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Climate Change Consortium for Bay Area Ecosystems

A Rising Tide of Conservation Challenge

Mendel Stewart


Satellite view of the Golden Gate region and San Francisco Bay. NOAA photo.
Sea level rise; changing weather patterns and seasons; disruptions in the food webs of the California Current and San Francisco Bay: climate change is bound to have profound consequences for ecosystems in Central California. On the 50,000 acres we manage in the Monterey and San Francisco Bay regions, as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the question of what to do about climate change may seem too big and complex to even begin to address. Yet that’s precisely what we are trying to do.

In 2007, I was asked to join the Department of the Interior’s new, multi-agency Climate Change Task Force. We were to canvas existing information and expertise within the Interior Department and suggest options to the Secretary for managing the nation’s natural resources in the face of a changing climate. A short time later, I had a meeting on Capitol Hill with the lead staff member of the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. He challenged me to integrate both the land and the ocean in the management of fish and wildlife resources—something that was not being done on a large scale anywhere in the country.

He went on to suggest I work with Maria Brown, Superintendent of NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, to develop a demonstration project that integrated management of marine, coastal, and estuarine ecosystems. The aim would be to not only adapt to climate change but also perhaps to mitigate against it. As Maria and I discussed this, we formed a fundamental question: What should we be doing now—and what should we be planning to do in the future—that is different from the way we currently manage the marine, coastal, and estuarine ecosystems under our respective charges?

We quickly realized this task was bigger than anything our two agencies alone could tackle, so we looked to our partners at PRBO Conservation Science for assistance. Through discussions with Ellie Cohen, we realized that other Bay Area resource managers and policy makers were asking these same questions. So we engaged their agencies and organizations in discussions that eventually led to the creation of what is now known as the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium.
Mendel Stewart. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The mission of the Consortium is to provide reliable, understandable, science-based information that natural resource managers can use to make effective decisions in the face of a rapidly changing climate. Today, Consortium members include a wide variety of federal, state, and non-governmental research, management, and planning agencies working cooperatively to leverage expertise, funds, and resources. Through our joint efforts, we will provide a national model of cooperative, adaptive conservation to sustain nature’s benefits to our communities. At the same time, we will be meeting the original charge of demonstrating that ecosystem management across land and ocean boundaries is possible: partnerships make it so.