Early evidence of climate induced ecological transformation on the Kenai Peninsula – is there a need to respond?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 10:00 AM AKDT
Dr. John Morton - Supervisory Fish & Wildlife Biologist, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

John's email for further questions - john_m_morton@fws.gov


The impacts of a warming climate on the 6 million-acre Kenai Peninsula are already dramatic and forecasted to become even more so. The southern peninsula was the epicenter of a spruce bark beetle outbreak that culled 1 million acres of Sitka, white and Lutz spruce forest over a 15-year period. The fire regime appears to be changing from summer canopy fires in spruce to human-caused spring fires in Calamagrostis canadensis grasslands. As the climate has warmed and available water declined over the past half century, treeline has risen, wetlands have dried and the Harding Icefield has ablated. Climate envelope modeling portrays a future landscape with continuing afforestation of alpine tundra and lowland peatlands by advancing hemlock and spruce, but an uncertain forecast for lower elevations that range from more hardwood to deforestation.

Dr. John Morton has been a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for 3 decades, working previously in the Mariana Islands, Maryland, Wisconsin, California and stints at Arctic NWR and Yukon Delta NWR in Alaska.  He's been the supervisory biologist at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge since 2002, where he and his staff have been very involved in climate change research and adaptation.  He represented the USFWS in the GAO’s investigation of climate change impacts on Federal lands (2006) and on the DOI’s Climate Change Task Force (2007).  He served on teams that developed the USFWS strategic plan for responding to climate change (2008) and the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (2011). He co-led an interagency team that produced Connecting Alaska Landscapes into the Future (2010), an early project of the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning.  John is currently one of the leads developing the interagency Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai Peninsula.