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Resilient Habitats
Program Overview

Download a printable, full-color two-page resilient habitats factsheet.

Even if we dramatically slash carbon pollution immediately and avoid the worst effects of climate disruption, the natural world will still be buffeted by temperature increases, altered precipitation patterns, more extreme storms, and other unavoidable effects. The low-range emissions pathways detailed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will still threaten up to 30 percent of the planet's species with extinction. The impacts of climate disruption would also eliminate invaluable ecosystem services, putting communities around the globe at risk. By acting now to improve the resilience of habitats to climate change, we can help avert the projected extinction crisis and protect our own lives and well-being.

The Sierra Club seeks to minimize the loss of wild places and biodiversity due to climate disruption by reforming critical policies and protecting habitat resilience based on the best science. We have launched a national program designed to have a major impact in every state, including a concentrated effort in 10 targeted ecoregions to establish models that can be replicated across North America. Through grassroots advocacy, strategic litigation, targeted lobbying, and communications campaigns, the Sierra Club will fight non-climate stressors, promote climate-smart management, forge new political alliances, and protect the ecosystems that all species, including our own, need to survive.

The science on building resilient habitats is surprisingly clear. We know that to build habitat resilience, we must protect large, wild spaces, such as parks, refuges, and wilderness areas and connect them via wildlife corridors. In addition, we need to restore and protect natural areas that are not in a wilderness state to provide buffer areas and round out this climate-refuge network. We also must reduce non-climate stressors, such as habitat loss, invasive species, and pollution, and apply climate-smart management that incorporates the latest scientific findings.

Science also tells us that the safest and most sustainable way to recover our climate is to build up the capacity of natural systems -- soils, forests, prairies, wetlands -- to soak up and store long-lived CO2 from the atmosphere. Through this process -- coupled with programs to slash the new emissions of greenhouse gases -- we can return our planet to a safer level of 350 parts per million of CO2, which scientists tell us is necessary to maintain a habitable planet.

For this comprehensive nationwide resilient habitats plan to succeed, it must encompass the broad mosaic of federal, state, private, and tribal lands and waters. Every management plan for our public and private lands, waters, forests, and coasts is an opportunity to secure resilient habitats. The Sierra Club is also working in all 50 states and Puerto Rico to protect habitats from climate disruption and advocating for policies and programs that reward landowners who dedicate their land to the permanent storage of carbon. Where these programs occur in close proximity to human communities, we will also work to safeguard the communities from climate disruption by protecting nature.

The essence of our approach involves:

  1. Create independent science-based blueprint. Use this roadmap for building resilient habitats and natural systems carbon sequestration to drive agency management and habitat acquisition decisions. The science needs to lead us to plan for the future in a climate-disrupted world where ecosystems and habitats are shifting and reassembling.
  2. Protect adequate space. The best defense against climate disruption is to protect large wild places and surrounding buffer areas that are connected to other protected core areas. This connected wildlands network will allow imperiled species to move to more hospitable habitats as the climate changes, thereby increasing the chances of survival.
  3. Limit the relevant non-climate stressors. Habitat fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, overharvest, and other human-induced stressors on an ecosystem work in synergy with climate disruption to threaten species with extinction. To build ecosystem resilience, we need to limit or eliminate non-climate stressors so that species have a fighting chance.
  4. Apply climate-smart management. In some cases, protecting adequate space and connectivity and reducing the stressors will not be enough to ensure survival of species. Ecologically based habitat manipulation (such as prescribed burning), captive breeding and reintroduction, control of pests or disease, and other management options may be appropriate in certain circumstances based on the best available science. Effective climate-smart management will require a responsive and flexible approach coupled with monitoring to assess how species respond to climate disruption and management interventions.
  5. Rely on natural systems. Whenever possible, use natural systems to safeguard communities from climate disruption. The temptation of community disaster planners is to deploy expensive structural engineering solutions to address climate-disruption threats. Sea walls, levees, larger storm sewer systems, channelized rivers, desalinization plants, trans-basin water diversions, and the like are too frequently viewed as the best way to protect communities from climate disruption. As detailed in our integrated Safeguarding Communities Campaign, we advocate for protecting and restoring natural systems since it builds resilient habitats, stores carbon in natural systems, and provides cost-effective protection for communities.
  6. Protect and restore natural areas and manage agricultural lands to sequester CO2. The oceans are already supersaturated from absorbing excess CO2. If we protect, restore, and properly manage our nation's agricultural lands, forests, prairies, and wetlands we can vastly increase the amount of CO2 that is locked up in plants and soils and thereby reduce atmospheric CO2 to safer levels. In the process, we will also create more resilient habitats on these lands and waters by improving management practices.
  7. Provide an adequate and reliable source of public funding. We will be advocating for dedicated perennial funding for international and domestic programs to reduce the vulnerability of natural ecosystems and communities to climate disruption and to fund natural systems carbon-sequestration programs. This will be coupled with regional, state, local, and private funding programs dedicated to the same purpose. The Resilient Habitats Campaign will lobby to secure adequate and reliable funding and make sure it is applied to the highest priority projects that promote our campaign goals.

Campaign Objectives

The approach detailed above underpins the entire Resilient Habitats campaign and drives each of the four campaign objectives:

  1. Create climate-resilient habitats in 10 target ecosystems by 2020.
  2. Increase the resilience of natural systems on all federal lands and waters by 2020.
  3. Increase the resilience of priority wildlife habitats in every state by 2020.
  4. By 2020, 20 million acres of private lands and waters are managed in perpetuity as resilient habitats.

Objective 1: Create climate-resilient habitats in 10 targeted ecosystems by 2020.
To make substantial progress in the next five years -- and to prove and publicize the value of building resilient habitats to the public and decision-makers -- the Sierra Club has proposed to run intensive campaigns in 10 high-priority and charismatic ecosystems around the nation. In each ecosystem, we will commission a state-of-the-art, independent scientific study, engaging some of the region's and the nation's top scientists who are well versed in climate disruption adaptation science. We will then covert the scientific study into a set of communications vehicles that we can use for public education and engagement purposes. We will then deploy our organizers, media staff, web staff, litigators, lobbyists, and army of volunteers to run a multi-year campaign that will end up permanently protecting core areas, buffers, and corridors; reducing non-climate stressors; implementing appropriate climate-smart management; safeguarding local communities; setting up natural systems carbon sequestration reserves; and attracting adequate funds to implement the campaign within the ecosystems. The success of these 10 model ecosystem resilient habitats campaigns will be publicized so they will serve as models for duplication nationally and internationally.

Objective 2: Increase the resilience of natural systems on all federal lands and waters by 2020.
One-third of the United States is comprised of public lands and waters that belong to all of us. Since the Obama administration and key federal legislative leaders are committed to implementing new policies to protect federal public lands and waters from climate disruption, we have a golden opportunity to make transformative change and build resilient habitats. But we cannot count on the good intentions of a few top administration and congressional leaders. We must run a disciplined and effective national campaign to make sure that every federal agency charged with managing land, water, and wildlife proposes, adopts, and implements science-based resilient habitat management plans and policies for all of the resources in public ownership. We will deploy our organizers, media staff, web staff, litigators, lobbyists and army of volunteers to run a multi-year campaign that will lead to the adoption of resilient habitats policies on every national forest, national park, national wildlife refuge, Bureau of Land Management district, federal water project, etc. This campaign will end up permanently protecting core areas, buffers, and corridors; reducing non-climate stressors; implementing appropriate climate-smart management; safeguarding local communities; setting up natural systems carbon sequestration reserves; and attracting adequate funds to implement the campaign on all federal lands. Initially, we will lobby the Obama administration to take prompt executive action to bring about these changes. We will also seek to pass federal legislation to make these policies permanent so that they will survive future changes in administrations.

Objective 3: Increase the resilience of priority wildlife habitats in every state and Puerto Rico by 2020.
While one-third of the nation's lands and waters are federal public lands, the flip side of this statistic is that two-thirds are state, tribal, and private lands where the federal government has very little control and authority. These lands, waters, and habitats are even more vulnerable to climate disruption because they are more developed and fragmented than the unoccupied federal public lands. However, there are a number of excellent opportunities to build resilient habitats in every state on non-federal lands -- but only if we seize the opportunities before us. The federal government has a program that offers incentives to states to develop and adopt State Wildlife Action Plans. These are discretionary, but every state and territorial government has participated in the program. The plans spell out conservation policy and land acquisition priorities to promote wildlife and habitat protection; public and private funds are then provided to help implement the plans. Historically, the hunter and angler communities have helped state wildlife agencies develop these plans, which have been drafted presuming that the climate would remain relatively stable. Our resilient habitats campaign proposes that we lobby to change the parameters of the program so that every participating state will need to prepare a science-based State Wildlife Climate Adaptation Plan. We will partner with wildlife advocacy groups to press for the adoption of the strongest possible plans in every state. Each plan will end up promoting protection of core areas and corridors; reducing non-climate stressors; implementing climate-smart management; safeguarding local communities; setting up carbon sequestration reserves; and attracting adequate funds for implementation.

Objective 4: By 2020, 20 million acres of private lands and waters are managed in perpetuity as resilient habitats.
Most endangered species in the United States are found on private lands. Similarly, in an era of rapid climate disruption we know that most native plant and wildlife species that are vulnerable to climate disruption will depend on private lands for part or all of their lives. In the past, private-land acquisition for conservation and recreation purposes has assumed a stable climate. As we move forward, it will be essential that we apply limited public and private funds strategically so that we build resilient habitats for a steadily changing environment. The Sierra Club does not propose to get in the land-acquisition business, but we are experts at influencing public policy to raise and direct public funds to conservation purposes. As scientists identify the highest priority lands to be incorporated into core areas and corridors to create climate refuges, the Sierra Club and our allies need to be at the forefront of the effort to raise and steer those funds to build resilient habitats. We can help pass state land acquisition bond measures and earmark state and federal appropriations and funds to make sure that the next 20 million acres of private lands that are acquired by purchase, easement, or rental are spent wisely to implement science-based resilient habitats plans. We will also influence land-use plans and provide tax incentives to promote resilient habitats on private lands.

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