The Problem: As climate change advances and its pace quickens, traditional conservation goals and strategies are increasingly at risk of failure. The scientific consensus is clear: climate change is happening and human activities, including fossil fuel emissions and land conversion, are the reason. Because climate governs the basis for life, changes in climate will affect natural systems and species around the globe. For conservation investors—philanthropic organizations, private donors, public agencies, and local governments—this presents a challenge.
As climate change continues to affect natural systems in the coming years, land trusts may need to adapt their approach, their properties and even their guiding philosophies. What do we do about climate change? This is the essential question of climate change adaptation. And, for many land trusts, what to do and how to adapt are becoming central to everything from the drafting of conservation easements and the siting of buildings to the rethinking of what should be protected in the first place.
Wildfire in western U.S. federally managed forests has increased substantially in recent decades, with large (>1000 acre) fires in the decade through 2012 over five times as frequent (450 percent increase) and burned area over ten times as great (930 percent increase) as the 1970s and early 1980s. These changes are closely linked to increased temperatures and a greater frequency and intensity of drought. Projected additional future warming implies that wildfire activity may continue to increase in western forests.
The discipline of risk management offers principles, tools, frameworks and strategies that land trust boards can employ to fulfill their “ultimate” and “legal” responsibilities. The discipline also offers guidance that can be helpful to landowners and community leaders who share the board’s desire and commitment to protect the mission and assets of the land trust.
Embracing risk management as a discipline to protect the land trust’s assets involves:
Flexible conservation easement drafting means that your land trust anticipates likely areas of change and drafts to address them. For climate change in particular, some areas to draft for flexibility that you might consider are species type and distribution, proximity to water, soil types, contaminants, current and future probable climate temperatures, human population, land uses, management and education possibilities. Most of the following drafting points are equally applicable to conservation easements generally as well as those designed to adapt to climate change.
Climate change is creating new challenges for conservation and management of natural resources. As temperatures, rainfall patterns, and disturbance regimes change and sea levels rise, ecosystems are being transformed. Some species of plants and animals are already shifting their distributions in response to climate change, and changes in phenology are disrupting ecological relationships and species interactions. Some organisms also respond physiologically to increasing temperatures and CO2 concentrations.
Incorporation of climate change impacts into transportation decisions is still a relatively new concept. As decision makers in various sectors grapple with information on climate change effects and how they may or may not impact their core mission(s), they are turning to existing tools and approaches for guidance. To date, three closely-related approaches are being used to help transportation decision makers consider and prepare for future climate impacts: vulnerability assessment, risk assessment, and adaptation assessment.