New Report: Changing Tides

How Sea-level Rise Harms Wildlife and Recreation Economies along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard

08-16-2016 // Casey Skeens

Bay ScallopWashington, DC – A new report from the National Wildlife Federation details the increasing threats posed by sea-level rise to wildlife in states along the Eastern Seaboard and makes the case that we must combat these threats through comprehensive policies that address the cause of the climate change – carbon pollution – as well as the sea-level rise that is already occurring and future sea level rise we cannot avoid. The report sets forth solutions that should be enacted at all levels of government – federal, state, and local – to protect wildlife and communities from the significant impacts of sea level rise.

Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, said in response:

“Left unchecked, the combination of sea level rise and extreme storms pose an unprecedented threat to coastal communities, ecosystems, and wildlife. As communities up and down the eastern seaboard have experienced, the impacts will range from widespread flooding and inundation of protective tidal marshes to beach erosion and saltwater intrusion. Such consequences damage state economies that depend on the rich natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities the coast provides. Important places and wildlife all along the coast from the Everglades in Florida to Acadia National Park in Maine are at risk if action is not taken. We look forward to working with coastal communities and conservation partners to implement comprehensive solutions to both reduce harmful climate-disrupting carbon pollution and bolster natural systems that will help mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise we are not able to avoid.”

Even at the lower end of sea-level rise projections, the impacts on coastal habitats and human communities could be devastating. And yet, recent science suggests that even the higher-range scenario underestimates the amount of sea-level rise we could experience. By some measures, sea levels are projected to rise by six feet or more by 2100 if drastic emission cuts are not made soon.

The report illustrates key impacts from sea-level rise on coastal habitats and nearby communities in 15 eastern U.S. states: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Impacts of sea-level rise on the East Coast include:

  • Increased coastal flooding
  • Saltwater intrusion into the freshwater that supplies communities and wildlife
  • Beach erosion
  • Loss of wetland buffer zones
  • Greater damage from more frequent and severe extreme weather events
  • Loss of property values
  • Loss of hunting and fishing opportunities
  • Loss of wildlife, natural places, and outdoor recreation income
  • Cultural impacts

As the risks from sea-level rise continue to grow, so, too, has the impetus for states and communities to prepare for changes that are occurring, or will occur in the near future, by taking action to mitigate impacts and improve coastal resilience – a strategy referred to as adaptation. In the wake of increasingly dire projections for sea-level rise, however, it is equally essential that we prevent the worst outcomes by significantly reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions that are the root cause of sea level rise – a strategy known as mitigation.

Policy solutions:

Mitigation

  • Set a carbon price to achieve economy-wide emission reductions
  • Implement the Clean Power Plan, federal regulations on carbon pollution emissions from the power sector, to transition to a clean energy economy
  • Expand wildlife-friendly renewable energy such as responsibly developed wind and solar
  • Limit methane (a potent GHG) waste and pollution from oil and gas development
  • Reduce and better account for carbon impacts of fossil fuel development
  • Support clean transportation such as low-emission vehicles and public transit
  • Enhance ecosystem carbon storage and sequestration

Adaptation

  • Assess coastal climate risks and craft plans to reduce those risks
  • Curb development that degrades the resilience of coastal ecosystems
  • Improve opportunities for habitat migration
  • Reform coastal permitting policies to encourage natural infrastructure
  • Reform the National Flood Insurance Program to stop encouraging development in risky areas
  • Ensure adaptation policies benefit all members of society, including those most vulnerable

In light of the growing evidence that human-induced climate change is already altering our landscape and natural resources, America must become far more diligent in its effort to craft meaningful and efficient solutions.

To read the full report, please visit: www.nwf.org/changing-tides

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