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Adapting Conservation to Climate Change: Perspectives from the Field
Will Price

As governments, businesses, and conservation organizations debate what can be done to decelerate emissions of greenhouse gases, they are already mobilizing to deal with the repercussions.More and more, strategies to conserve biodiversity and sustain ecosystem functions take into consideration how conditions and disturbance regimes will change going forward, thinking about where flora and fauna will need to move, or how to identify and secure places that have always proven to harbor biodiversity.

In the last few years a number of studies have begun to paint a picture of how ecosystems of North America will be affected by shifting seasons: more droughts in some places and floods in others, higher tides, bigger storms, and many other possibilities. However, climate models are still hard to interpret at the scale at which we must make conservation decisions and investments. Some changes at this point seem certain (like the rising seas) or are already being observed (average annual temperatures). Other changes are harder to predict, in many cases because they rely on complex climatic interactions that do not yet downscale reliably to specific regions—especially when the variable of interest is inherently dynamic (e.g. intensity of storm events). Yet despite these uncertainties many organizations are finding ways to take actions that are needed to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.
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For our part, the Pinchot Institute seeks to further the dialogue and move new thinking to the ground where it is needed. Last year the Institute hosted a major national symposium on “Conservation in the Anthropocene” inviting scientists and land managers to share their thinking on how conservation must evolve during this new epoch.1 We are also working with organizations in various parts of the country to identify adaptive conservation strategies and help grow the capacity and expertise to facilitate their implementation.2

Among the most influential organizations working on this challenge in North America are the Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the US Forest Service, though many others are doing similar thinking and adapting their strategies and actions to a new world. What follows are a few vignettes on how these organizations are coping with the challenges of climate change in the field.

Conservation in a Changing World by Peter Howell, Executive Vice President Conservation Capital Programs, Open Space Institute

Climate Change and Conservation - A Fish and a Marsh by Noah Matson, Vice President for Landscape Conservation and Climate Adaptation, Defenders of Wildlife

Can a Federally-led Partnership Facilitate Regional Change? by Sarah Low, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Philadelphia Field Station

The Nature Conservancy's Strategies for Climate Change by Chris Topik, Director, Restoring America's Forests, North American Region, The Nature Conservancy

Will Price is Director of Conservation Programs at the Pinchot Institute in Princeton, NJ.

Notes:
1 Sample, V. Alaric. 2012. “Redefining Forest Conservation in the Anthropocene.” Pinchot Letter 16.4 http://www.pinchot.org/doc/420

2 Beecher, Susan. 2014. “Adapting to a Changing Climate: Risks & Opportunities for the Upper Delaware River Region.” http://www.pinchot.org/doc/499
 
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