Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments in the National Park Service: An Integrated Review for Infrastructure, Natural Resources, and Cultural Resources

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
Posted on: 11/28/2023 - Updated on: 11/28/2023

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Climate changes are affecting virtually all National Park Service units and resources, and an assessment of climate vulnerabilities is important for developing proactive management plans to respond appropriately to these changes and threats. Vulnerability assessments typically evaluate exposure and sensitivity of the assessment targets and evaluate adaptive capacity for living resources. Chapters in this report review and evaluate climate vulnerability assessments of National Park Service units and resources including infrastructure, natural resources, and cultural resources.

Striking results were the diversity of approaches to conducting vulnerability assessments, the small number of vulnerability assessments for National Park Service cultural resources, and the large differences in the “state of the science” of conducting assessments among the three resource groups. Vulnerability assessment methodologies are well established for evaluating infrastructure and natural resources, albeit with very different techniques, but far less is known or available for designing and/or conducting cultural resources assessments.

Challenges consistently identified in the vulnerability assessments, or the chapters were:

  • Limited capacity of park staff to fully engage in the design and/or execution of the vulnerability assessments. Most park staff are fully engaged in on-going duties
  • Inconsistent use of terms, definitions, and protocols, sometimes resulting in confusion or inefficiencies
  • Discovering and acquiring National Park Service vulnerability assessments because results were inconsistently archived
  • Aligning results with park needs due to differences in level of detail, scope, and/or resolution, or format(s) for reporting results

Best practices and recommendations identified in multiple chapters were:

  • Ensure that vulnerability assessments are designed to match parks’ needs, and that results are reported in ways that inform identified management decisions
  • Prioritize resources to be thoroughly assessed so effort is directed to the most important threats and resources
  • Evaluate all components of vulnerability (not just exposure)
  • Explicitly and systematically address uncertainty, recognizing the range of climate projections and our understanding of potential responses
  • Identify and, where possible, focus on key vulnerabilities that most threaten conservation or management goals
  • Embrace partnerships and engage others with necessary expertise. Good vulnerability assessments usually require expertise in a broad range of subject areas

Chapter 3 of this report has also been published as a peer-reviewed paper (attached below).


Peek, K. M., B. R. Tormey, H. L. Thompson, R. L. Beavers, A. C. Ellsworth, and C. Hawkins Hoffman (editors). (2022). Climate change vulnerability assessments in the National Park Service: An integrated review for infrastructure, natural resources, and cultural resources (revised). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2022/2438. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

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