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Climate change adaptation for coastal national wildlife refuges

June 30, 2019

National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) along the East Coast of the United States protect habitat for a host of wildlife species, while also offering storm surge protection, improving water quality, supporting nurseries for commercially important fish and shellfish, and providing recreation opportunities for coastal communities. Yet in the last century, coastal ecosystems in the eastern U.S. have been severely altered by human development activities as well as sea-level rise and more frequent extreme events related to climate change. These influences threaten the ability of NWRs to protect our nation’s natural resources and to sustain their many beneficial services.

Through this project, researchers are collaborating with managers of the North Carolina Coastal Refuges Complex, Cape Romain NWR, South Carolina, and other local interested partners to assist with their long-term planning under uncertain conditions regarding sea-level rise and other global change processes. Researchers are using a variety of state-of-the-art approaches, including formal decision science for systematically analyzing management alternatives and scenario planning methods for engaging with stakeholders to explore possible futures. These approaches are aimed at helping NWR staff develop management objectives, identify and weigh potential management actions for adaptation, and generate decision-support tools and models. Outcomes and products from these efforts will aid managers as they plan for and adapt to the complex challenges facing the NWR system as changing climate and other conditions make their work increasingly more difficult.