US Wildlife on the Move
February 16, 2016
Nick Bradford

Did You Know?

  • Plants and wildlife have moved to higher elevations at a median rate of 36 feet per decade and to higher latitudes at a median rate of 10.5 miles per decade throughout the last century.
  • Trout species in the western US are expected to lose 47% of their habitat due to rising temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns.
  • The ringed seal and the polar bear are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act with a primary threat being climate change.

Changes in fish and wildlife populations and their habitats in response to a changing climate have been observed on multiple levels in the United States. Warmer temperatures and less precipitation in the west have increased the size of wildfires and worsened insect and disease outbreaks, causing a decrease in habitat for woodland creatures. Higher water temperatures in the oceans are disrupting migration patterns of marine species. Rising sea levels are reducing nesting habitats for shore birds and sea turtles, and contaminating freshwater habitats with saltwater. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are making the oceans more acidic and decreasing the ability of shells and other calcium carbonate structures, such as coral skeletons, to form. And, seasonal shifts are affecting the migration cycles and health of migratory birds.

Species that are particularly at risk of significant habitat and population losses as a result of a changing climate include those that are adapted to mountain environments and those dependent on sea ice habitats. For example, arctic ringed seals in Alaska exist in relatively high numbers but are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to significant long-term climate-related threats to their sea ice habitat, which they depend on for shelter and food. 

What You Can Do

  • Winter weather can bring snow, sleet, freezing rain, and ice to your doorstep. While salts can be helpful in making sure that your pathways stay safely clear of ice and snow, too much salt can have negative repercussions on aquatic organisms, such as coral reefs, when the snows melt and carries away the deicers into local waterways. Learn about winter salt smarts to protect water quality and wildlife while also keeping your home safe. 

Learn More

  • Discover more about how a changing climate is impacting or may impact fish and wildlife in your state.  
  • Check out the video below to discover how scientists are studying and trying to protect Arctic ringed seals.