Integrating Climate Change into the Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan Using an Expert Panel-based Vulnerability Assessment

Created: 4/15/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is using the results of a habitat vulnerability assessment to create and implement climate-smart adaptation strategies in management, acquisition, research, and monitoring activities. This project used an expert panel to identify and rank the vulnerabilities of 20 key habitat types to projected climate change impacts. This process may serve as a model for other state agencies to use in strengthening State Wildlife Action Plans.


The Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) provides a roadmap for the conservation of wildlife and habitats in the state; it identifies 22 critical habitat types and 257 priority animals in need of conservation action. This plan, unlike most SWAPs, acknowledges that climate change is likely to be a major stressor to wildlife and their habitats; this project aims to make the Massachusetts SWAP and MassWildlife’s activities – management, land acquisition, regulation, research, and monitoring – climate-smart. Throughout Massachusetts, climate change is expected to result in increased air and water temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, more frequent drought events, species range shifts, and increased incidences of disease and invasive species. This project was designed to ensure that the strategies outlined in the SWAP are adapted for these expected impacts by:

  • developing tools to evaluate the relative vulnerabilities of habitats, focal areas, and species under climate change;
  • providing information to focus habitat acquisition priorities;
  • evaluating the effectiveness of conservation approaches and strategies for the most vulnerable resources under climate change; and
  • developing alternative approaches/strategies to enhance resilience.


MassWildlife, with support from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and The Nature Conservancy, conducted a Habitat Vulnerability Assessment (HVA) for adaptation planning in the state. An expert panel was convened to rank the vulnerabilities of twenty key habitat types to climate change; these included forested, wetland, coastal, and aquatic habitats. The panel was tasked with assigning confidence scores for each habitat evaluated and identifying the variables that influenced the confidence of rankings. The habitat vulnerability categories were:

  1. May greatly benefit from climate change (>50% range extension)
  2. Extent of habitat may expand moderately (<50%)
  3. Habitat may become established in state
  4. Extent of habitat may not change appreciably
  5. Risk of substantial reduction in habitat area (<50% loss)
  6. Majority of habitat may be eliminated (>50%) but not entirely
  7. High risk of being eliminated entirely from state

Each habitat was ranked under lower and higher emissions scenarios, and assigned high (>70%), medium (between 30% and 70%), or low (<30%) confidence scores.

For example, under higher emissions scenarios, spruce-fir forests were ranked as 7, or rated as being at high risk of being eliminated, and emergent marshes were ranked as 6, or rated as likely to be reduced by more than 50%; both were assigned high confidence scores. The variables that influenced the confidence of these rankings included elevation, latitude, current rate of loss, likely projected impacts of non-climate stressors, and vulnerabilities to increasing temperatures, biological stressors, extreme weather events, phenological shifts, human maladaptive responses, and range shifts.

Results from this assessment will inform adaptation strategies for MassWildlife’s activities, including management, land acquisition, and research and monitoring, to protect vulnerable habitats and species. One of MassWildlife’s major activities is acquiring land in order to protect the ecosystems that house significant wildlife resources; the department currently controls about 200,000 acres of land. The acquisition process involves incorporating uncertainty related to climate change and interacting stressors when selecting land; the information yielded from this habitat vulnerability assessment will be incorporated into the acquisition process.

Outcomes and Conclusions

This project identified the vulnerabilities of wildlife and habitats in Massachusetts to climate change. The next steps include developing an addendum to the SWAP based on the results of the expert panel’s findings and creating a methodology for future assessments. Manomet is also working to develop a process for applying this project’s methodology to other states. As a result of this project, the Massachusetts Wildlife and Climate Change Alliance was created; this group is comprised of state and federal agencies and conservation organizations and aims to coordinate activities and build local support of climate change projects. The Alliance consists of MassWildlife, Manomet, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Mass Audubon, Department of Fish and Game, Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, New England Wild Flower Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Trustees of Reservations.


Information gathered from interviews and online resources. Last updated on 4/14/10.


Gregg, R.M. (2010). Integrating Climate Change into the Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan Using an Expert Panel-based Vulnerability Assessment [Case study on a project of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated April 2010)

Project Contact(s)

For 40 years, Manomet has worked to build a sustainable world based on healthy natural systems that support human and wildlife populations. We are a trusted leader in the non-advocacy use of science for problem-solving, and have a long history of working collaboratively with entities that have the capacity to leverage change.

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.


Scale of Project
State / Provincial
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Habitat extent
Invasive / non-native species, pests
Phenological shifts
Range shifts
Water supply
Water temperature
Climate Type
1-3 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Incorporate climate change into harvest/take policies
Incorporate climate change into critical habitat rules / species recovery plans
Incorporate climate change into threatened / endangered species designations
Capacity Building
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Effort Stage
In progress