The Washington Department of Natural Resources is incorporating climate change adaptation strategies into its internal activities; one effort to achieve this was the creation of an adaptation strategy for the Department’s Aquatic Resources Program. This strategy recommended that DNR build its adaptive capacity and take near-and-long-term actions to incorporate climate change into its activities; in addition, DNR is cooperating with other state agencies in the formulation of a statewide adaptation plan.


The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is part of the 5560 Interagency Working Group, working with five other state agencies (Ecology, Agriculture, Commerce, Fish and Wildlife, and Transportation), to develop an initial Washington State Climate Change Impacts Response Strategy by December 2011. DNR is the co-leader, along with the Department of Agriculture, on a Technical Advisory Group focused on planning for Natural Resources; they plan to address wildlife risk; pests and diseases; pressures on water supply and availability; and biodiversity and genetic preservation.

DNR is also developing an internal strategy to incorporate climate change into its programs and activities. One step towards this process was the drafting of a strategy for the Department’s Aquatic Resources Program. Completed in 2009 through a Washington Sea Grant fellowship, the strategy addresses the projected impacts of climate change to the 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands under DNR management and how DNR will need to adjust its management to address these impacts. DNR has a legal obligation to prepare for both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change as it holds these lands in the public trust. The specific area that the strategy focuses on is Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the San Juan archipelago. The projected impacts of concern to state-owned aquatic lands in the focal areas include changes in air and water temperatures; changes in precipitation patterns; sea level rise; erosion; and ocean acidification.


Interviews were conducted with directors in the Aquatic Resources Program to solicit input on how these impacts might affect management activities; the results indicated that climate change will negatively affect DNR’s management of aquaculture, overwater structures, log booming and storage, dredged materials, invasive species, and derelict vessel removal, among others. This information will help DNR prioritize its adaptation efforts although more detailed research is needed; to provide an example of how DNR could improve its efforts to make the program more resilient to climate change, a pilot vulnerability assessment of DNR’s role in the state’s wild geoduck fishery was conducted. Results concluded that the fishery, an important economic resource, will likely be degraded by climate change and that the program should address the vulnerability of the fishery and the ecosystem upon which it depends in developing its climate change adaptation plan.

Two priority planning areas were delineated: preparing for sea level rise and providing public benefits. In preparing for sea level rise, DNR must also consider property and ownership concerns and jurisdictional issues; for example, the Program has no authority "over uplands that may become state-owned aquatic lands" as sea levels rise, which decreases DNR's ability to plan proactively for future climate change. In fulfilling DNR’s obligation to protect natural resources and provide public benefits, DNR must also consider the climate change impacts (increased temperatures, ocean acidification) that will threaten the living marine resources (shellfish, geoducks) upon which the public depends for sustenance and recreation. This strategy recommends the following actions for DNR’s Aquatic Resources Program:

  • Building adaptive capacity by incorporating climate change into DNR’s internal and external activities and encouraging climate-centric research and the development of tools (e.g., inundation maps);
  • Taking near-term adaptive actions, such as education and outreach to aquatic lands lessees on sea level rise and other climate impacts and increasing monitoring efforts; and
  • Taking long-term adaptive actions, including implementing policies to increase resilience (e.g., reduce non-climate stressors, encourage restoration and conservation), encouraging new uses of state-owned aquatic lands (e.g., wind and tidal energy capabilities), and facilitating managed retreat (e.g., assist property owners in creating buffers to allow landward migration, utilize rolling easements).
Outcomes and Conclusions

DNR is working to implement adaptation policies in its Aquatic Resources Program and throughout its internal activities. In addition, DNR is part of a larger effort to create a Washington State adaptation plan.

Information gathered from interviews and online resources. Last updated on 4/29/10.

Gregg, R. M. (2010). Preparing for Climate Change on State-Owned Aquatic Lands in Washington State [Case study on a project of the Washington Department of Natural Resources]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated April 2010)

Project Contact(s)

Washington Department of Natural Resources

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aims to provide professional, forward-looking stewardship of our state lands, natural resources, and environment, and leadership in creating a sustainable future for the Trusts and all citizens. DNR is a Washington State agency that protects and manages 5.6 million acres of state-owned land that the people of Washington own. Much of this land (3 million acres) is state trust land that provides revenue to help pay for construction of public schools, universities, and other state institutions, and funds services in many counties.


Scale of Project
State / Provincial
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Tourism / Recreation
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Ocean acidification
Sea level rise
Water temperature
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Coordinate planning and management
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Monitor climate change impacts and adaptation efficacy
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Create or modify shoreline management measures
Governance and Policy
Create new or enhance existing policies or regulations
Develop / implement adaptation plans
Effort Stage
In progress