Late in October in 2001, Timothy Hilston of Great Falls, Montana was field-dressing an elk he had just shot in the Blackfoot Clearwater Wildlife Management Area when he looked up and saw a grizzly bear. He was mauled and killed, and the bear dragged the elk carcass away and partially buried it for a pre-winter food cache.
Those kinds of encounters may be more likely in the future, as hungry grizzlies fail to get enough high-fat nutrition from white bark pine seeds, a preferred fall staple distributed by helpful nutcrackers and squirrels. When bears get enough seeds from cones "it keeps them out of trouble," said Jesse Logan, a naturalist recently retired from the US Forest Service. But there are fewer and fewer white bark pine trees in the grizzly's habitat, because they have been decimated by mountain pine beetles that have flourished in warmer temperatures in the Rockies.
Logan shared his research on the millions of acres of ecosystem at risk at a conference June 11-12 at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy on conservation and climate change. The gathering of some two-dozen conservation leaders put the spotlight on how land conservation and management must adapt to the impacts of global climate change. Wildlife habitat and patterns are changing rapidly, and the land conservation community needs to adjust strategy and tactics accordingly, said James Levitt, director of the Program on Conservation Innovation at Harvard Forest, Harvard University, who organized the conference with Armando Carbonell, chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute.
Carbonell has been leading efforts at the Lincoln Institute not only to advise city planners on effective global warming mitigation, but many forms of adaptation as well. Edward Blakely, recovery director for New Orleans, is leading research for the Lincoln Institute on how urban planning must change to accommodate impacts of climate change.
The rules of the game are shifting fast in many areas of conservation, at national parks like Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock, Vermont, in Oregon's Willamette Valley and Aspen, Colo., the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, all along protected US rivers and the coral reefs off the coast of Florida, and in Arctic fishing villages where polar bears are extending their search for food just as the grizzlies are. In contrast to projected sea level rise 50 years from now, the impacts from storms, wildfires, droughts, heat waves and ecosystem disruptions like the pine beetle or the woolly adelgid must be confronted now, Levitt said. New management strategies can be effective in addressing changing conditions; the Montana Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service succeeded in reducing bear-human interactions by more than 90 percent since Hilston's death, for example. The goal of adaptation in land conservation, Levitt said, is to continue to collect information, put together forecasts, and put adjusted management plans into action.