Developing a National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy for the United States

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 12/17/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

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Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, created the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy to coordinate climate change responses in both the public and private sectors. These efforts were part of the work of the now-defunct Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force and one component of the Service’s overall Strategic Plan for Climate Change.


In September 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order No. 3289, which required bureaus and offices under the Department of the Interior’s purview to address mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change in their work. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released Rising to the Urgent Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change in September 2010, which lays out the Service’s response strategies focused around adaptation, mitigation, and engagement. As part of the adaptation focal area, the Service worked with partners to create the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, intended to act as a blueprint to guide adaptation action over the next 50–100 years.


The strategy’s development began in June 2009 when the Service’s National Conservation Training Center hosted a Conservation Leadership Forum to discuss the drafting of a national adaptation strategy. Attendees included representatives from federal and state natural resource agencies and non-governmental entities. A second forum was held in January 2010 to draft the strategy’s Purpose and Guiding Principles.

The strategy’s Purpose is to “provide a unified approach—reflecting shared principles and science-based practices—for reducing the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, habitats, and associated ecological processes across geographic scales.” This unified approach was intended to be supported not only by the Department of the Interior’s bureaus and offices, but also by other federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers, in addition to state, tribal, and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and private sector entities.

The Guiding Principles of the strategy include:

  1. Use a national, not federal, framework to guide adaptation action, including collaboration between federal, state, tribal, and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.
  2. Focus action on natural resources within the boundaries of the United States but do not exclude opportunities to consider global implications of climate change, especially with regards to Canada and Mexico.
  3. Integrate science and management in order to effectively address ecological systems, ecosystem services and functions, species and habitat linkages, adaptive management approaches, monitoring, modeling, and assessments of risk and vulnerability.
  4. Align the goals of the strategy as much as possible with those of the energy, forestry, water management, transportation, and agriculture sectors.
  5. Engage in broad public outreach and education.
  6. Identify science and policy needs, such as new technology, training opportunities, capacity building, and regulations.
  7. Coordinate mitigation and adaptation approaches.
  8. Acknowledge and respect the urgency needed to address global climate change.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The Service hosted a series of listening sessions at various professional venues, meetings, and conferences to present the purpose and process of creating the strategy, which was released in March 2013. The Strategy includes seven major goals to enhance the resilience of species and habitats in a changing climate, including:

  1. conserving habitat to support species and ecosystem functions;
  2. protecting ecosystem function and services, such as cultural, subsistence, recreational, and commercial use;
  3. enhancing capacity for effective management;
  4. supporting adaptive management and monitoring;
  5. increasing knowledge and understanding of climate change impacts and responses of fish, wildlife, and plants;
  6. increasing public awareness and action; and
  7. reducing non-climate stressors to alleviate pressures on species and habitats.

Beginning in 2016, the partners launched the Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources to acknowledge exemplary adaptation initiatives that advance the Strategy’s goals. This annual award recognizes the efforts of federal and non-federal entities working on climate adaptation and is judged by a committee of representations from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Much of the overarching federal guidance and action on climate change mitigation and adaptation was halted due to the March 2017 Executive Order 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, which favors less federal oversight of climate protections and encourages domestic energy production. In addition, Secretarial Order 3289 was rescinded by Secretarial Orders 3349 and 3360. As a result, a number of efforts undertaken by the U.S. Department of the Interior were significantly altered or defunded since 2017. However, the Biden Administration released Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, in January 2021, which requires each agency to submit climate action plans. On October 7, 2021, 23 agencies, including the Department of the Interior, released adaptation and resilience plans.

In early 2021, the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Network released Advancing the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy into a New Decade. The report provides updated recommendations, including investing in adaptation training, identifying and protecting refugia, directing resources towards invasive and disease management, recognizing the validity and value of Indigenous knowledge, and incorporating climate equity considerations into the allocation of financial and technical assistance mechanisms.

Secretarial Order 3289
Secretarial Order 3349
Secretarial Order 3360


Gregg, R. M. (2021). Developing a National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy for the United States [Case study on a project of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:  (Last updated May 2021)

Affiliated Organizations

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the premier government agency dedicated to the conservation, protection, and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats. It is the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is management of these important natural resources for the American public. The Service also helps ensure a healthy environment for people through its work benefiting wildlife, and by providing opportunities for Americans to enjoy the outdoors and our shared natural heritage.

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product.

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies represents North America’s fish and wildlife agencies to advance sound, science-based management and conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest.


Effort Stage

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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