Since beginning of industrialization, in about 1750, the Earth’s atmospheric temperature has increased 1°C. It is anticipated that it will increase an additional 2°C by the middle of this century. There will be various effects associated with global warming. These include both direct and indirect effects, as well as positive and negative consequence in various portions of the continent. 

The journal Rangeland Ecology & Management presents two companion articles that identify trends and projections for climate change and assess mitigation and adaptation strategies to cope with pending change. These articles offer an objective assessment of climate trends and contingency planning as it relates to North American rangelands. 

The authors assess three main components of climate change: rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, atmospheric warming, and altered patterns of precipitation.  Climate models project that the southwest and southern plains of the United States will become warmer and drier. The Great Basin will become warmer and drier during summer and experience less snowpack in winter. The northern United States and southern Canada are predicted to become warmer and wetter. 

Continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations will modify fire regimes, soil carbon content, forage quantity and quality to affect livestock, plant community composition, and the distribution of plant and animals. This, in turn, will affect the ability of rangelands to provide ecosystem services and livelihoods for human populations. 

Humans can take steps to mitigate the effects of global warming, adapt to minimize negative impacts, and transform rangeland systems to provide alternative ecosystem services with different management practices and expectations. An assessment of climate change projections and strategies to mitigate and adapt to these changes will increase future preparedness. For example, the authors contend that rangeland carbon sequestration is not an economically viable mitigation strategy. Adaptation strategies, including changing perceptions of risk, greater flexibility in production systems, and modification of institutions and policies to emphasize climatic variability, rather than consistency, will be much more viable. 

Rangeland professionals are in a position to provide leadership on the challenges of climate change. Increasing awareness of and preparedness for climatic variability will promote both the supply of ecosystem services and the maintenance of human livelihoods well into the future. 

Full text of the articles, “Climate Change and North American Rangelands: Trends, Projections, and Implications” and “Climate Change and North American Rangelands: Assessment of Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies” in Rangeland Ecology and Management, Vol. 66, No. 5, 2013, are available.