The role of ecology in natural resource management decision-making

South Platte River flooding

South Platte River flooding at Interstate 76 Exit 82 – Fort Morgan, CO. The most recent National Climate Assessment noted that as a result of global climate change, communities that reside along large rivers are expected to experience increased incidents of flooding following storms. Credit/Bruce Finley (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Science has an important role to play in helping to inform policy decisions that affect management of ecosystems and natural resources. In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Amber Childress (Colorado State University) discusses her experiences informing natural resource management decisions with science.

Childress’s ecological research focuses on how water providers have adapted to droughts in the past and how to adjust natural resource management strategies to deal with future challenges brought on by climate change. Her studies specifically focus on water resources along the South Platte River Basin in Colorado. Childress also contributed to a technical report for the third National Climate Assessment (NCA) that gauged climate change impacts in the Great Plains region. The NCA uses the latest scientific evidence to further understanding of how climate change is impacting communities across the United States.

Childress/(Credit: Amber Childress)

Childress/(Credit: Amber Childress)

“Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast,” the NCA report notes. “Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.”

For the Great Plains states, the NCA report found “climate related challenges are expected to involve 1) resolving increasing competition among land, water, and energy resources; 2) developing and maintaining sustainable agricultural systems; 3) conserving vibrant and diverse ecological systems; and 4) enhancing the resilience of the region’s people to the impacts of climate extremes.”

Scientific research has also been critical in the promulgation of strategies to monitor and respond to costly natural disaster events, including hurricanes and floods. The need to develop new strategies for various natural resource management activities will only grow as frequencies of drought, torrential storms, flooding, wildfires continue to grow as a consequence of climate change.

It is important that scientists continue to engage with policymakers and natural resource managers at all levels of government to help ensure communities can understand and aptly respond to present and future environmental challenges.

Photo Credit: NOAA