Massachusetts Launches Wildlife Climate Action Tool to Help Conservation Managers, Landowners Respond to Climate Change

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A coalition of research institutions and fish and wildlife agencies this week unveiled a new online tool for use by local decision-makers, conservation managers, land trusts, regional planners, landowners and community leaders in Massachusetts who are interested in taking action in response to climate change.

Young bull moose laying in field.
A young bull moose. 

AMHERST, Mass.— A coalition of research institutions and fish and wildlife agencies this week unveiled a new online tool for use by local decision-makers, conservation managers, land trusts, regional planners, landowners and community leaders in Massachusetts who are interested in taking action in response to climate change. 

Users of the Massachusetts Wildlife Climate Action Tool can look up different species and habitat types to see what beneficial climate actions they can take. Entries include brook trout, which are impacted by warming stream temperatures and fragmented habitat; marbled salamander, which are impacted by changing rainfall patterns; moose, which are at the southern end of their range; blackpoll warbler, which are vulnerable to changing forest habitat conditions; and beech-birch-maple forests, where warming temperatures impact sugar maples and other northern trees.

The online tool was developed by the Massachusetts Climate Adaptation Partnership, made up of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Interior’s Northeast Climate Science Center at UMass Amherst and the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

“This online tool will provide a pathway for citizens and local and state land managers to make intentional, climate-smart decisions about actions they can take to enhance climate resilience for the plants, animals and ecosystems of Massachusetts,” said Virginia Burkett, associate director of climate and land use research at the USGS.

Information provided to protect natural resources even as the climate changes include:

  • climate change impacts, with projections for over 30 climate variables;
  • vulnerability assessments for fish and wildlife species and their habitats;
  • information about non-climate stressors such as development and loss of landscape connectivity that must be accounted for; and
  • on-the-ground actions including forestry practices, land protection and restoring landscape connectivity.

Michelle Staudinger, an ecologist with the USGS and adjunct faculty member in the department of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst, says the climate is changing rapidly in Massachusetts in ways that have already had an impact on human and natural communities across the state.

A brook trout swimming in stream.
A brook trout swims in its native stream.

“But there are actions we can take now to adapt to climate change and protect fish, wildlife and their habitats, as well as help human communities increase resiliency to better cope with these changes,” she points out. “This tool is designed to inform and inspire local action to protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources, including species of greatest conservation need, and help them adapt to a changing climate.”

The tool can easily be expanded to incorporate new agencies, partners and topics. It could also serve as a model for other states, Staudinger said. Scott Jackson, extension associate professor in the department of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst says, “This tool makes science available to inform on-the-ground action. The information provided is research-based and vetted by scientists.”

John O’Leary, Assistant Director of Wildlife with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, says that while there is an overwhelming amount of information on climate change, it is often not easily accessible to the public and it can be challenging to incorporate scientific information into day-to-day management or planning.

“In this first phase of the tool,” O’Leary says, “we focused on what people can do now to reduce climate change impacts on natural resources such as fish, wildlife and their habitats, in the coming decades. Users can access information and data from the scientific literature or that have been synthesized by scientists for the tool.”

UMass Amherst’s Scott Jackson says, “The tool provides adaptation information that can be integrated into a comprehensive climate adaptation plan for an organization or community, including local actions related to land protection, forestry practices and connectivity across roads and highways. It provides links to relevant resources and experts who can offer additional information and assistance in implementing actions, such as replacing a culvert or conserving land.”

Robert A. Jonas, chair of the board of trustees of Kestrel Land Trust, adds, “We need up-to-date information and guidance about how we can help our 19 communities adapt to climate change, so we are thrilled to discover the Massachusetts Climate Action Tool. In one online package, we can research climate change impacts on fish and wildlife species, forests and forestry practices, landscape connectivity, land protection and conservation planning.”

The developers of the tool point out that the tool is dynamic, allowing them to add new information as understanding of climate science increases and as new adaptation actions are developed in the field. Future updates will include more case studies and actions related to transportation and infrastructure, public health and safety, coastal areas and municipal land use planning.

USGS manages Interior Department’s Climate Science Centers. The Northeast CSC conducts climate change science for Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri.  

The Northeast CSC is supported by a consortium of partners that includes the University of Massachusetts Amherst, College of Menominee Nation, Columbia University, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri Columbia, and University of Wisconsin. The NE CSC also engages and collaborates with a diversity of other federal, state, academic, tribal, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to conduct collaborative, stakeholder-driven, and climate-focused work to help species, ecosystems and human communities adapt to climate change.

More: links to tool here

Massachusetts Wildlife Climate Action Tool

Brook Trout

Marbled Salamander

Moose

Beech-birch-maple Forests