What does CalWild’s work have to do with climate change?
Quick Answer: A whole lot.
The very idea of wilderness, as laid out in the Wilderness Act of 1964, conveys a landscape or place that is unspoiled by most manmade activities: mechanical access and recreation, and extractive practices, like mining and oil drilling, are prohibited. Despite these limitations, human activities happening all over the world still have huge influence over the health of these areas. This is precisely why climate change has become one of the most urgent environmental issues of our time – and of human history.
Some of the more well-known ecological consequences of climate change include accelerated glacial melt, rising sea levels, warmer oceans and freshwater systems, changes to the salinity levels of inland waters, increased frequency of extreme weather patterns, expanded distribution and virulence of pathogens and parasites, habitat instability and degradation, expansion of invasive species, and considerable flora and fauna die-offs.
The human toll to these changes in ecological systems are similarly complex, varied, and alarming. For example, extreme droughts and higher temperatures have led to an unprecedented tree die off throughout the state. This puts entire ecosystems as risk and can adversely impact recreation industries. Consider also the costs of comprising our drinking water supplies due to decreased snowpack and glacial melt in alpine and subalpine climates; losing low-lying coastal development and communities to rising seas; or the immense quantities of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere due to the destruction our forests and soils – both of which are responsible for processing and storing much of the world’s carbon dioxide.
Safeguarding our global wilderness areas can help mitigate a number of climate change-induced catastrophes by providing:
- Resilient and biodiverse habitats
- Carbon and nitrogen sinks to neutralize damaging greenhouse gases
- Nutrient filtration services found in freshwater wetlands and tidal estuaries, which can reverse the accumulation of persistent toxins
- Glaciers and snowpack that make up the majority of our drinking water
- Areas for outstanding recreation and spiritual respite bereft of development
Additionally, CalWild is particularly concerned with the effects of climate change on wildlife. We are currently in the middle of the Holocene (or sixth) extinction, the first global extinction event that is due mainly to human activity. The roadless, pristine landscapes CalWild works to protect are the “Noah’s ark” that will sustain wildlife populations during these volatile ecological transitions. They provide:
- Places of refuge for plants and wildlife that cannot survive elsewhere
- Blocks of habitat where non-native invasive species are rare, uncommon, or absent
- “Stepping stones” of habitat for wildlife (and even plants, over time) that allow migration around heavily-disturbed or developed landscapes
- “Reference landscapes” where scientists can study the differences between natural ecosystems and developed areas, and gauge the success of habitat restoration efforts elsewhere in a region
- Seed-sources for ecological recovery that we can use to facilitate restoration elsewhere