Top 7 Ways to Help Wildlife Affected by the Climate Crisis

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Nearly all climate scientists agree that we're facing a climate crisis. But how does global warming affect animals? How can you help?

You have the agency to help our furry and feathery friends cope with their changing ecosystems. As the motto goes: Help where you are. Localize your efforts to support wildlife and learn what small actions you can take toward global good.

How to Help Animals Deal with Climate Change

The Arbor Day Foundation reports that USDA hardiness zones—which help gardeners determine which plants can thrive in certain areas due to climate conditions—are shifting north. Additionally, Yale Environment says that the tropics are expanding at a rate of 30 miles every ten years, and that the permafrost line has moved 80 miles north in Canada over the past 50 years.

These changes will continue to affect the way we grow crops and heat and cool our buildings. They'll also affect wildlife. In order to thrive, animals will need to migrate to new places as their ecosystems shift. Here are some ways that you can help to support wildlife.

two blue birds flying into and out of a square blue bird box against a tan field

1. Build and Protect Habitats

Consider your local climate. Can you add habitat features for animals on your own property or at a local park? Think: a bird box, bird bath, trees, or plants with berries or seeds. A small brush pile might attract rabbits, while water features may entice frogs, toads, and turtles. Rocks will lure in lizards. You can also plant milkweed plants, the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on—and the only plant that their caterpillars eat. Be sure that you're not over-fertilizing your lawn and contributing to algae blooms in your local waterways. Likewise, try to reduce your pesticide use, as these can harm pollinators and birds, according to the University of Arizona.

2. Speak Up to Local Decision-Makers

Climate Central explains that many scientists agree that we need to build more connectivity between wild spaces for animals to travel. Ease of movement will be key to survival with changing migration patterns. Talk to your local city council members about changing zoning and decreasing development in some areas to increase connectivity of wild spaces in your region.

3. Volunteer with a Cleanup Effort

Physically cleaning up a natural area is extremely rewarding, and it's a great way to build community. Volunteer to clean up a beach, roadside, or trail. Removing trash will help people better enjoy their natural surroundings, and it will also help animals thrive in their environment. Animals often mistake trash for food. Trash and plastic can be harmful to animals in many ways. Just say no to litter.

4. Plant Trees That Can Withstand Climate Shifts

Planting trees often tops the list of good environmental acts. Trees provide both habitats for animals and shade to help cool their local ecosystems. In the words of The Nature Conservancy, "Trees eat the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change for breakfast." Indeed, trees take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, making them key to fighting climate change. When you're planting new trees, choose a tree that will still thrive in the USDA hardiness zone to the south of your own (or north if you're in the Southern Hemisphere). This will help to account for the shifting climate.

5. Help to Remove Invasive Species

If you see big swaths of tree of heaven or giant reed—both invasive plants—help to remove them. Invasive plants will outcompete native plants. Native plants can't move out of their current USDA hardiness zones if their destination ecosystem is already taken over by invasive species. Team up with your local watershed group, birding group, or even school to clean up large invasive plant infestations.

woman in red coat planting a small tree next to a wooden fence

6. Change How You Move

One study published in the Environmental Research Letters listed shifting our transportation habits—specifically driving and flying—as two of the biggest ways we can reduce our personal carbon footprints. Driving and flying less can help to preserve fuel, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce air pollution, which supports wildlife directly. Reducing your greenhouse gas emissions helps to minimize the climate crisis overall. If you can get there on a bike, on foot, or on public transportation, opt for one of these rather than hopping in your car.

7. Reduce Single-Use Plastics

If you've ever participated in a cleanup effort, you probably noticed that single-use plastic made up the largest portion of the overall litter. If not, you've likely seen the video of a plastic straw being removed from a turtle's nose on Texas A&M Today or pictures of another turtle whose shell grew around a six-pack ring. These pieces of single-use plastic may or may not have been purposely thrown on the ground as litter. More than likely, they fell out of a trash bag and were blown or carried by stormwater into their local waterway, where they made their way to the turtles' habitats. Litter isn't always intentional. But you can be intentional about avoiding plastic, which is designed to be used for a short time yet engineered to last forever.

It's easy to get discouraged, but don't lose hope. If you're able, consider donating to efforts that help animals across the world. There are many organizations out there who make protecting animals and their habitats their life's work. Understanding the impact of climate change is an important first step toward taking action. Together, we can make a difference.

Image Source: Unsplash | Unsplash | Unsplash

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Why It's Good

Volunteering to help wildlife is a noble cause. Volunteering to help wildlife deal with climate change can have a positive effect on more than just animals.