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New Scientific Report Provides Original Climate Change Assessments for the Lake Champlain Basin

Practical strategies and advice for natural resource managers and towns


Montpelier, VT | May 18, 2010

The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack and Vermont Chapters today released “Climate Change in the Champlain Basin: What natural resource managers can expect and do,” one of the first efforts in North America to assess climate change on a watershed scale and offer adaptation strategies.

Climate change is no longer just a philosophical or future threat. It's a reality in the Champlain Basin, as the 42-page, peer-reviewed report outlines with a complete set of weather records from the United States Historical Climatology Network. Some changes that have already taken place in the Champlain Basin are:

* Mean temperatures in the Champlain Basin rose by 2°F between 1976 and 2005, slightly faster than the global average.
* The average level of Lake Champlain is 1 foot higher than it was prior to the 1970s, illustrating the effects of recently increased precipitation.
* The duration of ice cover on local lakes has shortened during the 20th century, with freeze-up now occurring two weeks later, on average. The main body of Lake Champlain now often fails to freeze over at all in winter.

Previous climate studies have been global or regional in scope, which has limited their applicability at the watershed, landscape or site scales, where most conservation work takes place. “Climate Change in the Champlain Basin” draws on current scientific literature and uses a new generation of analytical tools, including Climate Wizard, to focus climate model simulations on the 8,234-square-mile watershed, which lies in Vermont, New York and Quebec.

“The study takes a cautious and transparent approach to the methods used, carefully explaining the capabilities and limitations of the climate models and analyses,” says co-author Curt Stager, a paleo-limnologist and climate-change specialist at Paul Smith’s College in the northern Adirondacks of New York State.

The report foresees temperature increase and other trends in the Champlain Basin continuing throughout this century:

* The range of anticipated 21st century warming is 1–6°F under a moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenario and 6–11°F under an “extreme” scenario that mirrors actual recent emissions trends.
* A larger fraction of winter precipitation will likely fall as rain rather than as snow.
* Ice will cover Lake Champlain and its tributaries for shorter periods of the year.
* Changes in water quality and temperature could increase the likelihood of nuisance algae and cyanobacteria blooms, which can pose risks to humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.
* Changes in water quality and temperature could disrupt feeding, spawning, and available habitat for forage fish as well as popular game fish such as lake trout and Atlantic salmon.

Most management plans for the basin’s aquatic systems and species do not yet take account of future changes in temperature and precipitation. Although there may be little that local natural resource managers can do to prevent climatic changes, there is much they can do to help mitigate how such future changes interact with the landscape. Dealing proactively with climate change will ultimately be less costly and more effective than trying to respond after the fact. In a warmer and potentially wetter Champlain Basin, efforts to minimize nutrient enrichment of waterbodies, control erosion and prevent introduction of new nuisance invasive species become even more important to the long-term resilience of natural systems.

The most effective adaptation techniques—including vegetated shoreline buffers and best management practices to keep runoff and nutrients out of waterbodies—are already in use in the basin; however, they must be strengthened. The report concludes with a series of management and research recommendations, including increased support for scientific monitoring and evaluation of hydrologic and water-temperature data as well as closer tracking of changes in species abundance and reproduction.

The Nature Conservancy believes that while it is critical to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must also act to reduce on-the-ground effects of climate change on biodiversity. Some Vermont and Adirondack Chapter practices currently under way in the Champlain Basin that further this goal are:

* Working with partners like fish and wildlife biologists and the New York and Vermont Departments of Transportation to reduce the impacts of culverts, roads and other barriers to aquatic-organism migration and adaptation along Lake Champlain tributaries.
* Determining where natural habitats are likely to be most vulnerable or resilient over the long term, to help inform conservation plans aimed at protecting fisheries, wildlife and habitats.
* In partnership with farmers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, working to restore streams impaired by cattle—975 acres of wetlands and riparian lands so far.

Although the report was written primarily for conservation managers, it also provides a resource for citizens concerned about the future of the Champlain Basin when faced with property management and community land-use planning decisions.

“Climate Change in the Champlain Basin” was researched and written by Curt Stager and journalist Mary Thill. To read the report online and access the Web-based Climate Wizard tool, go to www.nature.org/champlainclimatereport. To order copies of the report, send us an email at vermont@tnc.org.


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org

Contact information

Emily Boedecker
(802) 229-4425 ext 112
eboedecker@tnc.org

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