New Audubon Study: Climate Change Threatens Bird Populations in National System of Wildlife Refuges

NEW YORK (October 26, 2022) – In a survey of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s 525 refuges, National Audubon Society scientists found that half of the birds in the system will see changes in the environmental suitability of their habitats if they are global. temperatures are allowed to rise unchecked. The result could be a drastic change in up to 25% of species in the system, as some birds move to other areas or are expelled.

“Our national refuges should be just that – places of safety and conservation for our beloved wildlife. Instead, warming temperatures are forcing many birds to be driven from the places where they call home, whether there are whether or not there is more suitable habitat nearby,” said Brooke Bateman, director of climate science at the National Audubon Society. “Birds tell us that the places they need to survive are changing rapidly and not all will be able to adapt.”

The results show that climate change is accelerating habitat change at rates that may not be sustainable, so birds that leave one area may not be able to find the resources they need elsewhere, and the system may not be able to accommodate new species. . The change is particularly noticeable in northern latitudes and high altitudes, where birds seeking cooler temperatures may run out of places to go.

The result will be a very different refuge system than it is now, as iconic species in some regions move on. Some species, such as the tundra swan, rufous hummingbird, yellow-billed magpie and black warbler may disappear from the system altogether.

“While it is quite distressing to think that you may no longer see some of the same species you used to see in some areas, the bigger problem is that some species will disappear completely from this vast system,” said batman. “And because the wildlife refuge system covers a wide range of ecosystems across the country, the consequences for birds in refuges tell us a lot about what could be in store for humans if we don’t act.”

The National Wildlife Refuge System spans 95 million acres of land and also covers 760 million land and submerged waters. National shelters are found in all 50 states. The study’s findings have already affected how shelter biologists approach their work, prompting them to adopt a method known as Resist-Affect-Direct, or RAD.

“For years, the norm for refuge biologists has been to assume that the conditions in their region would remain the same, and they have specialized their work in those climates. But now they have moved to the adaptive Resist-Affect-Direct approach, anticipating how to deal with some changes that may be unavoidable, while trying to prevent the worst effects of climate change,” said batman.

Audubon has made available scientific notes for the 525 refuges that detail the specific climate threats that affect each refuge, which species will be vulnerable to the climate, and how rainfall and temperature could change over the next 30 years in the absence of any preventive action. Audubon works with policy makers and land managers to ensure the National Wildlife Refuge System has adequate funding and to expand the system to meet the needs of birds and humans as they adapt to the climate change. The FWS also uses the data to support the expansion and acquisition of the refuge system.

“As the Refuge System adapts to its new climate reality, each level of the agency will need more resources and funding to achieve its mission,” said Lander Karath, Public Lands Policy Manager at the National Audubon Society. “Congress must significantly increase the budget for the refuge system to meet current needs and to support future adaptations and expansions for birds and other species.”

A 2019 Audubon report found that two-thirds of bird species across North America could be vulnerable to extinction if global temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The survey is available here:

About Audubon
The National Audubon Society protects the birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works across the Americas using field science, advocacy, education, and conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters and partners give Audubon an unprecedented scale that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A non-profit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

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