Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice

Climate change already is having significant impacts on the nation’s species and ecosystems, and these effects are projected to increase considerably over time. As a result, climate change is now a primary lens through which conservation and natural resource management must be viewed. How should we prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change on wildlife and their habitats? What should we be doing differently in light of these climatic shifts, and what actions continue to make sense? Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice offers guidance for designing and carrying out conservation in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

Reducing Climate Risks with Natural Infrastructure

As California considers how to adapt to a changing climate, planners often focus on defensive infrastructure with a negative habitat impact: bigger levees, rock walls to protect coastlines or even giant sea gates.

But California can follow a different path. With natural or “green” infrastructure that leverages natural processes to reduce risk to human lives, property and businesses, the state can build resilience to the coming changes while restoring natural habitats instead of degrading them.

“Green” or “natural” infrastructure can include a range of strategies. Some projects focus on preserving existing natural systems, while others are highly engineered, combining green techniques with more traditional “gray” approaches.

This report evaluates nine green infrastructure case studies in California. Each improves flood or coastal protection, provides habitat and preserves or restores the natural dynamics between water and land. We review the available data on the costs and benefits of each case and, where possible, compare this information with the costs and benefits of a gray alternative at the same site.

Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment

The National Climate Assessment assesses the science of climate change and its impacts across the United States, now and throughout this century. It documents climate change related impacts and responses for various sectors and regions, with the goal of better informing public and private decision-making at all levels.

A team of more than 300 experts, guided by a 60-member National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee produced the full report – the largest and most diverse team to produce a U.S. climate assessment. Stakeholders involved in the development of the assessment included decision-makers from the public and private sectors, resource and environmental managers, researchers, representatives from businesses and non-governmental organizations, and the general public. More than 70 workshops and listening sessions were held, and thousands of public and expert comments on the draft report provided additional input to the process.

The assessment draws from a large body of scientific peer-reviewed research, technical input reports, and other publicly available sources; all sources meet the standards of the Information Quality Act. The report was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, the 13 Federal agencies of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the Federal Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability.

Agreed But Not Preferred: Expert Views On Taboo Options For Biodiversity Conservation, Given Climate Change

Recent research indicates increasing openness among conservation experts toward a set of previously controversial proposals for biodiversity protection. These include actions such as assisted migration, and the application of climate-change-informed triage principles for decision-making (e.g., forgoing attention to target species deemed no longer viable). Little is known however, about the levels of expert agreement across different conservation adaptation actions, or the preferences that may come to shape policy recommendations. In this paper, we report findings from a web-based survey of biodiversity experts that assessed: (1) perceived risks of climate change (and other drivers) to biodiversity, (2) relative importance of different conservation goals, (3) levels of agreement/disagreement with the potential necessity of unconventional-taboo actions and approaches including affective evaluations of these, (4) preferences regarding the most important adaptation action for biodiversity, and (5) perceived barriers and strategic considerations regarding implementing adaptation initiatives. We found widespread agreement with a set of previously contentious approaches and actions, including the need for frameworks for prioritization and decision-making that take expected losses and emerging novel ecosystems into consideration. Simultaneously, this survey found enduring preferences for conventional actions (such as protected areas) as the most important policy action, and negative affective responses toward more interventionist proposals. We argue that expert views are converging on agreement across a set of taboo components in ways that differ from earlier published positions, and that these views are tempered by preferences for existing conventional actions and discomfort toward interventionist options. We discuss these findings in the context of anticipating some of the likely contours of future conservation debates. Lastly, we underscore the critical need for interdisciplinary, comparative, place-based adaptation research.

Coastal Blue Carbon Opportunity Assessment for Snohomish Estuary: The Climate Benefits of Estuary Restoration

This landmark report demonstrates the carbon sequestration benefits of restoring tidal wetlands in the Snohomish estuary in Puget Sound, Wash. The report was prepared by Restore America’s Estuaries, Ecological Science Associates (ESA), Western Washington University, and EarthCorps. Lead funding for the study was provided by NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation. The Boeing Company and the Wildlife Forever Fund provided additional financial support.

The purpose of this report is to: (1) inform policy makers of the scale of GHG emissions and removals associated with management of coastal lowlands under conditions of climate change; and (2) identify information needs for future scientific investigation to improve quantification of GHG fluxes with coastal wetlands management.

The Snohomish Estuary was selected as a system representative of the wider Puget Sound and Pacific Northwest Region in terms of geomorphology, land use, and management issues. The historic estuary, the second largest in Puget Sound, consisted of a suite of forested wetlands, scrub-shrub wetlands, and emergent tidal wetlands. Clearing and draining the wetlands resulted in subsidence of organic soils. Today the subsided lands include agriculture (lowered water table), anthropogenic Palustrine wetlands (high water table), and a small area of planted forest. Soils are a mix of organic and mineral materials. The estuary hosts remnant emergent and forested wetlands; an example of a large-scale regenerating wetland, North Ebey Island, breached in the 1960s; and drained wetland soils under various forms of management.

Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Focal Resources of the Sierra Nevada

EcoAdapt, in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and California Landscape Conservation Cooperative (CA LCC) hosted the Adaptation Planning Workshop for the Sierra Nevada June 4-5, 2013 in Sacramento, California. The goal of the workshop was to identify management strategies that will help regionally important ecosystems and species adapt to changing climate conditions and to lay the groundwork for adaptation action. Thirty-two attendees representing 21 public agencies (including national forests), non-governmental organizations, and others participated in the workshop.

The objectives of the workshop were to:

  1. Collaboratively identify management and conservation goals and objectives for focal resources.
  2. Present outcomes of spatial analysis and mapping to facilitate adaptation planning.
  3. Develop adaptation strategies to reduce the identified vulnerabilities of resources (from an associated vulnerability assessment workshop) and increase positive long-term outcomes for regional management goals.
  4. Create a list of implementation needs to facilitate incorporation of adaptation strategies into regional planning and management activities.
  5. Provide climate change adaptation training, resources, support, and tools to participants to extend this process to similar efforts in their own work.

Over two days of presentations, discussion and small working groups, managers, scientists, and conservation practitioners identified adaptation strategies for six focal resources: alpine/subalpine systems, Sierra Nevada and southern mountain yellow-legged frogs, yellow pine/mixed conifer systems, red fir systems, wet meadows and fens, and oak woodlands.

Key outcomes of the workshop were:

  1. Refined management goals and objectives for focal resources.
  2. Evaluation of management objective feasibility given climate and non-climate stressors.
  3. A suite of adaptation approaches and actions for each focal resource that can be implemented to help achieve management objectives in the face of climate change.
  4. A prioritized list of adaptation actions for resources across the Sierra Nevada.
  5. Group-developed implementation plans for prioritized actions.

Participants identified a suite of adaptation actions for each of the focal resources and developed draft implementation plans for priority actions. Example adaptation actions for each focal resource considered are described below. Details of these and other workshop-derived adaptation actions are presented in Sections 3-7.

Watershed Management Conservation in a Changing Climate

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, fed by a watershed that stretches from mountains to sea, across 64,000 square miles. The Chesapeake Bay, along with Maryland’s streams and coastal bays, provides a multitude of benefits to Maryland’s citizens, including economic and natural resource benefits. Maryland’s extensive aquatic ecosystems range from freshwater swamps and bogs to freshwater rivers and marshes to coastal bays and salt marshes. These ecosystems are influenced by precipitation, temperature, tropical storms, and human activity. Human development and pollution have degraded their natural resilience, leaving them more vulnerable to climate change and extreme events.One hundred years of data show that Maryland is getting warmer on average by 1.8°F but by as much as 3.6°F in the winter. Warmer air holds more moisture, so we should expect changes in our rainfall. Over the last century, Maryland has become wetter in March and autumn and drier in July and August. For aquatic ecosystems this may alter salinity in the Bay and impact streamflow and stream temperature, all of which could shift where species live and affect watershed restoration projects.

Helping Your Woodland Adapt to a Changing Climate

Your woods are always changing and adapting as they grow and mature, or regrow after agricultural abandonment, natural disturbances, or harvesting activities. Events like storms, droughts, insect and disease outbreaks, or other stressors can damage trees or slow their growth. A changing climate may make your woods more susceptible to the problems these events can cause.

Step 1. Learn more about your woodsStep 2. Contact a foresterStep 3. Identify your goals & objectivesStep 4. Develop and implement a forest stewardship plan

Climate Change Adaptation Principles: Bringing Adaptation to Life in the Marine Biodiversity and Resources Setting

Preparing for change requires individuals, institutions, and sectors to work together. Climate change adaptation action on the ground and across all levels of decision making within the marine biodiversity and resources sector should be guided by the most recent adaptation science, research and practice. A series of high level guiding principles have been drafted (this document). They reflect the knowledge and expertise of researchers, resource managers, policy makers and resource users with direct experience in developing or applying adaptation knowledge. The principles were developed following a one day workshop Bringing Adaptation to Life, held in April 2011 in Cairns, Australia. Organised by the Australian Governments Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), and the NCCARF's Marine Adaptation Network, the workshop brought together leading thinkers and practitioners to share experiences and lessons learned from working in the sector. The day comprised a range of presentations from participants, as well as small group working sessions.

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative: Implementing a Climate Change Adaptation Framework for Natural Resource Management and Planning

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Arizona, working with the USDA Forest Service, TNC-New Mexico, University of Arizona, and Wildlife Conservation Society, convened a two-day workshop entitled Climate Change Adaptation Workshop for Natural Resource Managers in the Four Forest Restoration Initiative area on 7-8 April 2010 in Flagstaff, Arizona (See Appendix B, page 50 for the agenda). Forty-four representatives of 15 state and federal agencies, local governments and non- governmental organizations participated (See Appendix A, page 48 for the list of participants). This workshop was the third in a series of four workshops organized by the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (SWCCI), a collaborative effort to provide information and tools for climate change adaptation planning and implementation for conservation practitioners in the Four Corners states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Workshop Goal and Objectives

The workshop goal was to identify management strategies that will help native plants, animals and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate and lay the groundwork for strategy implementation. The objectives of the workshop were to:

  1. Provide background information on climate change as it applies to northern Arizona.
  2. Introduce a framework for landscape-scale climate change adaptation planning for use at this workshop and as a tool that can be used in other landscapes.
  3. Assess the impacts of climate change on a set of high-priority species, ecosystems and natural processes selected by workshop organizers and participants.
  4. Identify strategic actions that will reduce climate change impacts.
  5. Identify opportunities for ongoing learning, collaboration, and implementation of on-the- ground climate change adaptation projects in northern Arizona.