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

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 4/15/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), with support from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and The Nature Conservancy, used an expert panel to identify and rank the vulnerabilities of 20 key habitat types to projected climate change impacts. This process provided an important foundation for climate change efforts in the state, including use in the Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), and served as a model for other state agencies in strengthening their SWAPs.


The Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) provides a roadmap for the conservation of wildlife and habitats in the state; it identifies 24 critical habitat types and 570 species in need of conservation action. This project aimed 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 is helping 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 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. Multiple projects and tools have built off of this project since its completion, including:

  • conducting a Regional Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of the northeast’s key habitats and species;
  • creating the MassWildlife Climate Action Tool, which provides climate change information, including vulnerability and adaptation, for natural resources, municipal and regional planning, and the built environment; and
  • completing the Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan, which includes a chapter focused on climate change resources and adaptation planning.


Gregg, R.M. (2020). 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]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated June 2020)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

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.

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