In anticipation of climate change, should we artificially begin to move ecosystems northward?

If climate change will make an area now covered with evergreens ideal as an oak savanna ecosystem in the near future, should we start building the savannas now?

Discounting the well funded right wing climate change skeptics, most folks realize that what is now evergreen forest will turn into deciduous forest as things warm. This assumes that the seeds, soil and water are there for a deciduous forest.

Many of us think that sadly the politics are wrong for stopping climate change. Interests in oil, gas, thoughtless development are too strong. So maybe we should start creating the future rather than leaving it to chance.

The article below from Scientific American online addresses this issue as a guide for those who want to move species proactively.  “A Scientific Argument for Intervening in Nature: The science behind moving species under threat from climate change.” By Emma Marris.







  1. Craig Avatar

    Moving north is going to happen as water supplies deplete as is going on in the Southwest as we speak. We are screwed, it’s a matter of when not if! Food supplies are next with drought and we are to late to change it! To many many people and not enough resources! Life is gonna change and not for the Hollywood glam scence!It’s gonna get interesting when the people with real survival skills run this country!

    1. JB Avatar

      While I agree that climate change will result in many localized problems, the net effects predicted will actually make some lands more productive. Here in the Midwest, where much of the nation’s food is grown, they’re predicting more winter precipitation and longer growing seasons. Also keep in mind that populations in the US and Canada are relatively small when compared with the rest of the world and we are already producing WAAAAAAY more food than we consume. So I don’t find the “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE” rhetoric very compelling.

      On the question of whether to assist the northward “migration” of some species and ecosystems, I suspect that will have to be made on a case-by-case basis. It’s really too bad that the Koch brothers funded, Fox News informed, right wing “conservatives” can’t see past their ideology and recognize common sense.

      1. catbestland Avatar

        I wish the information given us was more consistent. The last article I read said that the midwest would become a desert while the north-east and the spine of the Rockies would become cooler and wetter. I also heard that Greenland and Iceland would become more productive. Already they are growing vegetables they have never been able to grow before.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          I think the computer calculations are very CPU intensive and also very sensitive to the numbers assigned to each variable in the models.

          One thing that doesn’t seem to be discussed when they write of a “future climate,” is that a transition to a new climate will not be permanent. As long as the heat retained by the Earth continues to increase, changes will continue. So I am saying that there might not be any future climate as the term climate is normally used. This is because to speak of a climate there has to be some stability in weather conditions over a period of years. If there is no stability, then there is just weather.

    2. mikarooni Avatar

      “Life is gonna change and not for the Hollywood glam scence!It’s gonna get interesting when the people with real survival skills run this country!”

      Yes; but, how will those “people with real survival skills” be able to get around in rough country since they can’t get enough of a view over their pot bellies to see their feet?

  2. Craig Avatar

    Ralph, why would you think ANY political party would do something to preserve or help the environment? It isn’t in there DNA, no money in saving it only raping it!

  3. David Avatar

    No question, the world has warmed recently. But is it unprecedented? I have a hard time with that, since we’re still well-cooler than Greenland in 1400, which had vineyards and pasture. The science is anything but settled. Every day new papers are published in journals documenting aspects of the carbon cycle we previously did not understand, or redefining our understanding of the role of solar cycles. They may not prove AGW wrong, but they, and our lack of ability to forecast next week let alone 100 years from now, certainly demonstrate that the science is anything but completely understood.

    Regardless of what is causing the warming, what IS unprecedented is how much we prevent animals from adapting to the changes. Migration is impeded. Populations are already stressed by pollution, disease, etc. I think that connectivity work such as Y2Y, A2A is invaluable. And this is an interesting article.

    I also think that the majority of the population balks at the idea that man is causing warming, whether it is true or not. And this point has caused a real fatigue for environmental causes in the non-environmentalist population. If we’re going to be successful at anything conservation based in the near term, I think two things have to happen.

    One, beating the dead horse that all “skeptics” are ignorant and well-funded and have ulterior motives has to stop. Every IPCC report that comes out is filled with serious flaws, every prediction of doom and gloom that has been made has been proven exaggerated (ie wrong). By and large, these errors are highlighted by skeptics, and in so doing they do Science a service which should not be discounted.

    Two, incorporating and valuing dissenting voices will allow for the restoration of the public trust in the Scientific dialogue. Who is going to believe a scientist who derides anyone who disagrees?? I sure don’t. The recent winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry was ridiculed for his conclusions about quasi-crystals by his colleagues. Gee, who is laughing now?

    The ram-it-down-their-ignorant-fox-loving-throats attitude is arrogant, antisocial, and frankly, detached. There are some extremely intelligent discussions happening outside of the mainstream by qualified people who are skeptical of the CO2 explanation. I wonder if any of them will win a Nobel prize in the future.

    If you want to win people over to the conservation cause, I suggest not starting with calling them all ignorant ideologues. Most people don’t like that.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      There were many fewer people on the Earth than during the 1400’s. Therefore, whether climate continues to warm for another 50 years, or just continues to warm beyond…, the overall effect will be much, much greater on both people, flora, and fauna.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      I think your comments illustrate why nothing effective is going to be done, assuming we could figure out what to do.

      In many ways a changing climate is worse than one that simply warms. You use the example of Greenland’ settlement in “1400” due to the warmth of the period. And what happened to that settlement? The climate changed. It got colder and they starved. If the climate changed and then stabilized, there would be winners and losers. Right now it looks like Idaho is a winner and Texas a loser, but if it changed again so Idaho is that dry and rain returned to Texas (by no means assured), the balance of benefits and costs would not be restored.

      It is true that climate has changed a number of times during human history and pre-history, but this argument is a straw man for none said that it didn’t change.

      Such climate change probably wiped out the Neanderthals and reduced the population of homo sapiens so low that our genetic diversity was impaired (the Toba volcano hypothesis). These changes were not caused by hominids, but they died anyway.

      Climate change caused by non-human factors is probably worse than that caused by human activities because we can change our activities. We can’t change the tilt of the Earth’s axis (pretend for the sake of argument that it is a cause of current climate change).

      The opponents of the hypothesis that human are changing the climate, are extremely well funded, with a lot of right wing money pouring in, and the money goes not into research, but into political activity. That is quite different than the much smaller amount of money that goes into scientific research. The only person of great wealth I am aware of giving money to those studying change is George Soros, who might have helped support the origination of the web site Real Climate.

      I think it is well known that Fox News reporters have been given a directive (by Bill Sammon) to be sure to put a negative spin on stories that tell of human induced climate change. That kind of one-sided reporting is worth billions of dollars and can hardly be effectively countered by a few professors with grants and a few celebrities.

      I do see this controversy as just one more instance of the rise of anti-science and politicized science that is harming our future, especially that of the United States.

      1. david Avatar

        Ralph, a reasonable response. But I’m not sure what your point is about Greenland, or that it’s worse if we’re not causing it. I’m not afraid of climate change, whether we cause it or not. I don’t believe in tipping points. I believe in a system that adapts. I AM afraid of so polluting that system that adaptations or not, we can no longer live there. I am afraid of a country full of people that can’t discuss anything civilly and rationally and descends into civil war. It’s not just climate. It’s wolves, it’s politics, it’s debt.

        Also, for the sake of discussion, I’m not convinced on the money train argument. Gore is making boatloads. Grant money abounds for studies relating to global warming. Show me the evidence that people like Watts or McIntyre are on the take? You’d be proving them liars and frauds.

    3. JB Avatar


      I thought you might be interested in this quote:

      “If man-made dust is unimportant as a major cause of climatic change, then a strong case can be made that the present cooling trend will, within a decade or so, give way to a pronounced warming induced by carbon dioxide. By analogy with similar events in the past, the natural climatic cooling which, since 1940, has more than compensated for the carbon dioxide effect, will soon bottom out. Once this happens, the exponential rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide content will tend to become a significant factor and by early in the next century will have driven the mean planetary temperature beyond the limits experienced during the last 1000 years.”

      It is the abstract of an article published in the journal Science in 1975–that’s right 36 years ago. Seems the “doom and gloom” scientists were pretty darn accurate.

      Now let me direct you to a recent gallup poll (see link below). In figure one you will note that while 76% of Democrats (in ’08) agreed that the effects of global warming have already begun, only 41% of Republicans agreed with this statement. More importantly, despite INCREASING GLOBAL TEMPERATURE, the number of Republicans who agreed with the statement was trending downward over the past decade. Similar partisan differences exist across a whole host of questions.

      A recent survey of climate scientists found ~97% of those who listed climate science as their area of expertise answered “yes” to the question: Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures (Doran & Zimmerman, 2009).

      Meanwhile, Fox and the Koch brothers continue to provide mus-information to the masses designed specifically to mislead the public. This people aren’t “ignorant” (a word I didn’t us); rather, they have been purposefully mislead by people who stand to gain monetarily from public confusion. And the “medicine” they’ve received comes nicely packaged with a spoonful of ideological “sugar” care of the folks at Fox.

      I’m happy to point inquisitive people toward reliable scientific information about climate change–and even more happy to engage in rational dialogue; but I’m also tired of listening to silly, Fox-inspired quips about global warming from people who seem to take pride in their ignorance. If that makes me arrogant, so be it.

      Gallup poll:

      Doran, P. T., and M. Kendall Zimmerman. 2009. Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. EOS Transactions 90:22-23

      1. JB Avatar

        Apologies for the spelling errors.

  4. gofer Avatar

    97% if scientists = 75 people out of 77 out of over 2000, out of over 10,000 surveys that were sent. These scientists were not identified or qualifactions listed. Funny how the question wasn’t asked if warming would be catastrophic.

    I don’t buy into CAGW because I’ve read mountains of information over the last 10 years and while I started out as a knee-jerk believer, my mind changed quickly after reading the facts. The IPCC has been exposed as a fraud filled with WWF and Greenpeace activists using grey lit that had been assured was not a part of the reports. Without the UN IPCC, nobody would notice or give a hoot about GW. IPCC will collapse. And of course Gore having made over 100 mil just shows how much he cares.

    I suggest a history lesson. Steve Goddard at Real Science has a lengthy list of articles and newpaper clippings from earlier decades. There is nothing new happening. Drought covered 80% of the U.S. at one time. It’s easily proveable there is no increase in severe weather events if you REALLY want to know, which I suspect too many are afraid their ideological bent will be damaged.

    1. JB Avatar

      “The IPCC has been exposed as a fraud filled with WWF and Greenpeace activists using grey lit that had been assured was not a part of the reports.”

      Thanks for proving my point.

    2. JB Avatar

      I recommend the following website as a good source of information regarding climate science–especially for explaining it to “skeptics” (deniers).

      1. david Avatar

        JB, I’m well aware of the site. As a for instance for why I don’t much value it: They continue to make claims about GCR’s with no mention of papers that suggest otherwise in 2011?

        There are plenty of skeptics who acknowledge there is a human component. I include myself there. Land use changes cause warming. Pollution causes warming. How MUCH though? Treating skeptics as ignorant ruins your chances of dialogue.

        How successful do you think Skeptical science deserves to be with a front page that says things like “Christy Crocks”, “Lindzen Illusions”, “Monckton Myths”?? First rule of law in debate, NEVER insult your opponent. AGW aren’t losing the “information war” because of oil money and the Koch brothers. They’re losing because nobody likes a smartass.

        1. JB Avatar


          Your point is well made; mocking opponents is a bad way to win them over. On this point we can agree. However, you’re assuming I believe there is yet hope of convincing skeptics, and thereby initiating some serious policy change. I’ve long since given up on that. As with other types of ecological catastrophes, the tipping point will need to be reached before those who bask in their ignorance will see reason. So on this particular issue, I’m happy to sit back and call ’em as I see ’em.

          1. JB Avatar

            Interestingly, I received a catalog today from Edward Elgar Publishing with new ecological titles. I counted 16 new texts that were about climate change. They ranged quite a bit and included titles about forests and climate change, economics and climate change, agriculture and climate change, etc. Didn’t see a single title that suggested climate change wasn’t happening or that we shouldn’t do anything about it.

  5. catbestland Avatar

    One idea I would like to see implemented is the use of artificial polar bear eco-platforms placed at intervals in the Arctic Ocean. Polar bears are drowning because the ice is melting faster and further than it was before GW. Platforms could be easy to build and station by anchors throughout the ocean. They don’t have to be too elaborate, just a place for polar bears and even seals to rest. It would be easy to make them look like ice.

  6. Wolfy Avatar

    “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Aldo Leopold
    My biggest caution in “transplanting” species north (or any direction) is what species will it supplant? Which niche do we open-up to welcome the late-comers? What do we think the local ecosystem will look like in 20 to 50 years? I’d say any answer is based on unsure data (at best) and far-flung whimsical gestures (at worst). I think it is far better to help diversify and strengthen the local ecosystem than to presume that we know which plants and animals will occupy it in the future. Protect water sources, improve biological function, and manage for multiple species. Help make the ecosystem more resilient to weather the coming storms. (pun intended)

  7. WM Avatar

    Many of you will be interested to know your very own federal government – US Forest Service has been engaged in some of these introductions of new species to non-native habitat for decades. The entire complex of Forest and Range Experiment Stations, and USDA generally has been playing with stuff for years. They have some pretty healthy inventories of seeds of various types.

    If I recall correctly, at one point the Wind River Experimental Forest about a hundred miles east of Portland, OR on the Columbia River was doing research on what trees, like the Sequoia and Giant Redwoods might do further north in the Coastal forests of WA. They had a number of species they were considering for adapting for commercial tree operations, and the remnants of these efforts resulted in an arboretum at the site.

    This author makes this topic sound like something new. Generally, it is not, except for maybe the detailed approach, and groveling for grant money.

    Learn a bit more about the FS Forest and Range Experiment station system here. Note the emphasis on climate change:


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan