Restoring the Great Lakes’ Coastal Future

Technical Guidance for the Design and Implementation of Climate-Smart Restoration Projects

06-15-2011 // Patty Glick, Jennie Hoffman, Melinda Koslow, Austin Kane, Doug Inkley
Restoring the Great Lakes’ Coastal Future

The Great Lakes region is home to 20 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves, a rich array of species and habitats, and tens of millions of people. One of the most significant challenges to the well-being of the region is climate change. We are already feeling the effects of climate change, and those effects will only intensify in the future. As a result the past alone is no longer a sufficient guide for conservation decisions. To effectively protect, manage, and restore freshwater coastal ecosystems in the Great Lakes we must integrate the reality of current and future climatic changes into our work. Making our projects “climate-smart” in this way will enhance their value and durability over the long term.

The purpose of this Restoring the Great Lakes’ Coastal Future (pdf) is to provide an initial suite of tools and methods to assist in the planning and implementation of climate-smart restoration by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners and grantees. The guidance is intended to be a living document that evolves in response to workshops, trainings, on-the-ground projects, and other stakeholder input. Some ways that habitat restoration efforts funded under NOAA and partner programs in the Great Lakes region could be vulnerable to climate change impacts include:

  • Changes in water temperatures and flow regimes may result in reduced use by target species or degradation of restored in-stream habitats.
  • Warmer water may also facilitate the establishment of southern fish species such as smallmouth bass in the Great Lakes or the contraction northward of cold-water dependent species.
  • Climate-related changes such as increasing temperatures, changing lake levels, reduced ice cover, and altered runoff patterns and lake chemistry will interact with a range of existing stressors, including increased input and toxicity of contaminants in freshwater systems.
This guide presents a project-based approach to adjusting restoration activities to address the realities of climate change.The steps are as follows:
  1. Identify Restoration Goals and Targets (e.g., restoring critical habitat for a particular endangered species or setting maximum allowable pollutant levels).
  2. Identify Restoration Project Approaches (e.g., dam removal, revegetation, or recreating channels).
  3. Assess Vulnerability of Targets/ Project Approaches to Change (e.g., the influence of temperature on species’ health and reproduction or the toxicity of pollutants).
  4. Identify Climate-Smart Management Options. (e.g., restore critical habitat in both current and possible future ranges of target species).
  5. Select and Implement Management Options.
  6. Monitor, Review, Revise.

Throughout this guidance, case examples illustrate how to apply this climate-smart restoration framework to the actual practice of restoration. These examples, including the restoration of whitefish spawning habitat and sea lamprey control, are presented in tabular format for easy reference. Tables review vulnerability of project goals, targets, and approaches to climate change, and present options for reducing that vulnerability on a number of levels. The body of this guidance is designed to provide an overall framework; more detailed information on conducting a vulnerability assessment and additional resources on restoration, climate change adaptation and the Great Lakes region are provided in appendices.

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