Environmental Management

, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 1033-1042

First online:

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

Options for National Parks and Reserves for Adapting to Climate Change

  • Jill S. BaronAffiliated withU.S. Geological SurveyNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , Lance GundersonAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Studies, Emory University
  • , Craig D. AllenAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, Jemez Mountain Field Station
  • , Erica FleishmanAffiliated withNational Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California
  • , Donald McKenzieAffiliated withU.S.D.A. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
  • , Laura A. MeyersonAffiliated withCollege of Environment and Life Sciences, University of Rhode Island
  • , Jill OropezaAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State UniversityWater Department, City of Fort Collins
  • , Nate StephensonAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, Sequoia and Kings Canyon Field Station


Past and present climate has shaped the valued ecosystems currently protected in parks and reserves, but future climate change will redefine these conditions. Continued conservation as climate changes will require thinking differently about resource management than we have in the past; we present some logical steps and tools for doing so. Three critical tenets underpin future management plans and activities: (1) climate patterns of the past will not be the climate patterns of the future; (2) climate defines the environment and influences future trajectories of the distributions of species and their habitats; (3) specific management actions may help increase the resilience of some natural resources, but fundamental changes in species and their environment may be inevitable. Science-based management will be necessary because past experience may not serve as a guide for novel future conditions. Identifying resources and processes at risk, defining thresholds and reference conditions, and establishing monitoring and assessment programs are among the types of scientific practices needed to support a broadened portfolio of management activities. In addition to the control and hedging management strategies commonly in use today, we recommend adaptive management wherever possible. Adaptive management increases our ability to address the multiple scales at which species and processes function, and increases the speed of knowledge transfer among scientists and managers. Scenario planning provides a broad forward-thinking framework from which the most appropriate management tools can be chosen. The scope of climate change effects will require a shared vision among regional partners. Preparing for and adapting to climate change is as much a cultural and intellectual challenge as an ecological challenge.


Adaptation Climate change National parks Reserves Uncertainty Scenario planning Adaptive management