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

Jeff Walk, Sarah Hagen, and Aaron Lange
Created: 12/02/2016 - Updated: 5/27/2017


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.

Published On

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


State / Provincial
Sector Addressed: 
Disaster Risk Management
Public Health
Target Climate Changes and Impacts: 
Air temperature
Growing season
Lake level
Public health risks
Public safety threats
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy: 
Natural Resource Management / Conservation