Scanning the Conservation Horizon

A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

01-19-2011 // Bruce Stein
Scanning the Horizon

A new guide released by the National Wildlife Federation and partners offers conservationists and resource managers a way to understand the impact of climate change on species and ecosystems and will support efforts to safeguard these valuable natural resources.

Download the full report - Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Rapid climate change is the defining conservation issue of our generation. The effects of climate change are increasingly apparent, from drowned coastal marshes and drying prairie potholes to melting glaciers. These climate-driven changes will profoundly affect our ability to conserve fish and wildlife and the habitats on which they depend. Indeed, preparing for and coping with the effects of climate change—an endeavor referred to as climate change adaptation—is emerging as the overarching framework for conservation and natural resource management.

The ecological impacts associated with climate change do not exist in isolation, but combine with and exacerbate existing stresses on our natural systems. Understanding those interactions will be critical to designing effective conservation measures. Conservation in an era of climate change will require that we not only acknowledge and address the environmental problems of the past but also anticipate and prepare for those of an increasingly uncertain future.

Developing and implementing effective adaptation strategies first requires an understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on our natural world. To provide the best possible chance for conserving species and ecosystems in a rapidly changing climate, it is essential that managers have the ability to both identify what we need to do differently in the future, as well as which existing strategies and activities continue to make sense from a climate adaptation perspective.

Vulnerability assessments are a key tool for informing adaptation planning and enabling resource managers to make such judgments. Scanning the Conservation Horizon is designed to assist fish and wildlife managers and other conservation and resource professionals to better plan, execute, and interpret climate change vulnerability assessments.

Climate change vulnerability assessments provide two essential contributions to adaptation planning. Specifically, they help in:

  • Identifying which species or systems are likely to be most strongly affected by projected changes; and
  • Understanding why these resources are likely to be vulnerable, including the interaction between climate shifts and existing stressors.

Determining which resources are most vulnerable enables managers to better set priorities for conservation action, while understanding why they are vulnerable provides a basis for developing appropriate management and conservation responses.

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