Advancing Landscape-Scale Conservation in North America’s Coastal Temperate Rainforests

  • Patricia Tillmann, Dan Siemann
  • May 06, 2013

North America’s resource managers and conservation practitioners protect and preserve our lands, waters, and wildlife in the face of land use change, development pressure, and now, climate change. To help ensure our resource managers and conservationists will be able to protect and preserve the places and wildlife we cherish in light of climate change, National Wildlife Federation worked with the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) and University of Washington Climate Impacts Group to identify climate change-related challenges, needs, and opportunities for conservation in North America’s coastal temperate rainforests and coasts. The 195 resource managers, conservation practitioners, and researchers we engaged requested four types of support to address the challenges they face: decision-support systems and tools; collaboration and other capacity-building activities; new or different science, data and information; and, science communication and outreach.

These results were obtained by analyzing survey responses, input during thirteen focus groups, and worksheets completed during three workshops by the 195 managers, conservation practitioners, and researchers we engaged.

The geographic focus of the assessment is the NPLCC region, which contains some of the last remaining, intact temperate rainforests in the world as well as coastal waters rich in fish, shellfish, whales, and other marine life. The connection among the region’s marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems is evident in these forests – the same salmon that return from the sea to their natal freshwater habitats also nourish the forest, provide food for iconic species such as grizzly bear, and are critical to the Way of Life for many Tribes, First Nations, and Native Alaskans.

Report Findings: Climate-Change Related Challenges, Needs and Opportunities

While this assessment identified two technical challenges to meeting practitioner needs (difficulty addressing uncertainty and difficulty identifying, understanding, and using climate change science, data, tools, and/or information), the remaining four challenges identified all address non-technical obstacles to incorporating climate change into participants’ daily work and long range planning. These include social, cultural, institutional, and geographic barriers to collaboration and communication, and the resulting lack of capacity, coordination, and communication. They also include the sense that climate change is not mainstreamed sufficiently into conservation and resource management practice and competes with other issues for the time, attention, and funding of decision makers. This suggests non-technical obstacles to addressing climate change are key impediments to the practitioner’s ability to address climate change in their daily work and long-range planning, a finding that is often overlooked in standard assessments of the physical and ecological effects of climate change.

The majority of needs and opportunities identified in this assessment respond directly to the non-technical challenges described by project participants. They also emphasize cross-ecosystem approaches to conservation delivery and applied science.

Additional key findings from this assessment include:

  • Decision-support systems and tools are the dominant need in the NPLCC region. Decision-support systems and tools include ecosystem-specific systems and tools such as current and future distribution maps for a particular habitat, location-specific vulnerability assessments, and computer- or web-based tools for a particular region, habitat, or climate change impact.
  • Collaboration, other capacity-building activities, and the generation of new or different science, data, and information are also key needs. Capacity-building activities include guidance, case studies of progress or success in climate change adaptation, development of synthesis products, and facilitating collaboration among people, projects, institutions, and funding sources.
  • While a better understanding of current and projected climate change effects on ecosystems, habitats, species, and indigenous resources in the NPLCC region is important, it is also critically important to generate the science, data, and information needed to develop and use decision-support systems and tools, and to build capacity to address climate change effects.
  • Among the seventeen activity areas for ecosystems, habitats, species, and indigenous resources identified in the analysis, cross-ecosystem activity areas were cited most frequently and repeatedly.
  • Increasing the resilience of the hydrologic network to climate change effects and related stressors is the dominant activity area for ecosystems, habitats, species, and indigenous resources. This is a cross-ecosystem activity area.
  • Other key activity areas for ecosystems, habitats, species, and indigenous resources are: (1) assessing the vulnerability and resilience of marine nearshore systems, the estuarine environment, and Pacific salmon; (2) supporting efforts to identify and address climate priorities related to indigenous natural and cultural resources and, (3) a focus on the NPLCC as a migration and dispersal corridor for wanted and unwanted species movements, especially along the north-south gradient. These are cross-ecosystem activity areas.
  • Promoting effective science communication and outreach will require targeted messaging and a user-to-consumer approach. This is also considered a key need in the NPLCC region.
  • Visualization emerged as a common and dominant theme across the core needs and activity areas. Whether visualizing impacts, developing models, scenarios and other decision-support tools, generating synthesis products, or utilizing web-based resources, information is preferred in a visual and interactive format.


Assessments of the climate change adaptation needs of conservation, climate change, and resource management professionals are increasing in number and availability. However, a nuanced understanding of these practitioner needs still lags behind similar knowledge of physical and ecological climate change impacts. This assessment contributes to the understanding of challenges, needs, and opportunities associated with advancing climate change adaptation, conservation, and sustainable resource management in at least three ways:

  • This assessment is the first of its kind to focus specifically on the NPLCC region and its unique cross-boundary roles within the international and multi-jurisdictional geography covered by the region.
  • Within the above context, this assessment takes a multi-ecosystem approach, identifying practitioner challenges, needs, and opportunities within marine, coastal, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Information on freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems is provided for the first time, while information on marine and coastal ecosystems is supported by similar practitioner needs assessments focusing on coastal ecosystems.
  • The assessment includes specific requests made by tribal members and representatives that would address challenges, needs, and opportunities for responding to climate change impacts on the Indigenous Way of Life.

For more information on the report and on NWF’s climate change and conservation work, please see the links below.

Advancing Landscape-Scale Conservation in North America’s Coastal Temperate Rainforests

Opportunities for managing lands, waters and wildlife in an era of climate change.


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