Adapting Conservation to a Changing Climate: An Update to the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan

Since the first iteration of the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan was developed in 2005 (Illinois Department of Natural Resources 2005), considerably more information on potential threat of global climate change to natural and human systems has become available (e.g., International Panel on Climate Change 2007). These developments include further refinement to global climate change models, climate projections downscaled to regions, and likely effects of climate change on agriculture, human communities, ecosystems and biodiversity. In Illinois, the most profound effects of climate change are likely to be dangerous summer heat, a longer growing season, more flooding due to increased winter and spring rainfall in events >2 inches/day, increased summer drought, and lowered water levels in Lake Michigan (Union of Concerned Scientists 2009).

Over the same period, strategies to increase resilience, increase adaptive capacity, and mitigate the effects of climate change have emerged, and continue to evolve rapidly (Game et al. 2010, Groves et al. 2010, Hansen et al. 2010, Heller and Zavaleta 2009). Climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies have recently been incorporated into the work of Chicago Wilderness though a Climate Action Plan for Nature (Chicago Wilderness Climate Change Task Force 2010a) and an ongoing Climate Change Update to the Biodiversity Recovery Plan (Chicago Wilderness Change Task Force 2010b; A. Derby-Lewis, pers. comm.).

In 2009, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources initiated a process to incorporate climate change considerations into the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. Based in part on the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies‟ Voluntary Guidance for States to Incorporate Climate Change into State Wildlife Action Plans & Other Management Plans (Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies 2009), this project had four explicit objectives:

  1. Conduct a climate vulnerability assessment of Species in Greatest Need of Conservation and major habitat types. We assessed the vulnerability of a subset of Species in Greatest Need of Conservation by employing the NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index. This index was based on direct exposure to local climate change, downscaled from climate models; indirect exposure to climate change such as anthropogenic barriers to dispersal; sensitivity to climate, such as species‟ tolerance of climate variability over time or across geographic areas; and adaptive capacity including dispersal ability and genetic variation. The vulnerability of major habitat types was qualitatively evaluated based on projected changes in temperature, precipitation, drought, fire frequency, and flood frequency/intensity. Evaluating the factors anticipated to cause climate stress to species and habitats across Illinois informs adaptation strategies likely to have the broadest benefits.
  2. Identify conservation strategies that increase resilience or adaptive capacity, or mitigate the effects of climate change. The seven campaigns of the Wildlife Action Plan were revisited to identify strategies that are particularly important given the realities of climate change, strategies that may need to be modified or reconsidered, and additional actions that were not included in Version 1.0 of the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. We focused on strategies that are likely to be effective under both current and future climates (such as restoring connectivity and managing for ecological function), and considered the current and likely future conditions of natural divisions and watersheds to select regionally-appropriate strategies.
  3. Outline an adaptive management approach for informing management decisions. Because of the large and unavoidable uncertainties of global, regional and local effects of climate change, and the complexity of potential biological and human responses to climate change, conservationists will need to employ adaptive management approaches. Unlike the typical, watered-down, „we will make changes along the way‟ usage, adaptive management is a rigorous, iterative process of setting goal-based objectives, deploying strategies as experiments or learning actions, and a data-driven evaluation of results compared to objectives and effectiveness of alternate strategies.
  4. Recommend changes to existing monitoring programs and identify research needs. Illinois has many monitoring programs in place, including the Critical Trends Assessment Program which monitors the status and trends of the state‟s forests, grasslands, wetlands, and streams. An effective adaptive management framework will require implementation and effectiveness monitoring: a way of answering, “did we undertake the actions at the scale prescribed in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, and did those actions have the intended effects?”

This report is intended to function as a stand-alone document that addresses the four objectives described above, but is also presented in a format that corresponds to the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. We hope this format will facilitate cross-walking information from this document and the Wildlife Action Plan, and facilitate integration of climate change considerations into the Wildlife Action Plan during a formal update and revision process.

Polar Bear - WWF Wildlife and Climate Change Series

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the poster child for the impacts of climate change on species, and justifiably so. To date, global warming has been most pronounced in the Arctic, and this trend is projected to continue. There are suggestions that before mid-century we could have a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer. This increases the urgency with which we must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.

Polar bears have relatively high genetic diversity within the species and can disperse over very long distances, suggesting that they may have some capacity to adapt to the ongoing changes in the Arctic.

However, their dependence on sea ice makes them highly vulnerable to a changing climate. Polar bears rely heavily on the sea ice environment for traveling, hunting, mating, resting, and in some areas, maternal dens. In particular, they depend heavily on sea ice-dependent prey, such as ringed and bearded seals. Additionally, their long generation time and low reproductive rate may limit their ability to adapt to changes in the environment.

Priorities for climate-informed polar bear conservation should include identifying and protecting the “last ice areas,” the parts of the Arctic that are projected to retain sea ice farthest into the future. It is also important to increase monitoring of polar bear populations, particularly their responses to declining sea ice. And as polar bears spend more time on land, we need to be prepared to manage for increased human-polar bear conflict.

Adaptation of Agriculture and the Food System to Climate Change: Policy Issues

One of the most important sectors of the economy, U.S. agriculture depends heavily on climate. Farms and ranches are also the largest group of owners and managers of land that impacts ecosystem services, such as greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation, water quality and quantity regulation, and wildlife habitat and biodiversity conservation. In addition, agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in the energy sector through biofuels production. Consequently, the impacts of climate change on agriculture, and agriculture’s ability to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, are critical issues for agricultural households as well as the general public and public policy decisionmakers.

This policy brief summarizes the findings of a longer report on the potential impacts of climate change and the potential for the U.S. agricultural sector to adapt to climate change (Antle 2009), and then addresses the policy implications of these findings. 

IUCN SSC Guidelines for Assessing Species' Vulnerability to Climate Change. Version 1.0

Predicting climate change impacts on biodiversity is a major scientific challenge, but doing so is important for assessing extinction risk, developing conservation action plans, providing guidance for laws and regulations, and identifying the mechanisms and patterns of impact to inform climate change adaptation. In the few decades since the threat of climate change has been recognised, the conservation community has begun assessing vulnerability to climate change.

There is no single ‘correct’ or established way to carry out climate change vulnerability assessments (CCVA) of species. A range of methods have been developed, and a large and burgeoning scientific literature is emerging on this subject. This document aims to ease the challenge that conservation practitioners face in interpreting and using the complex and often inconsistent CCVA literature.  The intended target audiences include conservation practitioners (e.g., for CCVA of their focal species or the species in their focal area) and researchers (e.g., for carrying out CCVA to serve conservation, or to evaluate the rigorousness of others’ studies).

These guidelines cover an outline of some of the terms commonly used in CCVA, and describe three dominant CCVA approaches, namely correlative (niche-based), mechanistic and trait-based approaches. This guide is structured to provide readers first with background information on definitions and metrics associated with CCVA. A discussion on identifying CCVA objectives follows, setting the stage for core guidance on selecting and applying appropriate methods. The subsequent sections focus on interpreting and communicating results, as well as suggestions for using results in Red List assessments and addressing the many sources of uncertainty in CCVAs. A final section explores future directions for CCVAs and research needs. The guide ends with ten case studies that provide essentially worked examples of CCVAs that cover the range of methods described.

This guidance document has been developed by a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment working group convened under the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group. The authors’ collective experience covers a broad range of ecosystems, taxonomic groups, conservation sectors and geographic regions, and has been supplemented by an extensive literature review. No guidance on this topic can be exhaustive, but nonetheless, this document should provide a useful reference for those wishing to understand and assess climate change impacts on their focal species, at site, site network and/or at broader spatial scales.

Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability

The Gulf Coast faces a constant storm. Man’s efforts to tame the Mississippi River with flood control structures have led to many unintended consequences, primarily the degradation of the Mississippi River Delta. Throughout the Gulf Region, land loss caused by subsidence, sea-level rise, and the alteration of critical environmental processes has stripped the Gulf Coast of its natural defenses and is accelerating the collapse of coastal ecosystems.

A decade of catastrophic events marked by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have further devastated one of the most fragile landscapes on the planet. Such incidents have highlighted the region’s significance and its vulnerabilities, yet complacency and a false sense of security have returned. Disasters that should have sparked a reckoning instead produced only minor reforms, and so the status quo has become yet another force battering the Gulf Coast.

The deterioration of America’s WETLAND and key assets of America’s Energy Coast is jeopardizing the tremendous benefits provided by a healthy Gulf Coast to the nation. Yet, even as awareness of the Gulf’s importance grows, this recognition faces a policy and regulatory reality that responds to consequences but does not work to achieve real sustainability. Comprehensive solutions must be implemented or the region’s irreplaceable resources will be lost in a matter of decades. Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Ike, Gustav, Isaac: the next big storm is always here.

There is a movement afoot, however, to face reality and adapt to change. This empowerment comes in the form of community efforts, comprehensive state plans for coastal restoration and protection, public/private partnerships, and self-taxation to provide emergency funding for projects that cannot abide an onerous and expensive federal process.

Consider the unfortunate example of Louisiana, where the costly practice of waiting for disaster to strike has exacted an astronomical post-Katrina toll — just to bring coastal communities back to pre-storm conditions. The $140 billion in estimated recovery costs makes earlier projections of $14 billion for coastal restoration seem like a bargain today. To protect national, state and local assets now, a minimum of $50 billion is required to save the coast in Louisiana alone. The price tag may seem high, but will we again make a tragic miscalculation and wait until the damage is done?

This report reflects a combination of grassroots experience and scientific research. Eleven forums were held over 14 months across five states seeking answers to how a faltering coastal landscape can be made more resilient in an age of mounting challenges. Some of the recommendations are common sense. Others will require a push from Washington to move past years of failed practices and outdated, conflicting federal processes that too often slow or stop real restoration.

Gulf Coast communities have welcomed self-inspection, criticism and the resolution of historical differences because they must. This has not been a perfect process, but it has been effective, and it demands action.

Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities across the Gulf are working to stop merely reacting to unintended consequences. The goal is to anticipate, to prepare and, most of all, to adapt. Join us as we move swiftly to prevail against the constant storm.

Identifying potential marine climate change refugia: A case study in Canada’s Pacific marine ecosystems

The effects of climate change on marine ecosystems are accelerating. Identifying and protecting areas of the ocean where conditions are most stable may provide another tool for adaptation to climate change. To date, research on potential marine climate refugia has focused on tropical systems, particularly coral reefs. We examined a northeast Pacific temperate region – Canada’s Pacific – toidentify areas where physical conditions are stable or changing slowly. We analyzed the rate and consistency of change for climatic variables where recent historical data were available for the whole region, which included sea surface temperature, sea surface height, and chlorophyll a. We found that some regions have been relatively stable with respect to these variables. In discussions with experts in the oceanography of this region, we identified general characteristics that may limit exposure to climate change. We used climate models for sea surface temperature and sea surface height to assess projected future changes. Climate projections indicate that large or moderate changes will occur throughout virtually the entire area and that small changes will occur in only limited portions of the coast. Combining past and future areas of stability in all three examined variables to identify potential climate refugia indicates that only 0.27% of the study region may be insulated from current and projected future change. A greater proportion of the study region (11%) was stable in two of the three variables. Some of these areas overlap with oceanographic features that are thought to limit climate change exposure. This approach allowed for an assessment of potential climate refugia that could also have applications in other regions and systems, but revealed that there are unlikely to be many areas unaffected by climate change.

Aquaculture in Shared Waters


Gulf of Maine
United States
42° 43' 31.1736" N, 67° 53' 43.8288" W

Climatic and non-climatic factors are affecting fisheries in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, many fishermen currently rely on a single-species fishery – the American lobster – and do not have the ability to switch from one fishery to another due to allocations and limited permits.

New Zealand Ocean Acidification Observing Network


National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
41 Market Pl
1010 Auckland
New Zealand
36° 50' 38.922" S, 174° 45' 42.57" E

New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research is working to increase their ability to better predict climate change, as well as to create decision-making tools to reduce the vulnerability of New Zealand’s economy and environment to that change. For New Zealand, this means paying particular attention to regional atmosphere-ocean systems. One component is the New Zealand Ocean Acidification Observing Network (NZOA-ON).

Using Citizen Science to Monitor Species Range Shifts in a Changing Climate: Range Extension Database and Mapping Project (Redmap)


Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
15-21 Nubeena Cres
7053 Taroona
42° 57' 0.0468" S, 147° 21' 3.4416" E

The Range Extension Database and Mapping project (Redmap) is a citizen science effort to engage fishermen, divers, and other marine enthusiasts and professionals in monitoring for species range shifts through an online “spot, log, and map” tool. It is also being used as a climate change awareness and education tool with those same constituencies. Originally launched in 2009 for Tasmania, the goal was to harness the observation ability of the estimated 120,000 citizens who went fishing each year.