The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) on Wednesday confirmed the extinction of 22 animal species and one plant that had previously been listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland warned that climate change will exacerbate the conditions that led to their extinction, saying “now is the time to lift up proactive, collaborative, and innovative efforts to save America’s wildlife.”
The Illinois Coastal Management Program (CMP) was established in 2012 as part of the National Coastal Zone Management Program, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Since its inception, the ethos of CMP has been to identify and work towards objectives that protect the natural environments and serve the economic, social and recreational needs of our communities, with a focus on equity and inclusivity. CMP has initiated partnerships and projects that exemplify this important balancing act. Of particular interest, Ms. Tecic will highlight strategic partnerships and projects that are helping address the damage affecting habitats, economies and communities due to high lake levels, shoreline erosion and storm damage. An important component of addressing coastal needs is also building the knowledge base and increasing community capacity to address coastal-related issues. This seminar will provide a foundational understanding of Illinois’ Coastal Management Program, how we work, and examples of our activities.
In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released in May 2021, our team of fire and climate scientistsand engineers found that forest fires are now reaching higher, normally wetter elevations. And they are burning there at rates unprecedented in recent fire history. Two fires burning in northern California in 2021 – the Dixie and Caldor fires – are examples: They were the first and second wildfires on record to cross the Sierra Nevada crest and burn on both sides.
While historical fire suppression and other forest management practices play a role in the West’s worsening fire problem, the high-elevation forests we studied have had little human intervention. The results provide a clear indication that climate change is enabling these normally wet forests to burn.
As wildfires creep higher up mountains, another tenth of the West’s forest area is now at risk, our study found. That creates new hazards for mountain communities, with impacts on downstream water supplies and the plants and wildlife that call these forests home.
Rising fire risk in the high mountains
In the new study, we analyzed records of all fires larger than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in the mountainous regions of the contiguous Western U.S. between 1984 and 2017.
The amount of land that burned increased across all elevations during that period, but the largest increase occurred above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). To put that elevation into perspective, Denver – the mile-high city – sits at 5,280 feet, and Aspen, Colorado, is at 8,000 feet. These high-elevation areas are largely remote mountains and forests with some small communities and ski areas.
The area burning above 8,200 feet more than tripled in 2001-2017 compared with 1984-2000.
Our results show that climate warming has diminished the high-elevation flammability barrier – the point where forests historically were too wet to burn regularly because the snow normally lingered well into summer and started falling again early in the fall. Fires advanced about 826 feet (252 meters) uphill in the Western mountains over those three decades.
The Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado in 2020 was the largest fire in the state’s history, burning over 208,000 acres (84,175 hectares), and is a prime example of a high-elevation forest fire. The fire burned in forests extending to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) and reached the upper tree line of the Rocky Mountains.
We found that rising temperatures in the past 34 years have helped to extend the fire territory in the West to an additional 31,470 square miles (81,507 square kilometers) of high-elevation forests. That means a staggering 11% of all Western U.S. forests – an area similar in size to South Carolina – are susceptible to fire now that weren’t three decades ago.
Can’t blame fire suppression here
In lower-elevation forests, several factors contribute to fire activity, including the presence of more people in wildland areas and a history of fire suppression.
In the early 1900s, Congress commissioned the U.S. Forest Service to manage forest fires, which resulted in a focus on suppressing fires – a policy that continued through the 1970s. This caused flammable underbrush that would normally be cleared out by occasional natural blazes to accumulate. The increase in biomass in many lower elevation forests across the West has been associated with increases in high-severity fires and megafires. At the same time, climate warming has dried out forests in the Western U.S., making them more prone to large fires.
By focusing on high-elevation fires in areas with little history of fire suppression, we can more clearly see the influence of climate change.
Most high-elevation forests haven’t been subjected to much fire suppression, logging or other human activities, and because trees at these high elevations are in wetter forests, they historically have long return intervals between fires, typically a century or more. Yet they experienced the highest rate of increase in fire activity in the past 34 years. We found that the increase is strongly correlated with the observed warming. [View the chart showing how much U.S. wildland area burns each year]
High mountain fires create new problems
High-elevation fires have implications for natural and human systems.
High mountains are natural water towers that normally provide a sustained source of water to millions of people during dry summer months in the Western U.S. The scars that wildfires leave behind – known as burn scars – affect how much snow can accumulate at high elevations. This can influence the timing, quality andquantity of water that reaches reservoirs and rivers downstream.
The loss of tree canopy also exposes mountain streams to the Sun, increasing water temperatures in the cold headwater streams. Increasing stream temperatures can harm fish and the larger wildlife and predators that rely on them.
Climate change is increasing fire risk in many regions across the globe, and studies show that this trend will continue as the planet warms. The increase in fires in the high mountains is another warning to the U.S. West and elsewhere of the risks ahead as the climate changes.
Researchers have collaborated to create Australia’s first comprehensive list of conservation threats. The two highest ranking threats are habitat loss and invasive species. Experts say the document is “useful” and could help protect threatened species.
Wastewater nutrient optimization is a challenge faced by pond treatment systems throughout Minnesota. In the case of Gaylord MN, wastewater treatment has been enhanced significantly thanks to the collaboration between Gaylord’s plant operator, Robert Kloeckl and the LCCMR wastewater nutrient optimization team. Achieving effective wastewater treatment starts with the people who operate the facility, and Robert has been more than willing to explore new ways to attain the best possible treatment. Together with the field and technical support of Tim Hagemeier and Frank Stuemke with the Minnesota Rural Water Association, Gaylord’s treatment is better than ever. As of fall 2019 Gaylord is achieving excellent phosphorus treatment with a most recent effluent sample of .285 mg/L and average effluent of .52 mg/L since October 2019. Gaylord’s approach to wastewater treatment involves strategies that the project team have found to be best practices in ponds throughout Minnesota with great success at achieving better nutrient removal.
Researchers from the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals this week launched the State of Tribes and Climate Change (STACC) report, which examines the disproportionate effect climate change has on Indigenous lands and people and the added strain tribes experience as they respond to damaging climate events, which are increasing in frequency and severity.
New research published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolutioncompared museum collection specimens to abundance in the wild. The research was the collaboration of 19 scientists from the United States and Europe. The researchers analyzed 1.4 million field observations and 73,000 museum records, comprising more than 22,000 species.
When Phoenix temperatures topped 120 F in June 2017, American Airlines canceled dozens of flights at a local airport because the airplanes could not take off safely in the extreme heat. Scenarios like this are likely to become more common as a result of climate warming, scientists say, but the operational costs to airlines and passengers are largely unknown.
To fill this gap in knowledge, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign industrial and enterprise systems engineering professor Lavanya Marla, her Ph.D. student Jane Lee and University of Michigan professor Parth Vaishnavbuilt a mathematical model to calculate how much it will cost airlines to cope with rising temperatures. The model incorporated historical schedule and traffic data; present-day airport design; and airline fleet composition, scheduling and troubleshooting protocols. It used these data in conjunction with future climate projections to calculate the relative costs of different methods of responding to flight disruptions caused by higher temperatures in a warming climate.