Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge: Incorporating Climate Change Considerations into the Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Yes
Planning

The Refuge is currently working to incorporate climate change considerations into their Comprehensive Conservation Plan. 

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 50,000 acres in 3 counties (Jefferson, Jennings, and Ripley) in southeastern Indiana on the former Jefferson Proving Ground, a munitions testing facility.
 
Project Area and Management Goals
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 50,000 acres in 3 counties (Jefferson, Jennings, and Ripley) in southeastern Indiana on the former Jefferson Proving Ground, a munitions testing facility. Jefferson Proving Ground was established by People at Big Oaks the Army in 1940 as an ordnance testing installation and closed in 1995. Beginning in 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managed the wildlife resources of the proving ground. Big Oaks Refuge was established in June 2000 as an “overlay” national wildlife refuge through a 25-year real estate permit from the U.S. Army. As an overlay refuge, the Army retains ownership and the Fish and Wildlife Service manages the property as Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.  
 
The mission of the Refuge is to preserve, conserve, and restore biodiversity and biological integrity for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. Big Oaks Refuge provides food and shelter for a wide variety of plant and animal species. More than 200 species of birds and 46 species of mammals are found on the refuge. Stream corridors and forested areas on Big Oaks Refuge provide excellent habitat for the federally-endangered Indiana bat, which uses the refuge for summer foraging, roosting, and for rearing young. The refuge also supports breeding populations of the state-endangered river otter that were reestablished here in 1996. More than 500 pairs of state-endangered Henslow’s sparrows are estimated to breed in the large grasslands of Big Oaks Refuge. The refuge has been designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area” because of its value to Henslow’s sparrows and other migratory birds. Bald eagles and golden eagles are also known to use the refuge as a wintering site.
 
The Refuge has begun work on its Comprehensive Conservation Plan, or CCP. The purpose of a CCP is to specify a management direction for the refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving refuge conditions—including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions – are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well.
 
The Refuge used the Adaptation Workbook in Forest adaptation resources: Climate change tools and approaches for land managers (Swanston and Janowiak 2012) to evaluate the impacts of climate change on the Refuge and its ability to meet management objectives.  Potential actions to adapt to those changes were identified as part of the process. 
 
Climate Change and Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge
Climate change impacts to southern Indiana are summarized in the Central Hardwoods Ecosystem Assessment and Synthesis (Brandt et al. 2014). Key impacts include:
  • warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons (especially warmer winter lows)
  • more extremely hot days 
  • wetter springs followed by more prolonged summer droughts
  • more frequent heavy precipitation events            
  • changes in hydrology, including increased risks for flash floods
  • greater risk of wildfire
  • increase in new and existing invasive plant species
  • Increased risk and spread of various diseases and insect pests  
  • shifts in habitat suitability for many of the dominant tree species, with generally more northern species projected to decline and southern species projected to increase.   Henslow's sparrow
  • shifts in habitat suitability for many focal bird species.
 
Adaptation Actions
The Refuge evaluated a list of potential adaptation strategies and approaches in Forest adaptation resources: Climate change tools and approaches for land managers (Swanston and Janowiak 2012).  These adaptation options are still being evaluated as part of the CCP process. 
 
Next Steps
Information from this exercise will be incorporated into the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Refuge.
 
updated April 11, 2016