Climate change pits wine grape growers against grizzly bears

Rebecca Shaw

Grapes in California’s Napa Valley


Could the grapes that make your favorite merlot someday be grown in habitat  near Yellowstone National Park that is important to the moose, grizzly bears and grey wolves? The answer is yes.

In a paper published in the April edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), my colleagues and I outline the findings of the first ever worldwide analysis of the impacts of climate change on wine production and wildlife conservation.

Our key finding is that climate change will dramatically alter where many crops are grown around the world, increasing pressure on water supplies and wildlife habitat. Our study focused on wine grapes because an amazing amount is known about the different varietals and their sensitivity to climate. Also, let’s face it, everyone loves wine.

By 2050, our study projects, there will be an 85% decrease in production in Bordeaux, Rhone and Tuscany. Australia and California will experience, respectively, a 74% and a 70% decrease.

More broadly, geographic shifts in croplands due to climate change will create competition between agricultural land and wildlife habitat. Some areas that have been historically too cold for certain crops have provided a sanctuary for wildlife. However, as temperatures rise, some of these are already becoming better suited to agriculture and farmers are starting to break new ground. Farmers, of course, can clear land and plant crops much faster than plants and animals can migrate to new habitats, which could put them into a losing adaptation race.

This video below shows the shifts in suitable wine production areas around the world. Red indicates areas currently suitable for wine grape growing that will be lost by 2050; green indicates areas that will remain suitable through 2050; and the blue shows  areas the will become suitable for wine grape growing by 2050.

The video shows that productive wine growing regions along California’s coast will  shift north to the Rocky Mountain region near the Canadian border, encroaching on vital conservation corridors such as the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. This program provides links between habitat areas for wide-roaming animals such as the grizzly bear, grey wolf and pronghorn antelope. Eleven thousand miles away, China is quickly becoming the fastest wine growing region in the world. Rising temperatures there are causing grape growing areas to move up into mountain habitats home to the endangered giant panda.  


EDF is teaming up with landowners, industry and conservation partners to provide incentive-based programs through which private landowners are paid to provide wildlife habitat and other natural benefits such as clean water. In a well-designed program, farmers can provide these services without causing crop yields to fall. This is critical, because high yields will be needed to feed a nine billion people projected to live on the planet by 2050.

EDF calls this program Habitat Exchange and it is rapidly being developed throughout the United States for threatened species such as the lesser prairie chicken, greater sage grouse, mule deer and other wildlife. In California’s Central Valley, vineyard owners and other farmers are participating in the Mokelumne Watershed Environmental Benefits Program.

Landowners in the Mokelumne River Watershed are compensated for sustainable land management practices that provide clean drinking water for people and habitat for wildlife, including endangered species such as the fall-run Chinook salmon, red-legged frog and American marten, while still producing world-class wine and crops. In China similar “payment for ecosystem services” hold much promise for protecting habitat for the panda and other wildlife.

Although climate change poses serious impacts on nature, innovative, collaborative programs can provide solutions that allow both agriculture and wildlife to thrive in a changing world.