Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.
For decades, climate change has been one of our greatest conservation challenges and has become one of the leading threats to birds and other wildlife in New Mexico and across the nation. The National Audubon Society’s Birds and Climate Report has found that many of New Mexico’s most iconic and beloved bird species are threatened by climate change. Many of these species are currently threatened by other factors, such as habitat loss, while others are species we previously considered secure but could face significant shifts in their ranges as a result of climate change.
Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to be the voice of the birds and aggressively combat this urgent threat head on by protecting the places that birds need to thrive and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We all know that climate change is affecting the Southwest. Temperatures have increased by almost 2°F in the last century, with the 2001-2010 decade being the warmest since record keeping began 110 years ago and 2015 being the warmest summer ever recorded. The length of the frost-free season has increased by 19 days in recent decades. Average annual temperatures are projected to rise an additional 3.5°F to 9.5°F by the end of this century.
Drought conditions are already common in the Southwest and drought periods are expected to become more frequent, intense, and longer, heightening competition for important water resources in the Colorado River and Rio Grande Basins. Here in New Mexico some of the most visible signs of climate change are declining snowpack, changes in streamflow patterns, sharp decreases in reservoir storage, drought-induced plant mortality and catastrophic wildfires. A 2015 Bureau of Reclamation study projected that San Juan-Chama Project flows, which provides a portion of Santa Fe’s drinking water, could decrease by 25 percent in the next 40 years.
Native communities in the Southwest are also expected to experience heightened difficulties associated with access to freshwater, agricultural practices, and declines in medicinal and cultural plants and animals. Some communities, including the Navajo Nation, are already experiencing drought impacts including drying wells, reduced drinking water supplies and agricultural losses.
The effects of climate change are already apparent and threaten the birds we see every day — from habitat loss to devastating breaks in the delicate links that connect birds, migration, and food sources. Audubon’s 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report confirmed that climate change is the single greatest threat to North American birds. Seven years in the making, the report warns that 314 North American bird species could lose more than half of their current ranges by 2080 due to rising temperatures.
In New Mexico many of the species of greatest concern are found in our mountains, grasslands, and riparian zones, and given the current threats to these ecosystems – drought, fire, energy development, overgrazing, etc. – added pressures from an ever-warming climate could be the last straw.