Interior Alaska DoD Training Land Wildlife Habitat Vulnerability to Permafrost Thaw, an Altered Fire Regime, and Hydrologic Change

Thomas Douglas | U.S. Army ERDC Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory



U.S. Army Garrison Fort Wainwright (USAGAK-FWA) manages cantonments, training ranges, and impact areas in interior Alaska that cover more than 1,000 km2, an area greater than the state of Maryland. This land is increasingly being used because of its remoteness, geostrategic location, and suitability for multi-national and multi-force training. The diverse training range landscape is projected to undergo a greater magnitude of climate warming in the coming decades (+5°C by 2100) than any other Department of Defense (DoD) lands worldwide. Climate-driven increases in permafrost degradation, larger and more intense wildfires, and hydrologic changes to lakes, wetlands, and streamflow patterns provide the largest risk factors for ecosystems and their associated wildlife because of their profound influences on land stability, land cover, and ecosystem services. This project is to categorize the direct and indirect effects of permafrost degradation, fire, and hydrology as drivers of habitat change on a wide range of wildlife species, identify species most vulnerable to habitat loss, and develop decision support tools to support adaptive management.

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Technical Approach

This project will integrate field measurements, remote sensing, and modeling to: (1) quantify environmental properties of ecotypes (i.e. areas with homogeneous vegetation, hydrology, soil, and topography) relevant to key wildlife species by compiling existing data and filling data gaps through targeted field measurements; (2) analyze rates of historical change in land cover types using high-resolution imagery, including assessing vulnerability to thermokarst, wildfire, and hydrological disturbance; (3) validate and improve the Alaska Thermokarst Model within the Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM) to enable predictions about wildlife-ecotype relationships; (4) document changing ecotype conditions with high-quality photography; (5) simulate thermokarst and dynamics of broad land cover types using the IEM; (6) project future shifts in ecotype abundance using state-transition modeling; (7) identify wildlife use of ecotypes for a range of critical species, and identify the most important factors affecting wildlife vulnerability; (8) assess effects of projected ecotype change from state-transition modeling on wildlife populations; (9) spatially predict changes in ecotype and wildlife habitat amount and distribution, and thus in wildlife species vulnerability using the IEM model; and (10) develop adaptive management strategies and decision-support systems to minimize impacts to vulnerable populations.

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The methodologies, tools, and guidance to be developed will translate the research into practical information supporting adaptive management of vulnerable habitats to meet conservation objectives. Researchers will work directly with USAGAK-FWA Environmental Management personnel throughout the project to ensure the results provide information they can use to focus land management efforts and develop planning and regulatory documents needed to maintain and expand the training range mission. Project outcomes will provide practical and usable information supporting requirements for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements such as for developing Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). The results will also save time and money by helping U.S. Army Alaska personnel identify where to focus their limited resources toward monitoring programs for the habitats and Species of Concern researchers will investigate. Efforts will be focused on the species and habitats that will best suit their needs and researchers will work with them to ensure the geospatial models, maps, and data they generate will be in the format and the spatial and temporal scales needed to support management decisions. Results from this project will also be disseminated to the scientific community through peer reviewed publications, presentations at scientific meetings, and through numerous collaborative projects and international committees in Canada and other Arctic nations.

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Thomas Douglas


Phone: 907-361-9555

Fax: 907-361-5142

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency