Resource Vulnerability Assessment and Strategies for Management Options for the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges

Eastern Shore of Virginia and Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuges, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, United States; Chesapeake Bay Lowlands ecoregion; approximately 423,700 acres

About This Project

Vista was used to integrate spatial data and expert knowledge on many terrestrial and wetland resources (or "conservation elements"); characterize scenarios; and spatially assess the cumulative impacts of resource management, development and other land uses, and rising sea level under climate change on refuge resources. Four scenarios—current baseline, and three future scenarios for the years 2025, 2050, and 210 —were evaluated by intersecting priority resource distributions with each of the spatially defined scenarios to predict effects of stressors on resources. In addition to habitat- and species-based priority resources, the evaluation at each time step also assessed the potential impacts of sea-level rise on mission-critical infrastructure (transportation infrastructure, utilities, etc.).

Where Vista showed a priority resource overlapping with one or more stressors (e.g., development, sea-level rise) having negative effects on the resource in question, the stressor is expected to cause the loss or degradation of that resource in that area of overlap. The cumulative losses caused by stressors for a particular resource were quantified and evaluated.

Goal

The goal of this assessment was to pilot the Refuge Vulnerability Assessment and Alternatives (RVAA) framework. This involved assessing the cumulative impacts of stressors on refuge resources and infrastructure in a broader landscape context over multiple timeframes. It resulted in a report and decision-support system quantifying how priority resources may be affected by on-going development in the context of a changing climate and associated rising sea level. Priority resources (or "conservation elements") include species such as the northeastern beach tiger beetle and habitats such as beaches, salt marshes, and other estuarine and tidal habitats, which are critical as breeding and migratory habitat for numerous bird species or as nurseries for fish and other marine fauna.

Significance

The Vista results illustrated that even by 2025, sea-level rise is expected to cause the loss of substantial proportions of critical coastal habitats, including 80% of the beach habitat utilized by the northeastern beach tiger beetle, and 80 percent to 90 percent of coastal emergent marshes and wet grasslands. Proposed development would impact priority habitats in certain areas, such as along the corridor for the main north-south highway. Continued losses of coastal habitats are projected from sea-level rise in 2050 and 2100 as well.