The National Wildlife Federation’s Climate-Smart Restoration Partnership in the Great Lakes

Rachel M. Gregg Jessica Hitt
Posted on: 7/05/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Climate-Smart Restoration Partnership (CSRP), created by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), is focused on providing technical assistance for climate-smart coastal restoration projects in the Great Lakes region. NWF, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and EcoAdapt, has developed technical guidance and provided training to support the planning and implementation of regional restoration projects that incorporate climate change information. This guidance provides users with tools and a framework to approach restoration given the reality of climate change. The CSRP also supports training workshops to build capacity in the region.


Coastal habitats in the Great Lakes region experience numerous stressors, including pollution, habitat degradation, invasive species establishment, overfishing, and, increasingly, climate change. The region is vulnerable to a number of climate threats that may exacerbate or magnify existing stressors, including warming water and air temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and flow regimes, changing lake levels, and reduced ice cover. These impacts are threatening restoration and conservation activities; in order for these projects to be successful in a changing climate, the approaches need to be examined through the climate lens. 

The purpose of the CSRP is to develop climate-smart restoration guidance for and build upon the efforts of NOAA and other regional organizations and initiatives [e.g., the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)] as they design, implement, and evaluate climate-smart restoration policies, plans, and implementation criteria. NWF and EcoAdapt have partnered to create technical guidance, provide training and assistance, test this guidance on the ground, and revise as necessary.


The CSRP includes three components: technical guidance, training and assistance, and pilot restoration projects.

Technical guidance

NWF and EcoAdapt developed the 2011 technical guidance document, Restoring the Great Lakes’ Coastal Future, to aid NOAA and partners in planning and implementing climate-smart restoration projects (Glick et al. 2011). The guidance document serves as a climate-smart framework for restoration, providing users with a suite of tools and a methodology to approach restoration given the reality of climate change. The framework was designed to be iterative, inclusive, and replicable by practitioners and managers across the region and the country in multiple scales and habitats. The framework is regionally tailored to assist managers as they work to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop and implement climate-smart restoration projects.

The methodology includes six steps:

  1. Identify restoration-specific goals and targets
  2. Identify possible approaches to restoration projects
  3. Conduct a vulnerability assessment of both goals and targets and project approaches
  4. Develop climate-smart management options
  5. Prioritize and implement specific management options
  6. Monitor, evaluate, and revise restoration approaches

The guide provides regional sample case studies of how projects could incorporate climate-smart restoration framework into their work. These examples, including the restoration of whitefish spawning habitat and sea lamprey control, are presented in tabular format for easy reference. Tables review vulnerability of project goals, targets, and approaches to climate change and present options for reducing that vulnerability on a number of levels. More detailed information on conducting a vulnerability assessment and additional resources on restoration, climate change adaptation, and the Great Lakes region are provided in appendices.


Training and assistance

The project also includes training workshops and webinars, designed and hosted by NWF and EcoAdapt in order to educate participants about climate change impacts and science, provide training to support climate-smart decision making in restoration activities, act as a forum through which participants can network and build a community of practice around climate-smart restoration, and share lessons learned and resources developed.


Pilot restoration projects

Additionally, NWF and EcoAdapt are providing guidance to NOAA to ensure that relevant pilot projects include climate change in their design, implementation, and evaluation. These projects, which are at different stages of design and implementation, include:

  1. Little Rapids Habitat Restoration (MI)
  2. Muskegon Lake Restoration Project (MI)
  3. Crow Island State Game Area Marsh Enhancement Project (MI)
  4. Clinton River Spillway Habitat Restoration Planning & Design Macomb County (MI)
  5. Lower Black River Habitat Restoration (OH)
  6. Riparian Restoration in the Buffalo River Area of Concern (NY)
  7. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Restoration in Maumee Bay Area of Concern (OH)

Outcomes and Conclusions

The guidance document, Restoring the Great Lakes’ Coastal Future, is being applied by NOAA and its grantees in restoration efforts; the first update to the report is expected in early 2013. The partners hope to use the seven pilot projects as case study examples of successful climate-smart restoration efforts in future iterations of the guidance document. Lessons learned from the seven pilot projects will directly influence the first update of the report. 

The resources and guidance provided through this partnership are applicable to other regions and habitats throughout the world. An important facet of the CSRP is that the partners have identified metrics for success; examples of these include: restoration projects and initiatives incorporate climate change into planning and implementation, CSRP-developed methodologies are employed at multiple scales and in different ecosystems, and increased funding is available for climate-smart habitat restoration projects in both the public and private sector. All of the pilot projects are required to monitor and evaluate success.


Gregg, R. M. & Hitt, J. L. (2012). The National Wildlife Federation’s Climate-Smart Restoration Partnership in the Great Lakes [Case study on a project of the National Wildlife Federation and EcoAdapt]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2012)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

At the Great Lakes Regional Center, NWF works to...

Restore the Great Lakes - As the co-chair of the 100-organization Healing Our Waters® - Great Lakes Coalition, NWF is working to enact and fund a compreshensive Great Lakes restoration plan. Our efforts have brought billions in new funding to Great Lakes cleanup projects that restore the Great Lakes, protect wildlife habitat and revitalize the economy.

EcoAdapt is at the center of climate change adaptation innovation. We provide support, training, and assistance to make conservation and management less vulnerable and more Climate Savvy. Over the past 200 years, great strides have been made in the world of conservation and now all of that is at risk because of climate change. EcoAdapt is working to ensure the success of these past efforts by delivering a framework for climate adaptation.

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.