Defenders of Wildlife Report Spotlights 10 National Wildlife Refuges Threatened by Global Warming

"The Entire Refuge System Faces an Uncertain Future Given Warming Predictions."

(11/05/2006) - Washington, D.C. -- Global warming is the single greatest challenge threatening the National Wildlife Refuge System as a whole, according to a Defenders of Wildlife report that identifies 10 refuges demonstrating the dire consequences from global warming.

"Global warming is occurring rapidly and these climate changes pose serious threats to wildlife and habitat,"s tated Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "These changes can be seen throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, which provides stark real-world examples of the effects of global warming today."

The report, "Refuges at Risk, The Threat of Global Warming," is part of an annual assessment Defenders of Wildlife releases to gauge the state of the refuge system.

"While this report focuses on the 10 most threatened refuges, the entire refuge system faces an uncertain future given the progress of global warming," said Schlickeisen. "To fulfill its wildlife conservation mission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must take immediate steps to deal with the impacts of global warming."

The National Wildlife Refuge System was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 and now includes 545 refuges encompassing nearly 100 million acres. It is the largest network of lands in the world dedicated first and foremost to the protection of wildlife and habitat. Refuges support a rich spectrum of ecosystems and provide crucial habitat for more than 280 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Next week is National Wildlife Refuge Week, a time to celebrate and experience the beauty and wonders of these remarkable lands. Ninety-eight percent of all refuge lands are open to the public, drawing almost 40 million Americans annually to enjoy their natural wonders.

"This incredible system serves as the cornerstone of wildlife conservation in America. Arctic tundra, Sonoran desert, coral reefs and diverse wetlands throughout the refuge system safeguard millions of migratory birds and hundreds of endangered species while also providing unparalleled recreational opportunities for millions of people each year,"stated Schlickeisen. "We should be doing all we can to take the necessary, proactive steps to adapt to the change brought about by global warming while protecting the refuge system."

"Reducing the impacts of global warming on national wildlife refuges and other critical wildlife habitat requires a two-pronged approach: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and planning for a changing future. We have the ingenuity to minimize the potential impacts of global warming. We also have to adapt to whatever obstacles global warming creates, however, while carrying out the nation's mission to protect our wildlife refuges," added Schlickeisen. "We cannot sit by and watch the only public lands devoted to wildlife protection wither away. There's simply too much at stake -- not only for us but for future generations."

The report offers several ways that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can address the threat that global warming poses to the refuge system. It suggests that the Service expand partnerships with businesses seeking credits for carbon sequestration, conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most importantly, the report recommends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begin considering the implications of global warming in its long-range conservation planning for each refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hampered in its ability to manage the refuge system due to enormous funding gaps.

"The refuge system faces a huge budget shortfall that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from adequately managing and restoring wildlife habitat, safely maintaining facilities and providing quality education and outdoor recreation programs for millions of visitors each year," added Schlickeisen.

Defenders of Wildlife works with federal, tribal, state and local agencies, private organizations and landowners to protect America's national wildlife refuges. The goal of the Refuges at Risk report is to highlight the threats facing the wildlife refuge system in order to build public support for saving wildlife by safeguarding and nourishing the places where they live.

Top 10 Refuges At Risk of Global Warming
(in alphabetical order)

Alligator River NWR, NC -- Home to endangered red wolves, the low-lying nature of the refuge constitutes its greatest vulnerability to global warming. The rise in sea level that is expected in the next century from global warming would inundate much of the refuge.

Aransas NWR, TX -- The refuge protects the world's only wild population of endangered whooping cranes. Since the refuge is composed of low-lying coastal land with shallow estuarine marshes, the predicted rise in sea level from global warming would flood the marsh, erode beaches and possibly increase the salinity of rivers and groundwater.

Arctic NWR, AK -- The largest refuge in the country, the Arctic refuge is the most important onshore denning area for polar bears in the United States. Over the past century, the average temperature of the Arctic has increased by 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Sea ice is melting and permafrost is thawing, interfering with the migration of wildlife.

Chincoteague NWR, VA -- While this barrier island has always experienced slow geologic change from ocean currents and weather, the pace of change is quickening due to global warming. If sea levels rise rapidly as predicted, wildlife habitat, as well as roads and facilities, on the refuge will be overwhelmed.

Devil Lakes Wetland Management District, ND -- A waterfowl haven, this refuge is threatened by a projected increase in the frequency and severity of droughts due to global warming. The number of breeding ducks in the prairie pothole region could be cut in half.

Hawaiian Islands NWR, HI -- Warmer sea temperatures, shifting currents, rising sea levels and sinking habitat are harming wildlife such as monk seals, seabirds and coral on this remote island chain. Scientists believe if this warming trend continues, many species of coral will go extinct.

Kenai NWR, AK -- Known as "Little Alaska," this refuge is threatened by retreating glaciers, frequent forest fires, dry lakebeds and loss of lush wildlife habitat caused by global warming. Wetlands and ponds are drying up and lake levels are dropping. Invasive beetles, spurred by warmer temperatures, have devastated forests, severely damaging wildlife habitat.

Merritt Island NWR, FL -- This gateway to the Kennedy Space Center is also home to 17 endangered and threatened species. As sea levels rise, this refuge's marshlands and a portion of its uplands will be inundated. Moreover, a higher water temperature contributes to an increase in toxic algal blooms which kill manatees and other sea life.

Oregon Islands NWR, OR -- Just last year a radically different weather pattern during the breeding season of 1.2 million seabirds disrupted offshore currents and damaged the food chain, resulting in the largest ever die-off of the common murre, the refuge's most populous seabird resident. Similar events are expected in the future, rippling through the food chain.

Silvio O. Conte NWR, MA -- Projected rises in global temperatures of 2 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit may change the very nature of this refuge as well as the New England countryside. With projections that tree species will likely shift north by 200 miles, some wildlife species may not be able to adapt or migrate with the forest habitat. Earlier snow melts will lead to reduced stream flows and lowered oxygen levels by late summer, threatening the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

The entire report can be viewed on line here.


Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues.



Deborah Bagocius, (202) 772-0239