The global climate is changing due to human activities, primarily carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The changing climate will affect all living things. Because this is a global challenge, the Boundary Waters will be affected along with every other place on earth. While the BWCAW cannot be insulated from these impacts, wilderness is a critical resource for a changing climate.
The BWCAW is the southernmost outpost for a number of animals, birds, and plants. These species are part of what makes the Boundary Waters unique and special, a place unlike any other in the United States. Many iconic species, such as the Moose, Lynx, Timber Wolf, Common Loon, and White Pine, are at risk of disappearing from the landscape in a warming world. Other species, such as white-tailed deer, bobcats, coyotes, and maple trees are already moving northward. We’ve already seen dramatic drops in the population of moose some of which is tied to warmer winters.
A warmer climate will also change the frequency and extent of wildfires in the BWCAW. While ecological change is inevitable and dynamic, human influence on the climate could change some of the characteristics that make the BWCAW so special.
Large wilderness areas like the BWCAW are even more important in a time of human-caused climate change. They provide migration corridors, undisturbed natural areas for plants, microclimates that provide habitat in the face of broader climactic changes. In order for climate change to not result in extinctions, we need ecological reserves like wilderness areas. Actions that protect the wilderness take on even greater urgency at this time.
Responding locally to a global issue is a challenge. We know that we can’t stop climate change with isolated individual actions and we recognize that the momentum built into the earth’s climate system means that further climate impacts are a certainty.
We incorporate climate change into our analysis of proposals that affect wildlife and habitat near the wilderness. For example, emerging research by tribal, federal and state scientists suggest that moose near more open forest to be successful. Our work with these scientists has led us to be more open to forest management that provides needed moose habitat, including limited use of clear cuts and prescribed burns outside of the BWCAW.
We are committed to educating the public on the long-term impacts of climate change to the Boundary Waters as part of the broader effort on climate change. For many people, climate change is an abstract, distant idea. By showing BWCAW visitors the impact of a shifting climate on an ecosystem that they love, we can inspire action and activism.