In the Pacific Northwest, land and resource managers strive to make decisions that benefit both natural and human communities, balancing ecological and economic demands including wildlife habitat, forest products, forage for grazing, clean water, and wildfire control. Climate change adds a layer of complexity to the planning process because of its uncertain effects on the environment. In order to make sound decisions, managers need information about how climate change will affect wildlife habitat, both on its own and in conjunction with management actions.
The goal of this project was to explore how future climate may interact with management alternatives to shape wildlife habitat across large landscapes. Scientists used computer simulations to investigate a range of future climate and management scenarios, focusing on habitat for two iconic species: the northern spotted owl and the greater sage-grouse.
Findings show that increasing wildfire is likely to be the primary threat to owl habitat as a result of climate change. Management actions that reduce the amount of vegetation available as fuel may be helpful at counteracting this threat, at least in southwestern Oregon. In the case of the greater sage-grouse, expected increases in wildfire may actually be helpful for managers, as they help to control the spread of juniper. However, invasive grasses are poised to overtake much of the landscape, creating a new management challenge.While the task of managing habitat in the face of climate change is daunting, this research yielded information that may be useful for setting management priorities and developing strategies that sustain these landscapes for both humans and wildlife.