The Role Of Refuges
(3-10.8°C) by 2100. Northern Alaska is expected to experience the most extreme of the effects, particularly in the winter. The researchers also project that the ground will continue to thaw and that the upper 30-35 feet (9-11 m) of permafrost will probably melt by 2100. In addition, precipitation will increase up to 25 percent in the north and northwest, but decrease by 10 percent along the southern coast. Soils will dry out due to increased evaporation, and wildfires will become more prevalent. As these changes take place, the effects on the refuges will be devastating to the plant and animal species living within them.
A report by Defenders of Wildlife released on October 4, 2007, identified the 10 refuges most at risk in the United States. Issues such as global warming, lack of funds, oil and gas development, road construction, invasive species, and water contamination are all playing a role putting these refuges at risk. They are:
• Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
• Hailstone National Wildlife Refuge, Montana
• Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
• Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington
• Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
• Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
• Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Rhode Island
• San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, California
• Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
• Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
Cape May National Wildlife Refuge is an estuarine ecosystem that contains the world's largest spawning ground for horseshoe crabs. Because the horseshoe crabs lay their eggs there, thousands of migratory songbirds, such as the ruby-crowned kinglet and the Nashville warbler arrive at the refuge, which serves as a critical stopping ground they use along the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge provides a habitat for 100 peregrine falcons, 7,000 American kestrels, and 150 northern harriers. Up to 317 bird species can be seen at the refuge, including the largest concentration of American woodcocks on the Atlantic coast.
The refuge also provides a home to a multitude of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, shellfish, and invertebrates. Cape May currently protects 21,000 acres (8,498 hectares) of wetlands, forests, grassland, shoreline, and salt marsh. If global warming continues and habitats
The endangered Florida panther—the panther is currently protected at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
shift, the ecosystems within the refuge may no longer be suitable for the wildlife species within, forcing them to migrate to another geographic area, but no longer be under the protected status of a wildlife refuge.
Hailstone National Wildlife Refuge in Montana provides a home and major migratory stopover for birds. The wetlands and shortgrass prairies support thousands of mallards, gadwalls, American avocets, phalaropes, American white pelicans, Franklin's gulls, and vesper sparrows. Currently, the refuge has become polluted from an increase in precipitation that is transporting dissolved salt and selenium into the soil, which enters the water table and flows into the reservoir, where it has become toxic to the wildlife at the refuge. If global warming results in increased precipitation to the area, the health of the wetlands will continue to disintegrate and poison the wildlife within it.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Texas offers habitat to two species of endangered cats—the ocelot and the jag-uarrundi. The refuge lies in the northernmost range of their natural habitat. The refuge encompasses 90,000 acres (36,422 hectares) but is fragmented into 115 parcels. While the refuge provides the last of the remaining habitat in the United States to these two feline species, it also provides habitat for 513 bird species, some of which are rarely seen anywhere else in the United States. These species include the least grebe, green parakeet, altamira, oriole, green jay, and the great kiskadee. The refuge is unique because it covers four different climate regimes: tropical, temperate, coastal, and desert. Considered one of the most diverse regions in North America, it encompasses 11 distinct biotic communities. It contains the Chihuahuan desert scrub, tidal wetlands, and one of the last remaining sabal palm forests in the United States. Because of the diverse spread in natural communities, it provides a habitat for more than 1,100 plant species, 700 vertebrates such as javalinas, bobcats, white-lipped frogs, and the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. Within its boundaries live more than 300 different species of butterflies, which represents half of the total species found in the United States. If global warming persists, the unique habitats will face degradation as the climatic zones degrade or shift northward, causing the wildlife to shift toward unprotected areas that may not be able to support their needs for survival.
The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington at Puget Sound is where the Chinook salmon pass en route to the waters northward of their birth. Also present at the refuge are thousands of western sandpipers, dunlin and other shorebirds that forage mudflats for worms, clams, crab, and shrimp. Pacific tree frogs inhabit the area, along with harbor seals and river otters, and wrens reside in abundance in the estuary. The refuge has been designated as a National Natural Landmark, representing one of the state's last undisturbed estuary ecosystems.
Environmental conditions today at the refuge include a decline in forest health, a decline in freshwater wetland health, a surge of incoming invasive-plant migration, and deterioration in the quality of the
Nisqually watershed. Global warming in the future will continue to decrease the quality of habitat for resident wildlife.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the northern end of North Carolina's Hatteras Island provides a home for migrating birds and threatened loggerhead turtles. It also serves as a flyway for migrating birds such as the snow geese, ruddy turnstone, dunlin, and marbled godwit. Its bayside marshes and ponds are populated with herons, avo-cets, tundra swans, northern pintails, and cedar waxwings. Along its 13-mile (21-km) stretch of beach, the refuge provides a habitat for more than 365 species of birds. Located along the coast, it is in the pathway of severe storms, sea-level rise, and warmer ocean temperatures—all negative impacts from global warming.
Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, which is bounded on its borders by the Rappahannock River to the south and west, the Potomac River to the north, and the Chesapeake Bay to the east, provides a habitat for a large population of bald eagles. With approximately 400 eagles inhabiting the refuge, it makes the Rappahannock a significant area for bald eagle conservation. In addition to the eagle, it also provides habitat for more than 225 species of other birds such as Indigo buntings, Acadian flycatchers, red-winged blackbirds, and eastern meadowlarks. Mammals, reptiles, and amphibians inhabit the grasslands and ponds. Refuge waters are habitat for bass, catfish, croaker, and the endangered shortnose sturgeon. The refuge is broken into several separate parcels, and as global warming continues to push climate zones to new areas, wildlife will have to be relocated as the fragmented lands evolve and invasive species encroach, rainfall patterns change, and temperatures vary.
The Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Rhode Island is home for a population of harlequin ducks, which share the Atlantic shoreline with multitudes of other wildlife such as harbor seals and woodcocks. It also provides shelter and home for migrating avian species such as raptors. More than 300 species ofbirds—snow buntings, eiders, scoters, loons, yellow-breasted chats, and American black ducks—occupy the refuge. Officially part of the Atlantic Flyway, it is one of the most important migratory habitats on the East Coast. Like other refuges located in coastal areas, it faces the same vulnerabilities to global warming.
The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge at the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley in California is a 130,000-acre (43,479-hectare) habitat that plays a key role for migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway. Each year, millions of migratory birds such as green-winged teal, ring-neck ducks, snow geese, and sandhill cranes use the refuge as a stopover on their long annual migration.
Most of the prime wetland area in California has already been drained, filled in, or destroyed; most of it has been converted to agriculture, making this refuge a key resource for wildlife—both migratory and local. The refuge contains more than 210 species of birds, including sandpipers, dunlins, black-necked stilts, herons, egrets, raptors, and songbirds. It also provides habitat for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, including rare species such as the endangered San Joaquin kit fox and Tule elk (the smallest elk in North American and once nearly exterminated because of habitat loss and overhunting in the early 1900s).
The refuge is struggling today, however, in obtaining enough freshwater due to the excessive demands of nearby urbanization and agriculture. The refuge is currently having difficulty obtaining enough water to meet its needs. The larger concern is that it will not be able to compete on the open market for California's limited water resources, which are expected to become even scarcer as prolonged drought and global warming escalate.
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin provides a refuge in its lush marshlands. Located at the confluence of the Trempealeau and Mississippi Rivers, it is habitat for black terns, wood ducks, monarch butterflies, blue-winged teal, and hooded mergansers. The refuge serves as a flyway for migratory birds. In addition to the marsh and open pools, however, there are also forests, meadows, and a sand prairie.
The refuge faces many challenges today, however, with rising temperatures and changing climates. Invasive plants are encroaching the refuge, such as leafy spurge, purple loosestrife, quackgrass, smooth bromegrass, and black locust trees. These invasive species are killing off the native hardwoods, grasses, and forbs. As global warming continues, more invasive species will threaten and destroy the indigenous species.
Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska at the northernmost stretch of the Yukon River is home to millions of waterfowl such as canvasbacks, pintails, wigeon, scaup, and shovelers. Wildlife arrives from 11 different countries, eight Canadian provinces, and 45 of the U.S. states. Yukon Flats supports one of the highest nesting densities of waterfowl on the North American continent and has become an increasingly important breeding area as prairie pothole habitat in the lower 48 states and Canada have been degraded by agriculture, development, and global warming.
Yukon Flats also provides a habitat for black bears, grizzlies, moose, caribou, and lynx. One of the largest challenges the refuge faces today is that of oil exploration and development. Because of its extreme northern location, it is also a fragile area and may face peril as climate changes and temperatures continue to rise.
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