~ Create New or Enhance Existing Policies or Regulations

Legislation and regulation can mandate action on climate change. Decision makers, managers, and planners may choose to create new frameworks or opt to use existing frameworks within which to support conservation and management efforts. Creating new policies can be both timely and costly, but may be required if the existing structure is lacking. Incorporating future climatic changes and impacts into existing policies and plans, such as those dealing with harvest, critical habitat, species recovery, pollution, or water resources planning, among others, involves examining existing policies and considering how desired outcomes may be affected as the climate changes.


Create New Policy

Executive Order 13514 mandates climate change preparedness in federal agency planning and operations. Many agencies are creating new policies and strategies to meet this directive. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA are jointly spearheading the development of a National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, which is meant to coordinate natural resource efforts at not just the federal agency level, but also include tribal, state, and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private sector entities.183 A draft strategy was released in January 2012 and included the following goals:

  • Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climateManage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions and provide sustainable cultural, subsistence, recreational, and commercial use in a changing climate
  • Enhance capacity for effective management in a changing climate
  • Support adaptive management in a changing climate through integrated observation and monitoring and use of decision support tools
  • Increase knowledge and information on impacts and responses of fish, wildlife and plants to a changing climate
  • Increase awareness and motivate action to safeguard fish, wildlife and plants in a changing climate
  • Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate.184

The Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) Committee commissioned the creation of a conservation strategy in 2006. Over 150 experts from approximately 50 organizations and agencies contributed over the course of four workshops held in 2006 and 2007. The project resulted in the final report – The Beautiful Lake: A Binational Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Lake Ontario (Strategy) – in 2009.185 The Strategy identifies five primary threats to the region: development, invasive species, dams and barriers, non-point source pollution, and climate change. Recommendation #6 of the Strategy calls for LaMP agencies to plan for and adapt to climate change by establishing ecological corridors and improving connectivity to support species movement across terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and by incorporating climate change into water resources planning and management.

Specifically, the Strategy recommends the following “best bet” actions in planning for climate change:

  1. Conduct bathymetry and topography mapping of critical nearshore habitats
  2. Model effects of lower lake levels
  3. Manage streams and rivers using natural hydrologic ranges, especially while assessing the effects of water withdrawals

In April 2011, the Lake Ontario LaMP Work Group released Implementing a Lake Ontario LaMP Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, which identifies the recommendations from the Strategy that will be formally adopted. General actions to be implemented include conserving critical habitats and waters, reducing aquatic invasives, and restoring natural hydrology, native communities, and nearshore habitats; the specific climate-related action that will be implemented is improving ecological connectivity and corridors to support species movement and resilience.186


Enhance Existing Policy

The City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is updating both its 2003 Climate Action Plan and its urban forestry plan. The Climate Action Plan is being updated to include more focused mitigation and adaptation strategies. For example, because climate change is expected to lead to more intense storms and precipitation, the city plans to reduce stormwater rates for residents if they install green infrastructure solutions (e.g., rain barrels, porous pavers). The city also created a sustainability framework, which aims to reorganize city goals to foster more integrated planning; included in the framework are 22 adaptation and mitigation goals. The city also worked with GLISA to incorporate climate forecast data into its urban forestry plan. This information is being used to evaluate the impacts of a changing climate on tree species that planners are thinking of planting now with the intent of trying to diversify the forest so that it is more resilient to possible future changes.187

Water quality in the region has been the subject of several policy initiatives. Lake Champlain, situated between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York, suffers from problematic blue-green algae blooms caused by pollution – specifically excess phosphorus. Climate change impacts including increased precipitation and more intense storms are likely to exacerbate current pollution problems in the lake by increasing the amount of polluted runoff. In response to these threats, the Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit asking the EPA to reverse their approval of the 2002 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the lake. In 2011, the EPA overturned the Lake Champlain 2002 TMDL and kicked off a nationwide study of the relationship between potential climatic changes and increasing pollution, as well as how different pollution control techniques work under changing conditions. The results of the study will be used to inform the new TMDL for the lake.188

At a broader scale, a September 2012 amendment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Agreement), a binational accord between the United States and Canada to protect regional water quality, identified climate change as an urgent issue that will affect water quality in the region. Toxins, pollutants, and harmful algal blooms all present threats to water quality and may be exacerbated by climate change. The amendment integrates these concerns into the Agreement and outlines objectives to identify and understand climate change impacts on regional water quality, improve transboundary coordination of knowledge sharing and actions to build adaptive capacity, increase monitoring, and improve analytical tools and models to aid decision making. The Climate Change Annex to the accord recognizes the need for the United States and Canada to consider climate change impacts when implementing all aspects of the Agreement.189

183 Gregg 2010: Developing a National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy for the United States.

184 National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, Public Review Draft. January 2012.

185 Lake Ontario Biodiversity Strategy Working Group. (2009). The Beautiful Lake: A Binational Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Lake Ontario.

186 Lake Ontario LaMP Work Group and Technical Staff. (2011). Implementing a Lake Ontario LaMP Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.

187 Kershner 2012: Climate Adaptation in the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan

188 Kershner, J. M. (2012). Incorporating Climate Change into TMDL Decisions for Lake Champlain [Case study on a project of the Conservation Law Foundation]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)

189 Gregg, R. M. (2012). Addressing Climate Change Impacts in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement [Case study on a project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Canadian Ministry of the Environment]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program (Last updated October 2012)