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Change is in the Air: Seeing Trends, Coalition Works to Help a River Adapt

A unique coalition of tribal government leaders, private partners and federal and local agencies in Washington State is working to help the Nisqually River watershed and its inhabitants adapt as its ecosystems shift due to climate change.

An article by Leslie Kaufman in the NY Times says the coalition is reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; it is also promoting hundreds of “rain gardens” to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river, and is installing logjams intended to use the river’s flow to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.

Many scientists and policy analysts believe the best course of action is to do what conservationists have long tried to do: return ecosystems to their strongest natural health and then stay out of the way. This approach is known as resiliency. But as humans come to be adversely affected by the stepped-up ecological change, they also increasingly look to help Mother Nature out in more active ways.

In North Carolina, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has teamed up with the Nature Conservancy to buy parcels just behind the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to allow the swamp to roll inland as the sea rises from glacial melt, and to help black bears and red foxes migrate to inland refuges.

In Montana, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working with land trusts and others to secure corridors just outside Glacier National Park for wide-ranging cold-sensitive species like wolverines.

Such projects are on the rise, in part, because an executive order in 2009 by President Obama led to a mandate that federal agencies integrate adaptation to climate change into all of their planning. But they often evolve, like Nisqually, into complex collaborations spurred more by imminent local ecological catastrophes.

In line with this trend, “Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance,” the fifth adaptation report from ACT, is due for release in September 2011, and will outline new opportunities for effective water management in Canada.

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