Climate Change Adaptation Across the Landscape: A Survey of Federal and State Agencies, Conservation Organizations and Academic Institutions in the United States

Katie Theoharides, Gerald Barnhart
Posted on: 2/09/2009 - Updated on: 8/21/2023

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Climate change is proceeding at a rate at which there will be unavoidable impacts to natural systems and fish and wildlife habitat. Even with the most rigorous emissions reductions the must be a plan for climate adaptation measures to help natural systems persist in the face of changing climate conditions. Such climate change adaptation is a new challenge for natural resource managers who are grappling with what it will entail in the context of conservation.

To develop a clear definition and statement of need for adaptation, the authors conducted 68 interviews of federal and state agency staff, non-governmental organization conservationists, and academic scientists who are thinking about or working on climate change adaptation. They asked these experts to define climate change adaptation, to discuss ongoing adaptation planning efforts, to provide us with examples of adaptation techniques and practices, and to list costs associated with these techniques. They also asked participants to discuss the challenges to planning for and implementing adaptation, the metrics associated with adaptation project monitoring, partnership opportunities, and communication strategies.

Many participants are involved in adaptation planning, revision of existing conservation and management plans and reprioritization of conservation and restoration efforts based on climate change. Few examples of specific adaptation techniques or strategies, costs associated with strategies or metrics to measure the effect of techniques are available at this time. Participants identified several barriers to planning for and implementing adaptation strategies: a lack of resources and funding, the need for place-based adaptation strategies and available case studies to guide planning efforts, and further development of adaptation tools, models and guidance.

Despite these challenges, the survey responses suggest that progress is being made to plan and implement adaptation strategies, develop tools and models for adaptation planning, and to help build capacity in state and federal agencies that do not currently have the resources to take on the challenge alone. In particular, promising partnerships are developing within and among the federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and the academic sector. However, without increased funding to support adaptation efforts these partnerships will not be enough to prevent natural system collapse and biodiversity loss. The survey participants made it clear that the agencies responsible for managing the lands and waters of the United States and the agencies, organizations and institutions that support their work are in desperate need of new funding to fully understand, plan for, and address the challenges ahead.


Theoharides, K., Barnhart, G., & Glick, P. (2009, February). Climate change adaptation across the landscape: A survey of federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and academic institutions in the United States. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, & The National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved from CAKE: