Adapting to a Changing Climate in the Sky Island Region

Louise Misztal
Posted on: 10/20/2010 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Louise Misztal

Project Summary

Adapting to a Changing Climate in the Sky Island Region is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project that brings together natural resource management agencies, tribes, conservation organizations, landowners, and scientists to confront the mounting effects of climate change in this region, build resilience in natural systems, and provide a sound replicable model. Through this project, Sky Island Alliance (SIA) seeks to address the threat of climate change as it relates to land management and ecosystem resilience in the Sky Island region, which includes the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. SIA recognizes the need to:

  1. create forward thinking management strategies that can begin to be implemented immediately and
  2. complement those strategies with policy-level protection and on-the-ground restoration of cores and corridors.

Products of this project include a climate change adaptation survey, adaptation workshops, and the Arizona Climate Change Network.


It has become clear to the conservation, scientific, and resource management communities that protecting wildlife, vegetation, and ecosystems in the face of climate change will require new ways of thinking about land management and natural systems. Traditional thinking about natural resource conservation and management relies on static spatial planning based on current and historical conditions. Through Adapting to a Changing Climate, a project initiated in 2009, SIA is providing a framework and tools to assist natural resource managers and conservation organizations in making an important paradigm shift to incorporate consideration of temporal shifts in ecosystems and species with traditional static spatial considerations. A wealth of information already exists about extant climate changes and resultant impacts and projected climate changes and impacts. This body of knowledge is growing at a rapid rate with new studies being initiated at a similarly rapid rate.


SIA is working with the Climate Assesment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), the Udall Foundation, U.S. Insitute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, EcoAdapt, and the University of Arizona's Institue of the Environment and School of Natural Resources and the Environment to facilitate connections between land managers, tribes, regional planners, private landowners, and county governments with climate change experts to ensure that information is provided in a format that is useable, and to build their capacity to find, understand, and apply new climatic information as it becomes available. Identification and long-term implementation of adaptation strategies will require communication and cooperation across agencies and sectors. SIA will work to make these strategies reality by garnering commitments from appropriate decision makers to see the strategies through and provide necessary support to their field staff for full implementation.

For agencies managing public lands, implementation of forward looking strategies will also require public support. SIA seeks to build the cross-agency and cross-sector connections and communications that are necessary to tackle climate change impacts in the region while simultaneously building public support for managers and planners to implement adaptation strategies. This support will include SIA providing a corps of trained volunteers to enable agencies to implement critical monitoring and restoration projects. SIA aims to collaboratively develop climate-smart adaptive land management strategies and policies and to ensure their successful implementation. SIA will also build in replicability to these collaborative processes and disseminate the results and approach to provide an accessible model and additional tools as other communities develop adaptive strategies to deal with climate change. 

Additionally, SIA’s efforts to prepare for and respond to impacts of a changing climate include work to build resilience in the region through protection and restoration of cores and corridors. Restoration and protection activities will be augmented and adjusted to ensure climate-smart conservation activities and to reflect new priorities in the face of a changing climate. Accepted tenets of this framework that SIA will be pursuing include:

  • protect adequate and appropriate space that is functionally connected,
  • reduce non-climate stressors, and
  • adopt adaptive management which follows the implement–monitor–evaluate–adjust cycle.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The actual and expected outcomes of these efforts include:

A Climate Change Adaptation Survey and Synthesis Report:  SIA is administering a confidential climate change adaptation survey to land managers, planners, scientists, and conservation organizations working on natural resource conservation and management to identify current challenges to planning for and implementing climate change adaptation strategies. Survey findings will be synthesized and published this spring, identifying current state of knowledge, gaps in information, potential adaptation strategies, and the most effective structure for sector specific workshops. The synthesis will also provide consistent information to the Arizona Climate Change Network members in preparation for sector-specific workshops and the Network-wide meeting this summer.

Arizona Climate Change Network:  SIA is working to build and grow a collaborative, cross-sector Arizona Climate Change Network, with at least 25 member organizations, agencies, tribes, academic units, and landowners by the close of year one, and 40 by the close of the project term, representing approximately 1.3 million residents and affecting almost 5 million acres of publicly and privately-managed land in the Sky Islands. SIA will utilize findings from the Climate Change Adaptation Survey (conducted prior to the project period) to identify the current state of knowledge, gaps in information, potential adaptation strategies, and the most effective and accessible structure for climate change adaptation workshops. The written synthesis will also provide consistent information to the Arizona Climate Change Network members in preparation for climate change adaptation workshops (principally focused on strategy-development).

Climate Change Adaptation Workshops:  These workshops will build capacity among land managers and planners to understand and apply new climatic information. Over 2010-2012, SIA is conducting regional climate change adaptation workshops, bringing together land managers, county planners, tribes, conservation organizations, scientists, and private landowners to create Network synergy, expand participants’ understanding of climate change dynamics, develop and implement agency-specific adaptation strategies, secure commitment from agency decision-makers to the short and long-term implementation of those strategies and evaluate the outcomes. The first workshop was held in September 2010 and the second in April 2011; the final workshop will be held in 2012.

Replicability: SIA will publish a paper detailing workshop methodology and findings, lessons learned, and recommendations, which will be disseminated to broad audiences and serve as a replicable model across Arizona for convening climate change adaptation dialogues with measurable outcomes.

White paper on climate change and land management in Arizona:  This information tool is a synthesis of research findings and best practices related to climate change adaptation strategies for land management, specifically for ecosystems found in Arizona. It will be shared among broad spectrum partners with varied interests and expertise and is a key tool for translating science into action to address climate change. It will be used to prepare participants for sector-specific climate change adaptation workshops with the intent to be published for broader accessibility.

Information Exchange:  SIA will create a virtual hub for the Arizona Climate Change Network that supports information-sharing launched through a national platform such as CAKE and tied to a spatial data resource such as Data Basin.

Volunteer, community and organizational engagement:  SIA will team with volunteers, interested communities, and organizations to assist agencies in fulfilling their newly adopted adaptive management approaches. Through the identification of short-term strategies by land managers and landowners, volunteers will be connected to monitoring, data collection, and outreach needs which build public rapport with and support for agencies’ efforts to prioritize climate change adaptation through management, planning and policy-making. On-the-ground, long-term activities will be developed jointly with agencies and landowners to likely include low-tech lowland and riparian restoration, wildlife and road monitoring, and information gathering/ground-truthing.

Prioritize cores & corridors for protection:  SIA will identify and prioritize critical corridors and cores for immediate protection or restoration. In September 2010, SIA convened members of the former Sky Island Wildlands Network, renowned Sky Island scientists, and regional experts utilizing current spatial data to identify cores and corridors currently in greatest need of protection.

Landscape Restoration:  SIA will engage in on-the-ground restoration activities in key habitats focusing on riparian areas and utilizing an extensive local volunteer base. They will also support policy aimed at reducing the introduction and spread of non-native species, physically eradicate invasive species populations, and promote the reintroduction of extirpated wildlife and plants. Fifteen volunteers will be used for each of six field weekends a year. In addition, complementary low-tech landscape restoration techniques will be employed with volunteers throughout the region, completing a large-scale mechanized restoration project in the boot-heel of New Mexico and returning historic hydrological function to 100 acres of prime cienega habitat.

Building a land ethic in the Sky Islands:  Through engagement of volunteers in naturalist training, citizen science activities, and restoration activities, SIA hopes to build ecological awareness and a connection to the land. Through community involvement, SIA hopes to build a base of local people who appreciate and will advocate to protect the unique values of the region and the ecosystem services they provide.


Misztal, L. (2010). Adapting to a Changing Climate in the Sky Island Region. Ed. Rachel M. Gregg [Case study on a project of the Sky Island Alliance]. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated October 2011).

Project Contacts

Position: Conservation Policy Program Coordinator and GIS Specialist

Affiliated Organizations

Sky Island Alliance is a grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the rich natural heritage of native species and habitats in the Sky Island region of the southwestern United States (Arizona, New Mexico) and northwestern Mexico (Sonora, Chihuahua).

We work with volunteers, scientists, land owners, public officials, and government agencies to establish protected areas, restore healthy landscapes, and promote public appreciation of the region's unique biological diversity.