The Southwest is considered to be one of the most “climate-challenged” landscapes in the United States (Garfin et al. 2013) and the Colorado Plateau will not be exempt from the impacts of a changing climate. Through the 21st century, the Colorado Plateau is projected to experience hotter temperatures, increased aridity and precipitation variability, and more severe droughts (Seager et al. 2007; Garfin et al. 2013; Cook et al. 2015). Projected climate changes will interact with existing land uses, and each species and ecosystem will respond in unique ways. Yet the extent, timing, and interactions of regional climate impacts are complex and not fully understood. This complexity presents a challenge for those who are working to reduce climate change impacts and to support the ability of species and ecosystems to adapt to change. Taking action based on proactive planning can promote landscape resilience and reduce the impacts from climate change.
We present a landscape-scale climate change adaptation plan that characterizes climate vulnerability and provides a foundation for adaptation action on the North Rim Ranches, a 3,360-km2 (830,000-acre) landscape of significant ecological and cultural importance on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The extent of the North Rim Ranches is defined by the livestock grazing permits held by the Grand Canyon Trust (the Trust) for allotments on public lands managed by the North Kaibab Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Arizona Strip District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Since 2005, the Trust has been the livestock grazing permittee on the North Rim Ranches and, over the last decade, has led efforts to strengthen ecosystem health through conservation-oriented livestock management and collaborative science and restoration (Sisk et al. 2010). Climate changes such as increased risks of prolonged drought and unnaturally severe wildfire present additional challenges to the balancing of conservation objectives with livestock management, as adverse livestock grazing practices can amplify impacts to the landscape (Fleischner 1994). Adaptation actions can minimize the impacts of a changing climate and support resilient responses to current and future conditions across the landscape. This plan focuses on climate change concerns, action recommendations, and implementation opportunities for climate adaptation across the North Rim Ranches. We address five primary objectives:
Objective 1: Assess the vulnerability of the landscape of the North Rim Ranches to climate change impacts.Objective 2: Develop climate change impact scenarios related to conservation objectives to guide the development of on-the-ground adaptation actions.Objective 3: Identify and prioritize adaptation actions that can meet conservation objectives within each climate change impact scenario.Objective 4: Develop monitoring plans with measurable indicators to trigger, inform, and evaluate adaptation actions.Objective 5: Build support for adaptation implementation through effective communication and collaboration with agency, ranching, and research partners as well as the broader public.
This adaptation plan addresses these five objectives at a landscape scale, laying the groundwork for implementing adaptation action on the ground. We summarize projected climate impacts for the North Rim Ranches, map landscape-scale climate vulnerability, describe climate impact scenarios, and make recommendations for adaptation (Objectives 1, 2, 3). As monitoring plans and strategies for implementing adaptation are unique to each impact concern and recommended action, we lay out general guidelines for monitoring and building adaptation support (Objectives 4, 5). We also highlight current climate initiatives of the land management agencies and identify opportunities for collaboration among our multiple partners.
This climate change adaptation plan lays out climate change concerns, adaptation recommendations, and next steps for a large public landscape north of the Grand Canyon. While this climate change adaptation plan is by no means comprehensive, we aim for it to be used as a scientific reference and as a guide for integrating climate adaptation objectives into our own conservation planning. We hope that it can serve as a foundation for engaging with agency, ranching, and research partners in collaborative climate adaptation.