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Conservation in a Changing Climate

April 18, 2018 03:00 PM

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​As we approach the annual Earth Day celebration this weekend, one of our biggest challenges is how to respond and adapt to a changing climate. We need to act.

For the past year, staff members from across all of DCNR’s bureaus participated in a rigorous process to determine and prioritize the department’s greatest climate change vulnerabilities, and identify strategies to address them.

In the next several months, DCNR will be finalizing a plan that includes objectives to prepare for and mitigate the risks associated with climate impacts.

Here’s where we’re going, with some ideas about how you can join us.

Trees are the Answer

Very heavy precipitation and flooding have increased significantly in Pennsylvania, and that is expected to continue. Trails, roads and bridges, historical and cultural resources, and more are at risk during flooding. Extreme rain events also can affect groundwater supply and reduce water quality below public thresholds for recreational use.

Turns out, planting trees, especially along streams, are a big part of the solution. DCNR is leading the effort to protect and restore buffers along streams (known as riparian areas) to control stormwater, and also to keep the water cool for fish, filter pollutants from the land, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Do One Thing

If you can do one thing for the environment during Earth Month, plant a tree! (Especially along a stream, but in your backyard or community is great, too.) Find information to help in Common Trees of Pennsylvania (PDF), through the riparian buffer initiative, or from TreeVitalize. Check out some of the upcoming Chesapeake Bay Foundation tree planting events.

Corridors for Wildlife

Climate impacts are expected to vary across the landscape in Pennsylvania. Some areas will see significant impacts, while more resistant habitats will become increasingly important for wildlife and conservation planning.

DCNR will work with partners to set conservation priorities through land acquisitions, easements, and stewardship plans to create an interconnected system of habitats that allow species to move north and to higher elevations in response to climate change.

Plant Smart

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What we plant, how we plant, and where we plant can affect wildlife. Check iConservePA for information on wise planting decisions that can provide benefits to wildlife.

DCNR’s Wild Plant Sanctuary Program is a good idea for larger landowners to participate in a voluntary statewide network of habitat managed to conserve rare native plants.

Changing Forests

Forest ecosystems absorb and sequester a significant portion of U.S. carbon emissions. Our forests are expected to change due to the decline of some species, increases in others, hybridization, and immigration of southern species.

As the climate changes, new invasive species are expected to move into the commonwealth, and those already here will increase in abundance.

DCNR will be adjusting its forest management practices to distribute risks, encourage diverse age classes, and work with other state agencies responsible for land management to develop and adopt statewide invasive species best management practices, and decrease forest carbon loss.

Wood Products

Learn more about the DCNR Bureau of Forestry’s commitment to manage state forests in an environmentally responsible manner. Use durable wood products harvested from properly managed forests in construction projects to help sequester carbon permanently, and support local jobs in the Pennsylvania forest products industry.


Populations of rare, threatened, and endangered species, especially those near the edge of their range in Pennsylvania, are expected to decline faster and possibly disappear because of climate change and other stressors.

There will be an increased demand for data due to the impacts increased flooding, drought, dry wells, sinkholes, and other climate change impacts.

DCNR will be working with partners to review and expand monitoring to ensure that changes in natural communities, species distribution, and populations are detected. The department will look to develop research projects that look for relationships between the timing and intensity of weather events and sinkholes and landslides.

Citizen Science

Become a citizen scientist to help monitor and take care of Pennsylvania’s wildlife, trees, plants, and water. Start by contacting your local state park to see what opportunities are available or check the DCNR calendar.

To Your Health

Human health and safety concerns such as tick and mosquito-borne diseases, severe storms, heat-related illness, and air quality are becoming more of a concern. The number, geographic distribution, and length of time during the year that ticks and mosquitos are active have been increasing, which also increases exposure to diseases such as Lyme disease.

Preparedness plans to minimize exposure to risks and educate state park and forest visitors will be reviewed and updated by DCNR.

Tick Awareness

Enjoy the outdoors, but remember to prevent tick bites (PDF). When outdoors, always wear light-colored clothing (ticks stand out better), spray tick repellents on your clothes, tuck pants into socks, and do a “tick check” upon returning home.

Showering also is recommended after a day afield, as well laundering, then drying clothes in an electric dryer on high heat setting.

Energy Smart

With 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of state forests, DCNR maintains a lot of buildings, bridges, roads, and more. Infrastructure will be significantly challenged by higher temperatures, increased flooding, and periodic drought.

The department will continue its significant work throughout the past several years on energy conservation and renewable energy in our hundreds of buildings and vehicle fleet, including high-performance buildings, solar panels, and electric vehicles.

Be Efficient

iConservePA reminds us of the many ways we can make strategic improvements and use efficient practices to save energy, water, and money. You can learn about the department’s sustainable practices, such as high-performance buildings, or watch a video about DCNR’s green efforts for inspiration.

Let’s Talk

As part of its climate change adaptation efforts, DCNR will emphasize the importance of public engagement and place-based citizen science, and incorporate climate change into the daily conversations staff have with visitors.

Staff will need more training and expertise on topics related to climate science, adaptation, and mitigation.

Stay Connected

Implementing solutions requires learning and talking about the problems. We’ll be talking about climate change impacts and solutions as we roll out our adaptation practices.

Stay connected with DCNR on our social media accounts, through the Good Natured blog, and by attending programs and volunteer opportunities noted on our calendar of events.

Two years from now when we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, DCNR hopes to have laid the framework for a more resilient and sustainable Pennsylvania.

Happy Earth Day!

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