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Group Uses Climate Change as Road Map for Land Protection

The Palouse in Idaho and Washington is identified as a region that could be resilient as a warming climate affects the globe. (Amy Ross/Flickr)
The Palouse in Idaho and Washington is identified as a region that could be resilient as a warming climate affects the globe. (Amy Ross/Flickr)
March 15, 2017

MOSCOW, Idaho – As climate change worsens, certain landscapes could become refuges from the most dramatic effects to nature. One conservation group is looking to harness the power of those areas by protecting them.

The Nature Conservancy has created maps covering more than 350,000 square miles of land in the Northwest that it identifies as especially resilient in the decades to come. With the help of $6 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the group works with local land trusts to protect these lands.

Amy Trujillo, the executive director of the Palouse Land Trust, says climate change is threatening that part of north central Idaho.

"One of our high priorities is protecting our endangered Palouse prairie habitat," she said. "So, if it's got prairie remnants on it, or if it looks like it could connect two remnants together, that would be a high priority."

The Nature Conservancy identified areas in the Palouse that could be resilient to climate change. Once an organization receives a grant, it must match funding five to one. The funds are used to purchase private lands or work with owners on use-limiting easements.

Ken Popper is a senior conservation planner with The Nature Conservancy. He says climate change will mean big shifts for many species. Rather than running climate models over the next few decades, the conservancy identified areas in the Northwest that were most diverse in terms of soil, slope and elevation - qualities that aren't likely to change even as the climate changes.

Popper says the lands that will hold up the best are those with the most "micro-habitats."

"And those places can both serve as refugia for species that are there now or, in some ways, opportunities for a species in the future," he explained.

Most of the resiliency mapping in the Northwest covered Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID