Conservation to Mitigate Climate Change

The impact of climate change on the Gulf of Maine is a major concern, nationally and locally. The level of the Gulf of Maine is rising faster than expected, as is its water temperature and acidity. These are tangible observations that will have real, measurable, potentially negative, consequences on coastal habitats and fisheries. The causes and consequences can be discussed and debated, but the reality of rising sea level and water temperature cannot.

Coastal Washington County has some of the most pristine coastal tidal flats and saltwater marshes in the United States. It has a productive and plentiful lobster fishing industry. Many of DCC’s conservation properties are bounded or surrounded by the waters of the Gulf of Maine. The impact of rising sea level and water temperature on these natural habitats and on local coastal communities and fisheries is upon us.  Local fishermen speak of changing distribution and abundance of lobsters in warmer waters, and more than one scientific paper reports a dramatic loss of mussel populations along the coast of Downeast Maine.

Interior Washington County is physically and functionally linked to the Gulf of Maine by miles of rivers and their associated riparian zones and forests. These ecosystems are also experiencing changes in water temperature and species assemblages. The rivers are used by 10 species of diadromous fish, responsible for moving nutrients between salt- and fresh-water. Several of these species are already listed as endangered or as species of special concern. In Washington County, these rivers flow through large sedge meadows and woodlands. The meadows serve as huge sponges during spring runoff and storm events.

Now is the time to plan strategies to mitigate and manage, to the extent feasible, foreseeable changes to these natural habitats, coastal communities and recreational and ocean-dependent livelihoods. Climate resiliency depends on conserving many different types of habitats and the linkages between them to maintain the ability for organisms to move from an area that is becoming inhospitable for them to one more likely to sustain them. Corridors for the movement of wildlife and for the dispersal of trees to new habitats are critical.  The future economic livelihood of Washington County may depend on how well DCC, other conservation organizations, governments and coastal communities respond to this challenge.

Well planned, properly communicated and effectively implemented conservation strategies focused on the impact of rising sea level and water temperature can place DCC at the center of this critical conservation challenge and allow DCC, together with partners, to seek support for innovative solutions.

Approved by DCC Board of Directors, revision dated August 11, 2017