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Climate and Wildlife Initiative

Western Solutions for Wildlife, Energy, and Wildland Challenges

In the West, both climate change and irresponsible energy development are startlingly visible. The past environmental damages and the current impacts of poorly planned and implemented traditional oil and gas development are evidenced by degraded landscapes and declining populations of many wildlife species. Fossil fuels cause near-term damage to the environment during extraction. Substantial long-term climate impacts also result from the carbon emitted from heat production, electricity generation, and vehicular movement that often requires new roads. Wildlife is suffering the consequences.

elk herd

The West's landscapes are changing. Any trip to the West's stunning high country will leave a visitor saddened by the massive loss of pine trees to beetles that are thriving because the winters are no longer cold enough to kill them. Other climate change impacts include prolonged drought and changes in snow melt, which have severe impacts to habitat and wildlife. Adding near-term injury to the cumulative impacts of a changing climate is the fact that these forests are increasingly threatened by oil and gas development as companies expand drilling from lower-elevation lands into mid- and higher-elevation lands. The direct fragmentation and other impacts of that expansion further stress already compromised forest ecosystems.

Sagebrush, grassland, and desert ecosystems are at the apex of the climate, energy, and wildlife dilemma facing the West. The sagebrush steppe ecosystem spans much of the northern part of the West, including Colorado and Wyoming. Unless the impacts of climate change are curtailed, much of the Sagebrush Sea will be lost and will likely be replaced by exotic weed species with minimal habitat value. The Greater Sage-Grouse is an umbrella species for much of the impressive biodiversity in this ecosystem, which also is home to over 250 vertebrate species and 40 sensitive species of concern. The Greater Sage-Grouse is already so threatened by the development of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, that it was determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Similar ecological relationships and threats exist for grasslands from Canada to New Mexico. Although prairie-chickens once characterized this beautiful ecosystem, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken is now also warranted for federal listing. Importantly, a strategic focus on grouse and prairie-chickens will also conserve many other sensitive species and their habitats now and into the future.

We must also simultaneously address the near-term threats of fossil fuel developments, including oil shale and tar sands, and the longer-term threats of climate changes. Although the West's transition to a clean energy economy holds hope for the climate, if renewable energy generation and transmission projects are poorly planned and implemented, they could further threaten sensitive forest species, sage-grouse, prairie-chickens, and even game species such as pronghorn.

WRA is reducing the threats of traditional energy development and guiding clean energy solutions. We seek a future for the West that is sustainable, not just for people, but for treasured wildlife and hallmark lands. Although we know that it will take a global response to mitigate climate change, the CWP can play an essential role by motivating leadership and guiding actions at the local, state, and regional levels.

The project will encompass the Rocky Mountain states, including the Southwest with its unique opportunities and biological challenges. The CWP will:
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy development and use.
Minimize current impacts of energy development on wildlife and wildlands.
Minimize future impacts of climate change on wildlife and wildlands.

The figure below illustrates the principal CWP actions and benefits. WRA is one of the few environmental organizations advocating for renewable energy, responsible transmission, and protection of our national, natural treasures.


Goals and Activities

Goal 1: Provide Clean Energy Solutions to Minimize Impacts of Climate Change

Goal 2: Protect Wildlands, Wildlife, and Water from Energy and Climate Change Impacts

This exciting new WRA program will further integrate the Energy, Lands, and Water programs. The CWP will strengthen our Energy Program by upholding our leading role on responsible regional renewable energy transmission and generation planning and by developing best management practices for transmission. It will fortify the Lands Program by enhancing the on-the-ground capacity and geographic breadth for a program already well-established as an effective wildland and wildlife guardian against damaging energy development and misguided governmental practices. It will complement the Water Program by making sure that use of, and impacts to, water resources are considered when planning energy generation and transmission.