Environmental Management

, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 1001-1021

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

U.S. Natural Resources and Climate Change: Concepts and Approaches for Management Adaptation

  • Jordan M. WestAffiliated withU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Environmental Assessment Email author 
  • , Susan H. JuliusAffiliated withU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Environmental Assessment
  • , Peter KareivaAffiliated withThe Nature Conservancy
  • , Carolyn EnquistAffiliated withThe Nature Conservancy in New Mexico
  • , Joshua J. LawlerAffiliated withCollege of Forest Resources, University of Washington
  • , Brian PetersenAffiliated withEnvironmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • , Ayana E. JohnsonAffiliated withCenter for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
  • , M. Rebecca ShawAffiliated withThe Nature Conservancy


Public lands and waters in the United States traditionally have been managed using frameworks and objectives that were established under an implicit assumption of stable climatic conditions. However, projected climatic changes render this assumption invalid. Here, we summarize general principles for management adaptations that have emerged from a major literature review. These general principles cover many topics including: (1) how to assess climate impacts to ecosystem processes that are key to management goals; (2) using management practices to support ecosystem resilience; (3) converting barriers that may inhibit management responses into opportunities for successful implementation; and (4) promoting flexible decision making that takes into account challenges of scale and thresholds. To date, the literature on management adaptations to climate change has mostly focused on strategies for bolstering the resilience of ecosystems to persist in their current states. Yet in the longer term, it is anticipated that climate change will push certain ecosystems and species beyond their capacity to recover. When managing to support resilience becomes infeasible, adaptation may require more than simply changing management practices—it may require changing management goals and managing transitions to new ecosystem states. After transitions have occurred, management will again support resilience—this time for a new ecosystem state. Thus, successful management of natural resources in the context of climate change will require recognition on the part of managers and decisions makers of the need to cycle between “managing for resilience” and “managing for change.”


Climate change Adaptation Resource management Ecosystems Resilience Uncertainty Triage Thresholds