Adapting to Climate Change: Agency Science Needs to Adapt Game Management to Changing Global Climate

Wildlife Management Institute
Created: 6/30/2007 -


This document describes predicted impacts on wildlife and habitat based on widely accepted climate change models and the science and research needs necessary to intelligently engage in adaptive management. While there is uncertainty about the predictability of climate change impacts, there is no uncertainty that agencies need to be able to proactively identify, detect and adapt to climate-induced changes in habitat and population characteristics. Based on published scientific reports and expert opinion, biologists predict that climate change will substantially alter the habitat characteristics of biomes throughout North America. As the environment changes, wildlife will adapt, perhaps flourish, or perish. Agencies need the ability to adapt game management programs as habitats transform.

The changes will be substantial: in the north, ruffed grouse and moose abundance will decrease while white-tailed deer and northern bobwhite abundance will increase as winters moderate. In the West, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and desert bighorn sheep will need to adapt to the northward or higher elevational shift of drier habitats.

It is clear that due to the myriad of potential impacts climate change may have on populations and habitat, additional monitoring, surveys, and research will be necessary to successfully manage the impacts’ effect. Baseline information must be established to detect climate change impacts, ongoing monitoring and surveys must be conducted to ascertain the effect of those impacts, and research must be undertaken to solve questions that arise due to the effects on fish and wildlife. Given the potential geographic extent and multitude of impacts associated with climate change, the current level of research funding for federal and state fish and wildlife management agencies is inadequate to meet the science needs associated with global climate change.

Wildlife response to climate change impacts has a direct bearing on the activity of more than 87 million Americans. Those residents most directly affected are the 12.5 million hunters and 29.9 million anglers whose activities are regulated by government entities. Public participation in government decisions to allocate wildlife resources, will demand a better understanding of and ability to adapt to climate change and its impacts on wildlife.

Steps are outlined that wildlife agencies should take to identify priority tasks and maximize the opportunity to capture federal funding for climate change impacts. Key elements of an adaptive management strategy aimed at implementation of actions related to climate change are presented. Specific recommendations are proposed at the regional level for some of the principal game species and at the national level for operational and programmatic purposes. We estimate additional funding in the range of $500 million to $1 billion will be needed for state wildlife agencies to address climate change adequately.

Published On


National / Federal
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Tourism / Recreation
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate climate change into harvest/take policies
Incorporate climate change into critical habitat rules / species recovery plans
Governance and Policy
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Habitat extent
Species of concern