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Evenings with Audubon: A risky climate for cranes, wetlands, and our world

  • Urban League of Greater Madison 2222 South Park Street Madison, WI, 53713 United States (map)

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.

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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

Earlier Event: September 14
Monarch Tagging at Goose Pond Sanctuary
Later Event: September 19
Monarch Tagging in Iowa County