By connecting one place to another and allowing plants and animals to travel when the climate changes, restoring riparian corridors and river ecosystems can help mitigate the effects of climate change on ecosystems. Furthermore, it will produce “thermal refugia,” as ecologists refer to areas that protect fish and other animals from rising temperatures.
These are some of the findings of a recent peer-reviewed paper by seven groups that assessed how conserving and restoring riparian regions and river ecosystems can improve these ecosystems’ capacity to adapt to climate change. This piece is included in the collection of essays on the theme of restoration and climate change in the September issue of Ecological Restoration. Replanting riparian vegetation and ensuring that rivers have enough water to ensure beneficial flows for birds, fish, other animals, and human societies are both discussed in the paper by the experts. The authors advise that river restoration initiatives continue and develop as the climate changes in light of these and other advantages of riparian restoration.
Nat Seavy, terrestrial research director at PRBO Conservation Science, responds to the frequently heard question: “If climate change is likely to destroy natural systems, why should we bother to restore them?” “In a period of fast climate change, restoration, particularly of riparian regions, is a key step toward conserving the integrity of ecosystems and the services they give, like clean water, pollination, and flood protection, to wildlife and humans.”
The authors also cover the need for continued research and monitoring to assess and enhance restoration procedures, as well as the necessity of changing restoration strategies to prepare for the unpredictable conditions projected to come along with climate change. A variety of riparian plants that can withstand both drought and floods should be planted, rivers should have enough water to occasionally flood natural regions, and habitat restoration on private property should be increased.
According to Stacy Small, a conservation scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund’s Center for Conservation Incentives, “protecting genetic diversity and native biodiversity with restoration projects will boost the resilience of society and nature to potentially catastrophic climate change impacts.” “Restoration efforts on nearby public lands will be improved by collaborating with landowners to rehabilitate private lands.”
Conservationists have known for a long time that the threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services come from growing human populations, development, and shifting land uses. The original goal of ecological restoration was to hasten the regeneration of landscapes that had been damaged by human activity. There is a growing understanding that ecological restoration must take into account the future effects of a changing climate.
Simply conserving the river isn’t enough, according to Thomas Griggs, senior restoration ecologist with River Partners, an organisation that has spearheaded restoration initiatives along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, because dams and water diversions have altered natural water regimes. “By replanting the vegetation that would have returned after a natural flood, we have learned over the past 20 years how to hasten the return of birds and other creatures to these crucial ecosystems. To ensure that our efforts are successful in the future, we must look ahead 20 years to see how climate change may affect these systems.”
Effective restoration requires increased collaboration with partners from different disciplines. The authors who contributed to this project are employed by governmental agencies (such as the Bureau of Land Management of the US Department of the Interior), university institutions (such as the University of California, Davis), and non-profit organisations (PRBO Conservation Science, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, Environmental Defense Fund, and River Partners).
Ellie Cohen, executive director of PRBO Conservation Science, argues that “this work highlights the need of cooperating to prepare for climate change.” We can create workable solutions backed by solid research by assembling various teams with specialised knowledge and real-world experience.
Authors included Gregory Golet of The Nature Conservancy, Thomas Griggs of River Partners, Rodd Kelsey of Audubon California, Nathaniel Seavy, Thomas Gardali, and Christine Howell of PRBO Conservation Science, Stacy Small of the Environmental Defense Fund, Joshua Viers of UC Davis, and James Weigand (Bureau of Land Management).
A non-profit organisation called PRBO Conservation Science is committed to furthering conservation via study on birds and ecosystems. Since its founding as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory in 1965, PRBO Conservation Science has collaborated with hundreds of public and private organisations as well as business interests to make sure that every dollar spent on conservation produces the greatest amount of biodiversity, which benefits our environment, our economy, and our communities. Go to www.prbo.org to view PRBO’s website.
A nationwide nonprofit organisation called Environmental Defense Fund brings together the fields of law, economics, research, and innovative private-sector partnerships to develop ground-breaking solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues. The Center for Conservation Incentives (CCI), a project of EDF, seeks to create and broaden landowner incentives for the preservation of rare plants, animals, and natural resources. To learn more, go to www.edf.org. Stacy Small, PhD, a conservation scientist, can be reached at (202) 572-3263 or [email protected].
By bringing people together to understand, enjoy, and conserve our magnificent outdoor resources, Audubon California is creating a better future for California. A field programme of Audubon, which has more than 50,000 members in California and 48 connected local chapters and is committed to preserving wildlife, including birds, and their habitats, is Audubon California. Visit www.ca.audubon.org to learn more about Audubon California.
More than 6,000 acres of river banks and floodplains have been restored by River Partners over the past 11 years, supplying vital wildlife habitat and long-term solutions for California’s rivers. Its efforts to restore habitat aid in the removal of greenhouse gases, the enhancement of water and air quality, the rescue of endangered species, the enhancement of public safety, and the preservation of open space. River Partners is a nonprofit organisation whose goal is to develop animal habitat for the benefit of both people and the environment.
Leading conservation group The Wildlife Conservancy works to save lands and streams that are crucial to both nature and humans throughout the globe. More than 18 million acres in the United States and more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Pacific have been protected thanks to the Conservancy and its one million+ members to date. Go to www.nature.org to the website of The Nature Conservancy.
More than any other Federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing 256 million acres of land. Some of California’s most biologically varied regions cover around 15 million acres of the state. The National System of Public Areas, as these public lands are formally named, stretches from the Sierra to the Pacific, from northern ancient forests to southern desert stretches. Maintaining the health and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations is part of BLM’s multiple-use mission.
The CALFED Science Fellows Program contributed to the funding of this project. The CALFED Science Fellows Program has partnered graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with senior research mentors from CALFED Program agency agencies since the class of 2003. Fellows engage in joint data analysis and study initiatives relevant to the California Bay-Delta system.
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