WCS North America

Climate Change Adaptation Planning

The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework is designed to motivate collaborative, scientifically defensible climate change planning for specific landscapes or seascapes by a multidisciplinary group of scientists and practitioners. The framework is a simple yet structured approach that builds familiar elements of natural resource planning (e.g., local knowledge,conceptual modeling, scenario-based planning, and adaptive management) into a process tailored for addressing climate change.

Step 1.  Identify a feature targeted for conservation (e.g., species, ecosystem,ecological process)and specify a management goal and objective(s) for that feature;

Step 2.  Assess the potential effects of climate change on that feature:

·   Build a graphical conceptual model that illustrates the climatic, ecological,social,and economic drivers affecting the feature;

·   Develop a suite of plausible climate change scenarios;

·   Examine how the feature may be directly and indirectly affected by each future climate scenario.

Step 3.  Identify management actions to achieve the stated goal/objective(s) under each scenario;

Step 4.  Prioritize management actions;

Step 5.  Implement priority actions; and

Step 6.  Monitor action effectiveness and progress toward goal; adjust ineffective actions or revisit planning as needed.

Following the basic “plan-do-check-adjust” approach of most adaptive management cycles, ACT steps can be repeated to accommodate monitored and projected changes in management and social priorities, climate trajectories,and ecological responses. To address uncertainty in climate projections and ecological impacts, we recommend scenario-based planning techniques to identify management actions that would be justified under all or most future climate scenarios. If no actions are capable of achieving the stated goal under most or any of the climate change scenarios considered, it may be necessary to revise the goal or objectives. If no achievable goal can be identified, it is important to acknowledge that the feature's long-term persistence in the focal area may be unlikely and consider the consequences for setting management priorities.  Initially focusing on a single feature (or a finite set of related features), rather than simultaneously considering all of the species or ecosystems within a planning area, increases the feasibility of planning.  Managers can incrementally apply the ACT planning steps to additional features to more fully represent the complexity of an area or ecosystem. Information needs identified throughout the process can yield a priority research agenda, but need not prevent progress towards implementing management actions.

The ACT framework has been used to facilitate adaptation planning at a number of landscapes for a diversity of conservation features (see map below). Lessons learned in applying the ACT framework at four landscapes in southwestern United States are described in: Accelerating Adaptation of Natural Resource Management to Address Climate Change, Cross et al 2013, Conservation Biology.

Details on efforts to apply the ACT Framework

Note: the numbers on the map above correspond to the numbers below

1. Yellowstone River and sagebrush steppe ecosystems in Montana. Led by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, National Wildlife Federation.

2. Grizzly bears and wolverines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Transboundary Rocky Mountains. Led by Wildlife Conservation Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

3. Grassland birds and grassland composition and structure in short grass steppe and mixed grass prairie in the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative.Led by Wildlife Conservation Society.

4. Sage grouse, Gunnison River flows, and alpine wetlands in Gunnison Basin,Colorado. Led by the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (The Nature Conservancy,Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Arizona and other organizations).

5. Wildfire regime and Jemez River flows in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. Led by the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Arizona and other organizations).

6. Ponderosa pine wildfire regime, Ponderosa pine watershed hydrology and Mexican spotted owl in the Four-Forest Restoration Initiative area, Arizona.  Led by the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Arizona and other organizations).

7. Bonneville cutthroat and oxbow wetlands in the Bear River watershed,Utah.  Led by the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Arizona and other organizations).

8. Boreal and other ecosystems in the Adirondack Park, New York.  Led by Wildlife Conservation Society.

9. Oak-dominated habitats in Oregon.  Led by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife and partners.

      10. Streamflows, aspen, whitebark pine and sagebrush steppe in the Craters of the Moon-Pioneer Mountains landscape.  Led by University of Washington and the Pioneers Alliance.

      11. Coldwater fisheries in Northern Ontario. Led by Wildlife Conservation Society.

* With the exception of #1, which was primarily focused on managers at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, all efforts include participation from a broad range of federal, state and local agencies and organizations.

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WCS North America Program
212 South Wallace Avenue, Suite 101 Bozeman, MT, 59715 USA
(406) 522-9333

Key Staff

Molly Cross
Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator
Erika Rowland
Climate Change Ecologist
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