot from Indonesian conservationists. “For me, the trip was beneficial to see first-hand that we are not alone in the U.S. at addressing peatland management. It is a very complex system, so learning what folks are doing in other parts of the world is useful for our management strategies as well.”

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Chris Lowie (Refuge Manager, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge) and Adib Gunawan (Manager, Sebangau National Park) at the Partnership Signing Ceremony, Credit: DOI-ITAP

This partnership is just one example of how the Service is committed to addressing environmental restoration on a global scale. By creating and maintaining partnerships across the world, we hope to contribute toward true and lasting impacts to Earth’s natural resources, for the benefit of all.

To learn more about Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, please visit their website and Facebook page.

To learn more about Sebangau National Park, please visit their Facebook page.

The sister protected area partnership between Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Sebangau National Park was signed through the United States Department of Interior (DOI) to strengthen management of national parks in Indonesia. The DOI International Technical Assistance Program (ITAP) is partnering with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to implement the project, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Feature photo credit: Exotissimo Travel

Climate change: What it means for monarchs

Last night, a sold-out crowd filed their way into The Franklin Institute for the opportunity to listen to and participate in “A Conversation with Bill Nye!” With global temperatures on the rise, Bill Nye addressed his concerns and new ideas regarding climate change and what we all can do to combat a wetter and hotter Philadelphia.

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Bill Nye and Maiken Scott

Climate change not only affects people, but it can affect even the smallest of wildlife species, including monarch butterflies and other pollinating insects. While warmer climates could initially prolong monarch breeding in the summer months, it could cause a northern shift in breeding grounds and potentially lengthen an already treacherous migration. Monarch caterpillars are particularly sensitive to warm temperatures above 84℉ and are usually found taking cover under the leaves of their milkweed host plant on warmer days.

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A monarch caterpillar munching on milkweed

Additionally, overwintering sites in Mexico would be unsuitable in a warmer climate. While higher elevations would be the next likely option for monarchs to overwinter, forests outside of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve have diminished and would require decades to regenerate. With a 90 percent population decline due mostly to habitat loss, rising temperatures would only add another hurdle for monarchs to overcome.

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Migration routes

In an effort to spread the word about the effect of climate change on monarch butterflies, my coworkers and I attended “A Conversation with Bill Nye” at The Franklin Institute and gave those in attendance an opportunity to create seed balls. By combining clay, seeds, and soil, you make a quick and easy seed ball that you can essentially throw anywhere!

Seed balls containing native wildflower and grass seeds can be tossed into any open, sunny area to improve monarch habitat and combat climate change. Over 300 seed balls were created by those in attendance and we distributed even more milkweed seeds. With the creation of monarch habitat and more green spaces, we are one step closer to a pollinator friendly Philadelphia.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Staff pose for The Pulse

Three Years After Sandy: Building a Stronger Atlantic Coast

Three years ago this week, Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the Atlantic Coast with record storm surge, fierce winds and torrential rain. Earlier this month Hurricane Joaquin again reminded us of nature’s power, inundating much of the Atlantic Seaboard with heavy rains and chest-deep floodwaters and setting historic records in the Carolinas. And only days ago, Hurricane Patricia — the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere with maximum sustained winds of 200 m.p.h. — threatened the coast of Mexico before weakening significantly after landfall.

Visit doi.gov/hurricanesandy to learn more about how Department of the Interior investments are helping to build a stronger Atlantic Coast three years after Hurricane Sandy.

In this age of uncertainty we have come to expect the unexpected. The science tells us that climate change will cause hurricanes and tropical storms to become more intense — lasting longer, unleashing stronger winds, and causing more damage to coastal ecosystems and communities. The question is, what can we do to help coastal areas stand stronger against the storm?

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has spurred an unprecedented effort to strengthen natural defenses along the Atlantic Coast to protect communities and wildlife against future storms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Department of the Interior agencies are investing $787 million in hundreds of projects to clean up and repair damaged refuges and parks; restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline; connect and open waterways to improve flood control; and increase our scientific understanding of how these natural areas are changing.

The Service is investing $167 million in more than 70 projects to clean up refuges, restore and strengthen coastal areas (marshes and beaches), connect and open waterways for better fish passage and flood protection and support other efforts to protect wildlife and communities from future storms. These investments support the goal of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense storms predicted with a changing climate. They also create jobs and provide opportunities for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and other recreational opportunities. Here are a few projects that have been completed or are under way:

Cleanup of post-Hurricane Sandy debris, removed from coastal marshes at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

Post-Hurricane Sandy debris removal from the coastal marshes of Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey, made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

  • In New Jersey, we’ve completed a $13 million debris removal project at E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to clean up more than 32,000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal habitat. The project removed 1,900 tons of debris from 22 miles of coastline and employed more than 100 workers. Removing the debris allows coastal areas to recover, providing healthier habitat for native wildlife while acting as a buffer against future storms.
  • In Maryland, we’re constructing 20,950 feet of living shoreline to protect marshes at Fog Point, a coastal section of Maryland’s Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge in Smith Island. The $9 million project will help protect more than 1,000 acres of interior tidal high marsh, sheltered water, submerged aquatic vegetation and clam beds against the effects of future storms. It also will enhance the natural defenses of saltwater habitats important to the island’s soft crab fishery, a natural resource local Smith Island residents depend on for their livelihoods.  

Learn more about the Fog Point living shoreline project in this video.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge marsh restoration - dredge work to drain flooded marsh CREDIT David Eisenhauer

Dredge work drains a flooded marsh in Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, part of an ongoing $38 million marsh restoration effort in Delaware. Credit: David Eisenhauer/USFWS

  • In Delaware, we’ve invested $38 million in a marsh restoration effort under way to build storm and sea-level rise resilience into the natural landscape at Delaware’s Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The project is repairing breached marshes and reconstructing severely damaged shoreline, including critical dune restoration. Restored marshes at the refuge will provide a more resilient coast against future storms and create additional habitat for birds, including American oystercatchers and federally listed species such as rufa red knots and piping plovers. Along with the restoration of coastal wildlife habitat, the project provides the added benefit of enhanced storm protection for nearby residents.
Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. open up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. opens up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

  • In Connecticut and Rhode Island, we worked with The Nature Conservancy to remove White Rock dam. The $794,000 project will reduce flood risk to local communities, restore habitat for fish and wildlife and open up several dozen miles of  fish passage in the Pawcatuck River for the first time in nearly 250 years. It is among 13 Hurricane Sandy-funded  projects to remove dams or  evaluate them for removal in four states.

Three years after Hurricane Sandy, communities, government and nonprofit organizations are working together like never before to better understand and adapt to changing conditions. Clearly it will take time and careful planning before we see a return on many of these investments. But the Service is confident the long-term benefits of building a stronger coast will far outweigh initial costs when it comes to protecting communities, sustaining wildlife and lessening the financial impact of damages resulting from future intense storms. To that end, we are establishing systems to carefully monitor and evaluate our progress to ensure this work is effective and lasting. The nature we care about and the public we serve deserve no less.

You can track the status of our projects and investments by visiting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hurricane Sandy website at www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy/