Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Habitat Management Plan


The Refuge is currently working to incorporate climate change considerations into their Habitat Management Plan. 

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a 43,890 acre refuge in southern Illinois that provides significant resting areas for migratory birds utilizing the Mississippi Flyway and is visited by approximately 1 million people per year. 
Project Area and Management Goals
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located in the southern portion of Illinois, with lands in Williamson, Jackson, and Union counties. It has four primary purposes:Crab Orchard Lake shoreline
  • Wildlife conservation: The Refuge exists to protect, enhance, and manage natural resources and the Refuge landscape through an ecosystem approach that sustains optimum populations of migratory waterfowl, native fish and wildlife species, and threatened and endangered wildlife. 
  • Agriculture: The Refuge seeks to provide opportunities for and encourage agricultural uses that help attain wildlife conservation goals, benefit the local economy, and are compatible with other Refuge purposes. 
  • Industry: The Refuge manages an industrial complex fully utilized by compatible tenants that conform to prescribed safety, health, environmental, and maintenance standards.
  • Recreation: The Refuge provides safe and equitable public use programs and facilities so that visitors have an enjoyable recreational experience and gain an appreciation for fish and wildlife resources, natural and cultural history, outdoor ethics, and environmental awareness
The Refuge has begun work on a habitat management plan, or HMP. An HMP is a dynamic working document that provides Refuge managers a decision-making process; guidance for the management of Refuge habitat; and long-term vision, continuity, and consistency for habitat management on Refuge land. The primary purpose of the HMP is to implement the habitat related elements of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), completed in 2007.  Fish and Wildlife Service Policy, specifically 620 FW 1, states that “The refuge manager may modify the CCP and/or HMP if significant new information suggests the plans are inadequate or refuge resources would benefit from the changes. The appropriate level of NEPA compliance is required if we propose significant changes.”” The HMP for Crab Orchard NWR will result from a NEPA process to address additional aspects of habitat management that were lacking in the CCP and, where necessary, modify CCP goals or objectives in light of new information and understandings of resource needs. 
In particular, the HMP that will be developed during this planning process will restate the habitat goals, objectives, and strategies identified in the CCP that are found to be adequate.  Additional goals and objectives will be developed and then the HMP will further define the habitat related objectives and describe specific prescriptions for the habitat management strategies identifying how, when, and where they will be implemented. Objectives for the HMP are still being developed and will include public involvement.  However for the purposes of this exercise, staff at the Refuge developed several potential habitat management ideas  that could inform the objectives in the HMP.  These are outlined below:    
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 Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge
Climate Change Impacts
Climate change impacts to southern Illinois 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
  • 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
  • shifts in habitat suitability for many focal bird species.
In forested areas, northern mesic species such as sugar maple are projected to decline, while southern oak species such as post oak are project to increase in habitat suitability. fall colors on the RefugeFuture habitat suitability for many native oak and hickory species is unclear, with slight declines projected under a warmer, drier climate scenario and increases under a wetter scenario with less warming. Shortleaf pine is a species that was planted in the area for erosion control in the past, but is not native to the area. Models suggest that habitat suitability for this species is projected to increase.  
The Refuge provides a mix of habitats for waterfowl and neotropical migratory birds. The Climate Change Bird Atlas was used to determine how climate change may affect avian habitat suitability (Matthews et al. 2011). Focal species projected to experience an increase in breeding habitat include Acadian flycatcher, chuck-will’s widow, and Kentucky warbler. Habitat could remain stable for blue-gray gnatcatcher and whip-poor-will.  Some species may experience a slight decline in habitat suitability, such as cerulean warbler, wood thrush, and yellow-billed cuckoo. In addition to the species featured in the Bird Atlas, Refuge managers also discussed how fewer Canada geese are overwintering in the area, presumably because they are staying further north due to milder winters. Some preliminary model results from another study suggest that overwintering habitat suitability may increase in the area for wood duck (National Audubon Society 2014). 
Information on climate change impacts to other species and habitat types is more limited. In grasslands, no model information is currently available for vegetation, but some information is available for grassland birds (Matthews et al. 2011). Some species such as dickcissel, field sparrow, and grasshopper sparrow could experience a decrease in habitat suitability. Prairie warbler, loggerhead shrike, eastern meadowlark, and northern bobwhite are expected to remain stable or experience a slight increase in habitat suitability.
Challenges and Opportunities for Management
Climate change may make meeting some management objectives for forested areas on the Refuge more challenging. A key challenge is related to fire: shifts in spring and summer precipitation may make it more difficult to complete prescribed burns duing those seasons. Later in summer or in fall, wildfire probability and intensity could increase under hot, dry conditions. There also may be more invasive species to manage due to milder temperatures. Some oaks and hickory species that the Refuge is currently managing to increase in basal area may not do well under future climate conditions toward the end of the century. In additon, more southern shade- tolerant speciesthat are projected to increase in suitable habitat, such as yellow poplar and sweetgum, may out-compete oak species.  
Management of other habitat types could also be more challenging. In grasslands, wetter springs could affect planting, burning, and mowing windows. With more seasonal variability and weed pressure, agricultural yields could decrease.  Weather conditions might impact field access and planting windows and could disrupt the 3-year rotation for certain, more low-lying fields. In aquatic systems, increases in precipitation and drought events could impact the ability of the Refuge to manage water levels to provide breeding and foraging habitat for amphibians and migratory birds. 
conducting a prescribed fire Climate change may also create management opportunities. In forests, habitat suitability for sugar maple is projected to decline, which may make reducing that species component easier. As maples decline and die, it could create gaps for oak regeneration.  Managers may be able to carry out prescribed burns more frequently in the fall due to favorable conditions in that season. Fall burns could be beneficial for controlling invasives such as honeysuckle and autumn olive that remain green later into the fall than native species. Fire-adapted species, such as oak species, may be more resilient to climate-induced increases in wildfire risk. 
A variety of management opportunities are also possible on other habitat types. In grasslands, enhanced conditions for fall prescribed burns could be beneficial for controlling fescue. In riparian areas, increased precipitation could prioritize where bank stabilization is most crucial.  
Adapting to Climate Change
Approaches and Actions for Adaptation
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).  Below are some tactics discussed for further consideration in the HMP based on their perceived feasibility and effectiveness. 

adaptation approaches and tactics

Monitoring variables will be determined after development of the Habitat Management Plan and Inventory and Monitoring Plan, utilizing formalized peer reviewed monitoring protocols.
Next Steps
Information from this exercise will be incorporated into the Habitat Management Plan for the Refuge.
Brandt, Leslie; He, Hong; Iverson, Louis; Thompson, Frank R., III; Butler, Patricia; Handler, Stephen; Janowiak, Maria; Shannon, P. Danielle; Swanston, Chris; Albrecht, Matthew; Blume-Weaver, Richard; Deizman, Paul; DePuy, John; Dijak, William D.; Dinkel, Gary; Fei, Songlin; Jones-Farrand, D. Todd; Leahy, Michael; Matthews, Stephen; Nelson, Paul; Oberle, Brad; Perez, Judi; Peters, Matthew; Prasad, Anantha; Schneiderman, Jeffrey E.; Shuey, John; Smith, Adam B.; Studyvin, Charles; Tirpak, John M.; Walk, Jeffery W.; Wang, Wen J.; Watts, Laura; Weigel, Dale; Westin, Steve. 2014. Central Hardwoods ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the Central Hardwoods Climate Change Response Framework project. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-124. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 254 p.
Matthews, S. N., L. R. Iverson, A. M. Prasad, and M. P. Peters. 2011. Potential habitat changes of 147 North American bird species to redistribution of vegetation and climate following predicted climate change. Ecography 260:1460-1472. 
National Audubon Society. 2014. Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report: A Primer for Practitioners. National Audubon Society, New York. Contributors: Gary Langham, Justin Schuetz, Candan Soykan, Chad Wilsey, Tom Auer, Geoff LeBaron, Connie Sanchez, Trish Distler. Version 1.2. 
Swanston, Chris; Janowiak, Maria, eds. 2012. Forest adaptation resources: Climate change tools and approaches for land managers. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-87. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station.121 p.