Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Naomi Edelson
Posted on: 1/17/2011 - Updated on: 3/06/2020

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This new guide released by the National Wildlife Federation and partners offers conservationists and resource managers a way to understand the impact of climate change on species and ecosystems and will support efforts to safeguard these valuable natural resources.

Rapid climate change is the defining conservation issue of our generation. The effects of climate change are increasingly apparent, from drowned coastal marshes and drying prairie potholes to melting glaciers. These climate-driven changes will profoundly affect our ability to conserve fish and wildlife and the habitats on which they depend. Indeed, preparing for and coping with the effects of climate change—an endeavor referred to as climate change adaptation—is emerging as the overarching framework for conservation and natural resource management.

The ecological impacts associated with climate change do not exist in isolation, but combine with and exacerbate existing stresses on our natural systems. Understanding those interactions will be critical to designing effective conservation measures. Conservation in an era of climate change will require that we not only acknowledge and address the environmental problems of the past but also anticipate and prepare for those of an increasingly uncertain future.

Developing and implementing effective adaptation strategies first requires an understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on our natural world. To provide the best possible chance for conserving species and ecosystems in a rapidly changing climate, it is essential that managers have the ability to both identify what we need to do differently in the future, as well as which existing strategies and activities continue to make sense from a climate adaptation perspective.

Vulnerability assessments are a key tool for informing adaptation planning and enabling resource managers to make such judgments. Scanning the Conservation Horizon is designed to assist fish and wildlife managers and other conservation and resource professionals to better plan, execute, and interpret climate change vulnerability assessments.

Climate change vulnerability assessments provide two essential contributions to adaptation planning. Specifically, they help in:

  • Identifying which species or systems are likely to be most strongly affected by projected changes; and
  • Understanding why these resources are likely to be vulnerable, including the interaction between climate shifts and existing stressors.

Determining which resources are most vulnerable enables managers to better set priorities for conservation action, while understanding why they are vulnerable provides a basis for developing appropriate management and conservation responses.

Affiliated Organizations

EcoAdapt is at the center of climate change adaptation innovation. We provide support, training, and assistance to make conservation and management less vulnerable and more Climate Savvy. Over the past 200 years, great strides have been made in the world of conservation and now all of that is at risk because of climate change. EcoAdapt is working to ensure the success of these past efforts by delivering a framework for climate adaptation.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization, with more than 6 million members supporters and an affiliate network in 52 states and territories. The National Wildlife Federation’s mission is to “unite all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

For 40 years, Manomet has worked to build a sustainable world based on healthy natural systems that support human and wildlife populations. We are a trusted leader in the non-advocacy use of science for problem-solving, and have a long history of working collaboratively with entities that have the capacity to leverage change.

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.

NatureServe is a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action. NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs and conservation data centers are the leading source for information about rare and endangered species and threatened ecosystems.

Established by Presidential Proclamation No. 2193 on August 10, 1936 (50 Stat. 1760) as Joshua Tree National Monument. Legislation states that the "lands contain historic and prehistoric structures and have situated thereon various objects of historic and scientific interest…" (50 Stat. 1760). … the legislative history reveals that another major reason for the establishment of the monument was preservation of the natural resources of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the premier government agency dedicated to the conservation, protection, and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats. It is the only agency in the federal government whose primary responsibility is management of these important natural resources for the American public. The Service also helps ensure a healthy environment for people through its work benefiting wildlife, and by providing opportunities for Americans to enjoy the outdoors and our shared natural heritage.

Vision: The School of Forest Resources will provide world class, internationally recognized knowledge and leadership for environmental and natural resource issues.

Core Values: Open communication, respect, accountability, excellence

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources. The department operates under a dual mandate from the Washington Legislature to:

The Wildlife Conservation Society, founded in 1895, has the clear mission to save wildlife and wild places across the globe. Our story began in the early 1900’s when we successfully helped the American bison recover on the Western Plains.

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