Integrating Climate Change into Northeast and Midwest State Wildlife Action Plans

The Department of Interior Northeast Climate Science Center (NE CSC) conducts research that responds to the regional natural resource management community’s needs to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change. The NE CSC is supported by a consortium of partners that includes the University of Massachusetts Amherst, College of Menominee Nation, Columbia University, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri Columbia, and University of Wisconsin. The NE CSC also engages and collaborates with a diversity of other federal, state, academic, tribal, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to conduct collaborative, stakeholder-driven, and climate-focused work.

The State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs) are revised every 10 years; states are currently working towards a target deadline of October 2015. SWAP coordinators have been challenged to incorporate climate change impacts and species responses into their current revisions. This synthesis is intended to inform the science going into Northeast and Midwest SWAPs across the 22 NE CSC states ranging from Maine to Virginia, and Minnesota and Missouri in the eastern United States. It is anticipated that this synthesis will help guide SWAP authors in writing specific sections, help revise and finalize existing sections, or be incorporated as an appendix or addendum.

The purpose of this NE CSC-led cooperative report is to provide a synthesis of what is known and what is uncertain about climate change and its impacts across the NE CSC region, with a particular focus on the responses and vulnerabilities of Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN) and the habitats they depend on. Another goal is to describe a range of climate change adaptation approaches, processes, tools, and potential partnerships that are available to State natural resource managers across the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States. Through illustrative case studies submitted by the NE CSC and partners, we demonstrate climate change adaptation efforts being explored and implemented across local and large-landscape scales.

This document is divided into four sections and addresses the following climate and management relevant questions:

  1. Climate Change in the Northeast and Midwest United States: How is the climate changing and projected to change across the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States?
  2. Northeast and Midwest regional species and habitats at greatest risk and most vulnerable to climate impacts: What are the relative vulnerabilities of fish and wildlife species and their habitats to climate change in the Northeast and Midwest?
  3. Biological responses to climate impacts with a focus on Northeast and Midwest Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN): How are threatened fish and wildlife likely to respond or adapt to climate change in the Northeast and Midwest?
  4. Scale-appropriate adaptation strategies and actions in the Northeast and Midwest United States: What approaches, strategies, and actions could be taken to sustain fish, wildlife and their habitats in the short and long term across the Northeast and Midwest?

The outline and content for this document were developed with input from State Coordinators, members of the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, DOI Northeast Climate Science Center affiliated researchers, and other partners including the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and The Nature Conservancy. Terwilliger Consulting, Inc., was especially instrumental in helping connect and coordinate the authors of this report with State representatives through conference calls and email surveys to develop the most needed and effective information for current SWAP revisions.

On a final note, the SWAPs are living documents that can be added to and evolve on timescales beyond the 10-year revision cycle. The development of this report was timed such that SWAP coordinators and writers would have sufficient time to implement this input before their October 2015 deadline. However, this document is also meant to serve as a starting point for coordinated and collaborative climate science and adaptation across the region; the NE CSC 5 endeavors to continue to provide actionable science during the coming years in collaboration with its diverse federal, state, NGO, and academic partners. 

Great Plains Regional Technical Input Report

This report assesses how the Great Plains social-ecological system has been shaped by changing climate conditions and how future projections of climate change will result in a need for further adaptation and preparedness. This effort is part of the 2014 United States Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment as required by the United States Congress.

The Great Plains region plays a very important role in providing food and energy to the economy of the United States from the great corn and wheat fields and rangelands in the agricultural sector, the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, the abundant coal and coal bed methane in the Wyoming and Montana Powder River Basin, bioenergy and wind farms in Texas in the energy sector. This makes the economy and livelihoods in the region extremely sensitive to climate, which means big implications of climate change impacts on the Great Plains region as well as mitigation strategies to reduce greenhouse gases critically important for the entire country. The region is also the home to 65 registered Native American tribes who stand to be vulnerable to climate change while also potentially contributing to innovation in sustainable practices and an alternative energy future. This all makes the Great Plains a complex and interesting place to look at the impacts of climate variability and change.

The Great Plains region is characterized by both high spatial and high temporal climate variability, however, throughout the region climate change is already happening in the Great Plains with an overall warming trend over the last 20 years both annually and in the summer. Climate change is being experienced in a variety of ways such as increased night-time temperature, increased intensity of extreme precipitation events, extended growing season, extended severe droughts, and elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Climate change is projected to continue into the future with more extreme heat events, droughts, and floods. Expected impacts include decreased water availability and increased competition for uses, changed water quality, expansion of weeds, pests, and diseases, changes to plant-animal communities and species composition, altered fire and storm patterns, and tree mortality, among others. Combined with changes in land use and land management, socio-economic and demographic changes, and uncertainty of our energy future, climate change will have substantial impacts on the ability to sustain natural resources, livelihoods, and well being in the Great Plains.

Over the last decade the region has seen significant extremes in climate and weather events from flooding in the Missouri River Basin, to exceptional drought in the Southern Plains, to fires and tornadoes resulting in billions of dollars in economic damage, morbidity, and mortality. Some of this unusual weather is the result of normal climate variability, but many climate experts understand these extremes as indicators of emerging climate changes, if not already a signal that we are seeing effects of a warming planet. 

Restoring Tidal Flow and Enhancing Shoreline Resilience in the Nisqually River Delta


United States
47° 5' 0.6252" N, 122° 42' 35.0352" W

The Nisqually Delta Restoration Project is the largest tidal marsh restoration effort in the Pacific Northwest. Over four miles of dikes were removed in 2009 to return tidal flow to roughly 762 acres in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State to enhance wildlife habitat and the buffering capacity of marshes to sea level rise and increased flooding. Along with other local restoration efforts, 22 miles of the historic delta system have been restored, increasing salt marsh habitat in southern Puget Sound by over 50 percent.

Conserving Biodiversity: Practical Guidance about Climate Change Adaptation Approaches in Support of Land-use Planning

As species’ geographic ranges and ecosystem functions are altered in response to climate change, there is a need to integrate biodiversity conservation approaches that promote natural adaptation into land use planning. Successful conservation will need to embrace multiple climate adaptation approaches, but to date they have not been conveyed in an integrated way to help support immediate conservation planning and action in the face of inherent spatial uncertainty about future conditions. Instead, these multiple approaches are often conveyed as competing or contradictory alternatives, when in fact, they are complementary. We present a framework that synthesizes six promising spatially explicit adaptation approaches for conserving biodiversity. We provide guidance on implementing these adaptation approaches and include case studies that highlight how biodiversity conservation can be used in planning. We conclude with general guidance on choosing appropriate climate adaptation approaches to amend for conservation planning.

Evaluation of the Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015


United States
24° 40' 1.1496" N, 81° 21' 13.536" W

This project seeks to evaluate success and implementation of the Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015 (Action Plan)Spearheaded by EcoAdapt and the Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) in 2008-2009, the Action Plan was the result of a multiyear collaborative effort amongst stakeholders including coral reef scientists, managers, research institutions, divers, fishers, and various regional user groups.

The Climate Around Climate Change on Florida’s Reefs: In Action or Inaction?

This project seeks to evaluate the success and degree of implementation of the Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef System 2010-2015 (referenced hereafter as Action Plan, and cited as CCAPFRS). This Action Plan identifies interdisciplinary actions to be incorporated into reef management plans in order to address a myriad of climatic and non-climatic stressors to the reef system, minimize risks to coral reef dependent people and industries, and target scientific research priorities for strategic management.

As we are now in the final year of the Action Plan, the status and degree of implementation of the plan’s 40 recommendations has been unknown until now. A qualitative evaluation was designed due to a lack of monitoring, established benchmarks, and specific measures in the plan. Through stakeholder interviews, surveys, and independent Internet research this project assessed to what degree the recommended actions had been implemented and developed a scorecard to consolidate information on management strategies underway that contribute to the general success of the Action Plan. The scorecard enhances communication among stakeholder groups and various governmental and state agencies regarding collective progress, and serves as a blueprint for a subsequent plan moving forward. This review process demonstrated the great benefits and value of monitoring and evaluation of action plans with application worldwide.

Overall, it was found the plan is in a fairly good degree of implementation, with 80% of the plan’s 40 action items addressed to some degree. The most success was found in research goals, and the area most in need regards fisheries management. Some priorities changed over time. There has been a strong monitoring and reporting network built in the region, with several programs utilizing “eyes and ears on the water”. The capacity to respond and monitor coral bleaching events has also greatly increased.

Report to the Secretary of the Interior from the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science

The Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science (ACCCNRS or the Committee) advises the Secretary of the Interior on the operations and partnerships of the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) and Climate Science Centers (CSCs). The Committee commends the United States (U.S.) Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on the establishment of the NCCWSC and CSCs. The NCCWSC and CSCs fill a vital role by linking with universities and other partners and working with resource managers to plan, assess, and co-produce the scientific information and tools needed to manage the risks of climate change to help conserve fish, wildlife, and their habitats as well as other natural and cultural resources.

In addition, the Committee would like to recognize USGS and DOI for significant accomplishments since the inception of the NCCWSC and CSCs, including establishing eight CSCs; developing stakeholder-informed science agendas for each of them; taking a scientific focus on the impacts of projected climate change on fish, wildlife, and their habitats, as well as other natural and cultural resources; emphasizing the scientific needs of resource managers and decision makers; drafting a regionally derived national science agenda; and allocating over $93 million in funding for climate adaptation research projects.

In this report, the Committee offers nine recommendations regarding the co-production of actionable science, encouraging coordination and collaboration within DOI and with partners, engaging tribal and indigenous peoples, and program evaluation.

Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation in the Southeast Region

Climate change is altering species distributions in unpredictable ways (IPPC 2007, Van der Putten et al. 2010) and conservationists require a way to prioritize strategic land conservation that will conserve the maximum amount of biological diversity despite changing distribution patterns. Conservation approaches based on species locations or on predicted species’ responses to climate, are necessary, but hampered by uncertainty. Here we offer a complementary approach, one that aims to identify key areas for conservation based on land characteristics that increase diversity and resilience.

A climate-resilient conservation portfolio includes sites representative of all geophysical settings selected for their landscape diversity and local connectedness. We developed methods to identify such a portfolio. First, we mapped geophysical settings across the entire study area. Second, within each geophysical setting we located sites with diverse topography that were highly connected by natural cover. Third, we compared the identified sites with the current network of conservation lands and with The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC’s) portfolio of important biodiversity sites identified based on rare species and natural community locations. Using this information we noted geophysical settings that were underrepresented in current conservation and identified places for each setting that could serve as strongholds for diversity both now and into the future.

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the North-central California Coast and Ocean

This vulnerability assessment is a science-based effort to identify how and why focal resources (habitats, species, and ecosystem services) across the North-central California coast and ocean region are likely to be affected by future climate conditions. The goal of this assessment is to provide expert-driven, scientifically sound assessments to enable marine resource managers to respond to, plan, and manage for the impacts of climate change to habitats, species, and ecosystem services within the region. This information can help prioritize management actions, and can help managers understand why a given resource may or may not be vulnerable to a changing climate, enabling a more appropriate and effective management response. Climate change vulnerability of 44 focal resources, including eight habitats, populations of 31 species, and five ecosystem services was assessed by considering exposure and sensitivity to climate changes and non-climate stressors and adaptive capacity. The 44 focal resources were identified and assessed by representatives from federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions. Coastal habitats in the study region, including beaches and dunes, estuaries, and the rocky intertidal, along with associated species and ecosystem services, were identified through this assessment as being most vulnerable, and will likely be prioritized for future management action. 

WWF Wildlife and Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Species


World Wildlife Fund
1250 24th St. NW
20037 Washington , DC
United States
38° 54' 23.4216" N, 77° 3' 6.5736" W
District Of Columbia US
Tool Overview: 

This website includes a trait-based climate vulnerability assessment tool for species, as well as vulnerability assessments and recommended adaptation strategies for WWF priority species.

WWF assesses the key vulnerabilities of species based on four factors: