By Jordan M. West and Susan H. Julius
If you’ve ever been to Rocky Mountain National Park, you know that it is a land of majestic peaks, clear blue lakes, and green forested slopes. But these days, huge swaths of dead, reddish-brown trees mar the view. As a result of climate change, ongoing drought and rising temperatures have weakened the trees and triggered more extensive and severe infestations of bark beetles. Whole stands of trees have died as a result.
Scientists have been predicting these types of negative impacts for years and expect them to worsen in the future. At the same time climate change also combines with existing pressures from humans in ways that can cause new and unexpected ecosystem changes. Therefore managers who work to protect our natural resources have to not only address traditional environmental problems, but also anticipate and prepare for future climate-change-driven challenges that they may never have seen before.
Managers recognize that conservation and natural resource management must be viewed through the lens of climate change and are asking:
- How do we prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change?
- What should we be doing differently in light of climatic shifts, and what actions continue to make sense?
- What approaches are best for integrating climate change into our planning processes, managing for ecosystem changes, and re-evaluating management goals as new scientific information becomes available?
EPA researchers are helping to answer those questions. Agency climate change experts, together with partners from other federal agencies and non-governmental organizations, developed a guide to help natural resources managers integrate climate change into their planning. Called Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice, the guide covers topics such as setting goals; assessing ecosystem vulnerability; identifying and prioritizing adaptation and implementation options; and monitoring the effectiveness of what’s been implemented.
For each topic, the guide demonstrates how to consider climate change information using examples such as Chinook salmon in the Northwest. In many streams where salmon spawn, climate change is expected to cause increased sedimentation (deposition of mud and sand particles), increased temperatures, and decreased flows in spawning habitats – all of which will be detrimental to the survival of eggs. The guide advises managers on how to consider “climate-smart” information on changes in stream temperatures, flows, and sedimentation rates in different locations as a basis for selecting sites for habitat restoration. This ensures that the restored sites will be good spawning habitat for salmon far into the future.
This and other examples in the guide provide a path forward for systematically incorporating climate adaptation into management planning and implementation. By using the guide, managers can craft management strategies that successfully achieve conservation goals in a changing climate.
About the Authors: Jordan M. West and Susan H. Julius are research scientists in the Global Change Impacts & Adaptation Program of EPA’s Office of Research and Development who contributed to the guide.
Reference: Stein, B.A., P. Glick, N. Edelson and A. Staudt (eds). 2014. Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice. National Wildlife Federation and US Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.