Monday, August 3, 2009 - 2:10 PM

OOS 6-3: Application of an integrated climate change assessment and adaptation framework for conservation planning and management in the southwestern USA

Carolyn A.F. Enquist1, David F. Gori1, Molly S. Cross2, and Evan H. Girvetz3. (1) The Nature Conservancy, (2) Wildlife Conservation Society, (3) University of Washington


Warming trends in the southwestern U.S. have exceeded global averages by 50% since the 1970’s and climate models broadly concur that significant warming and drying will continue for decades. Ecological effects of observed climate impacts have been documented in the region, including forest dieback and species population changes. Conservation practitioners and natural resource managers have begun to ask how to respond to the complex consequences of climate change. To address this need for information and guidance, we developed an integrated three-part framework designed to (1) assess regional climate impacts, (2) prioritize action based on vulnerability, and (3) identify climate adaptation strategies in priority landscapes using a participatory process.


We implemented this framework in a pilot study in New Mexico using a series of new approaches. We first applied a climate analysis tool, the ClimateWizard, to map recent trends and future anomalies in a combined temperature-precipitation variable that indicates biological moisture stress, or drying. When state-wide results were summarized by watersheds, we found that 93% had experienced increasing annual trends in drying during the past 30+ years; most of these will continue to dry in the future. To gauge the potential vulnerability of species found within these watersheds, we compared the number of species with conservation status to recent and predicted drying. Watersheds with the highest species richness tended to be those showing the greatest drying. Based on these results and recent field observations, we identified the Jemez Mountains and its associated watersheds as New Mexico’s highest priority landscape for adaptation-focused conservation action.

Subsequently, we convened a workshop for managers in this landscape to test an adaptation planning process developed by a group of scientists and managers. Our workshop specifically sought to identify strategies centered on two management “targets,” a species and an ecological process relative to a shared management objective. After working through the process, participants were able to identify and prioritize a suite of adaptation strategies that address cross-boundary issues and promote multi-agency collaboration.

We now are applying our integrated framework to neighboring states with the goal of further developing and refining each of its components. Overall, this approach has great potential to inform conservation action, monitoring, forest and fire planning, and in building a regional learning network–all crucial to meeting the natural resource management challenges posed by climate change.