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A game plan for climate change

Pilot project helps scientists, managers, and conservationists pro-actively prepare for a changing climate

Researchers have successfully piloted a process that enables natural resource managers to take action to conserve particular wildlife, plants and ecosystems as climate changes.

The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework is a practical approach to assessing how future changes in air and water temperatures, precipitation, stream flows, snowpack, and other environmental conditions might affect natural resources. ACT enables scientists and managers to work hand-in-hand to consider how management actions may need to be adjusted to address those impacts.

"As acceptance of the importance of climate change in influencing conservation and natural resource management increases, ACT can help practitioners connect the dots and integrate climate change into their decisions," said WCS Conservation Scientist, Dr. Molly Cross. "Most importantly, the ACT process allows practitioners to move beyond just talking about impacts to address the 'What do we do about it?' question."

The ACT framework was tested during a series of workshops at four southwestern United States landscapes (see map) that brought together 109 natural resource managers, scientists, and conservation practitioners from 44 local, state, tribal and federal agencies and organizations. The workshops were organized by the Southwest Climate Change Initiative, representing The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), the Western Water Assessment, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

One example comes from the Bear River basin in Utah, where workshop participants looked at how warmer air and water temperatures and decreased summer stream flow might affect native Bonneville cutthroat trout habitat and populations. The group strategized that restoring the ability of fish to move between the main stem of the Bear River and cooler tributaries, protecting cold-water habitat, and lowering the depth of outflow from reservoirs to reduce downstream water temperatures could help maintain or increase trout population numbers as climate changes.

Participants in another workshop considered the impacts of reduced snow-pack and greater variability in precipitation on stream flows in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. To maintain sufficient water in the system and support aquatic species and riparian vegetation, attendees identified options such as restoring beaver to streams, building artificial structures to increase the storage of water in floodplains, and thinning the density of trees in nearby forests to maximize snowpack retention.

"The ACT process helps workshop participants move beyond the paralysis many feel when tackling what is a new or even intimidating topic by creating a step-by-step process for considering climate change that draws on familiar conservation planning tools," Cross said. "By combining traditional conservation planning with an assessment of climate change impacts that considers multiple future scenarios, ACT helps practitioners lay out how conservation goals and actions may need to be modified to account for climate change."

The results will help land managers as well as people. "Climate change impacts livelihoods and threatens the water supplies of many of our communities," says Terry Sullivan, The Nature Conservancy's New Mexico state director. "We hope that this tool will be utilized to help make decisions which will lead to healthy and sustainable watersheds, and ultimately sustain water supplies for farms and cities."

ACT workshops have been used to launch climate change planning at 11 locations in the United States for more than 15 wildlife, plant, and ecosystem targets (for details see

ChangeAdaptationPlanning.aspx). Feedback given by workshop attendees indicates that the ACT approach was successful in increasing participants' capacity to address climate change in their conservation work.

"We need to see more practitioners applying approaches like ACT if biological diversity and ecosystem services are to be maintained in a rapidly changing world," Cross added.

Results from the workshops are published in the February 2013 volume of the journal Conservation Biology (available at Authors include Molly Cross of WCS, Patrick McCarthy and David Gori of TNC, Gregg Garfin of the University of Arizona; and Carolyn Enquist of the U.S.A. National Phenology Network and The Wildlife Society.

The ACT planning process is described in detail in the September 2012 edition of Environmental Management (available at Authors include:

Molly Cross, WCS;
Erika Zavaleta, University of California, Santa Cruz;
Dominique Bachelet, Conservation Biology Institute;
Marjorie Brooks, Southern Illinois University;
Carolyn Enquist, The Wildlife Society and the U.S.A. National Phenology Network;
Erica Fleischman, University of California, Davis;
Lisa Graumlich, University of Washington;
Craig Groves, TNC;
Lee Hannah, Conservation International;
Lara Hansen, EcoAdapt;
Greg Hayward, U.S. Forest Service;
Marni Koopman, Geos Institute;
Joshua Lawler, University of Washington;
Jay Malcolm, University of Toronto;
John Nordgren, Kresge Foundation;
Brian Petersen, Michigan State University;
Erika Rowland, WCS;
Daniel Scott, University of Waterloo;
Sarah Shafer, U.S. Geological Survey;
Rebecca Shaw, Environmental Defense Fund; and
Gary Tabor, Center for Large Landscape Conservation.

Scott Smith | EurekAlert!
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