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Saving wildlife in a warmer world

A warmer world will have adverse effects on wildlife. We can help save animals, but it will take savvier approaches, scientists say.

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Whether it’s a polar bear clinging to a melting iceberg in the Arctic or a tiny, rabbitlike pika panting atop a warming mountain in western North America, scientists say that these species and others could be historical footnotes unless people help them survive.

Pushing animals to the brink – and then trying to bring them back – is nothing new for humans. Remedies have long included setting aside land for a special habitat (spotted owls) or making it illegal to kill them (whooping cranes).

But sweeping changes that would accompany projected climate change mean that an animal’s traditional range may no longer be habitable to it in a few years – or that a key food source or resource it needs is disappearing. And that calls for different solutions from those in the past.

“The business-as-usual approach to managing wildlife populations and resources is no longer likely to work very well,” says John Wiens, chief conservation science officer for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory in Petaluma, Calif. “We can’t say anymore, ‘Hey, we’ll do some management to control this threat, and everything will be hunky-dory,’ or ‘Preserve some habitat and some organisms, and everything will be fine.’ ”

There are signs of positive action, however. After years of what many saw as foot-dragging, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is leading states and other organizations in taking the first steps toward what could become a radical departure from today’s species-recovery model.

The FWS’s plan is a comprehensive and predictive “adaptation management” plan to help troubled wildlife. Its centerpiece is the creation of eight new regional landscape conservation cooperatives (LCCs), the first of up to 20 nationwide that will enlist multiple partners to deal with global warming’s expected effects.

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