A new report released today by WCS shows real world examples of how conservationists in the U.S. have successfully changed their conservation strategies to adapt to climate change.

Aimed at conservation practitioners, the report, Embracing Change: Adapting Conservation Approaches to Address a Changing Climate, highlights a “4Ws” model – WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY – demonstrating how U.S. field scientists and conservations are responding to climate impacts, such as more extreme weather events, species migrations, and habitat erosion.

WCS-Americas Climate Adaptation Program Director, Dr. Molly Cross said: “The most important way that climate-informed conservation is different from business-as-usual is the process by which the latest climate science is considered when setting goals and choosing actions.”

After taking into account the best available science and how climate change impacts, from increased droughts, wildfires, and floods, along with habitat change and loss of species, could affect conservation goals, practitioners may decide their conservation approaches need to shift in targeted ways to reach desired conservation outcomes.

In the report, 12 examples are offered of how NGOs and conservationists around the U.S. are modifying their approaches to maximize the effectiveness of their investments as the climate changes. Some examples highlighted, as divided into the 4Ws:

WHAT: Adjusting our actions to attain conservation objectives is often the first line of defense against climate change.

SOLUTION: Ducks Unlimited of Illinois is altering their restoration planting mixes to foster species expected to thrive under future conditions in order to shift the composition of floodplain forests to help this ecosystem persist and provide valuable functions for wildlife as the climate changes.

WHERE: It can be strategic to invest climate adaptation actions preferentially in some parts of the landscape over others.

SOLUTION: To help native Hawaiian birds adapt to the expansion of avian malaria caused by warming, Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance is restoring forest habitat at higher elevations above the new mosquito line to connect these key species to higher elevation climate refugia.

WHEN: As climate change and its impacts accelerate, quick actions or a shift in their timing may be necessary to keep up with or stay ahead of those changes.

SOLUTION: Bloom times are changing for many plants in Arizona as result of precipitation and temperature changes, with negative consequences for pollinators. Sky Island Alliance is now adapting their restoration efforts to include species that grow and flower at different times of the year.

WHY: It may be necessary to revise goals to be more forward-looking and accommodating of change and uncertainty.

SOLUTION: Sierra Nevada meadows restoration work conducted by American Rivers previously prioritized wildlife habitat. After considering how the climate impacts like reduced snowpacks would affect their conservation objectives for these systems, American Rivers shifted their priority to hydrological function instead.

To make the most of limited conservation resources, there is a need for responsible and adaptive investments of both time and money that consider climate variability and projected changes.

The report recommends users begin by consulting the latest science on observed climate trends and projections of potential future climate impacts and consider how those changes may affect the ability to achieve current goals with current actions. The report notes that this does not need to be an overwhelming process, and it is one that has already been done by many practitioners using some of the adaptation planning resources cited in the report.

“In this era of uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we look critically at the durability of our conservation approaches and assumptions,” added Cross.

These projects have been made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation granted through the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund. Between 2011 and 2017, the Fund invested more than $14 million in 78 adaptation projects across 35 different states and territories the U.S., covering 15 different ecosystem types.

The Fund supports 501(c)(3) nonprofit conservation organizations in implementing cutting edge climate adaptation strategies informed by strong climate science. These strategies are designed to help wildlife and ecosystems adapt to rapidly-shifting environmental conditions brought on by climate change.

The priority placed by the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund on science-informed, on-the-ground innovations to help nature adapt to climate change is catalyzing the conservation field to incorporate climate considerations as a standard practice. Through the Fund, WCS supports organizations who are the leaders in the adaptation field and partners with them to invest in the future of conservation.

For more information on projects supported by the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund, videos, and detailed descriptions visit our web site: http://wcsclimateadaptationfund.org