Cranes are among the most endangered bird families, and flagships for understanding the risks of climate change to biodiversity worldwide—especially where wetland loss and watershed degradation already impact biodiversity. In Texas, rising sea levels and reduced freshwater inflows threaten the coastal marshes used by Endangered Whooping Cranes. Melting polar regions inundate the arctic marshes where Critically Endangered Siberian Cranes breed. Retreating glaciers in Asia no longer feed the high-altitude wetlands that support Blacknecked Cranes. Reduced runoff and higher temperatures on Southern Africa floodplains increase water stress, fire, and invasive species that threaten Wattled Cranes, elephants, and other renowned wildlife. Even our abundant Sandhill Cranes are vulnerable to more frequent and prolonged droughts, especially in the western US.
To manage and secure wetlands facing climate change, we draw lessons from decades of crane conservation—that the needs of cranes, many other species, and people are linked strongly to healthy wetlands and watersheds. In Africa, we challenge developers to incorporate climate change into dam operation and release environmental flows to maintain floodplain health. In China, we negotiate with municipalities to maintain wetlands that are critical staging sites for migratory cranes and waterbirds. In Texas, we model how sea-level rise and freshwater inflows affect future wetland availability for Whooping Cranes, using this knowledge to guide land purchase and easements sufficient for the population to recover fully. Here at home, we seek wetland protections that provide for a wide range of water conditions for cranes and other wildlife to weather years of extreme drought and flood.
About the Speaker
Dr. Rich Beilfuss serves as President & CEO of the International Crane Foundation, providing oversight for ICF programs and partnerships across more than fifty countries in Asia, Africa, and North America. Beilfuss is a professional hydrologist with 30 years’ experience in wetland conservation and management, specializing in the role of environmental flows for ecological restoration and sustainable development goals. He is an avid unicycle rider, dart-thrower, and birder--but not all at the same time.
Cosponsored by Madison Audubon and Community Shares of Wisconsin
Cover photo by Rich Beilfuss