What’s so new about climate-adaptation conservation?

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Brook Trout - a species endangered by climate change - Source: American Fishes, 1903

I hear this often from policy makers as I make my rounds in Washington.  To them it sounds like climate adaptation conservation is just more of the same, like restoring wetlands and protecting habitat and watersheds.  Haven’t you conservationists been doing that for years?  Why do you need additional funding when the actions proposed sound like what you’ve been doing for decades?

It’s a fair question, and one that conservation advocates have not always answered well.  The actions we must take are familiar.  But we must apply these old actions in new and different ways if we are to seriously help animals and people adjust to climate change.  And the scale of activity must be unprecedented if we want to keep our major cities above water, trout in our streams, our forests intact, and our drinking water clean

The goal of climate adaptation conservation is to protect what scientists call “redundant and resilient natural systems.”  We must do this to sustain ecosystem services, which  include everything from collecting and filtering our drinking water to protecting us from storms and  providing habitat for wildlife. 

Achieving redundant natural systems means assuring sufficient distribution of protected lands —  enough watersheds to provide the water we need, enough habitat for species we treasure, enough wetlands to protect our cities from storms. 

And for them to remain resilient to climate change we must care for these places well, protecting them from climate-induced invasion by non-native species, fire, and extreme storms-any of which can comprise the land’s ability to provide the services we need. 

To gain maximum benefit, we must choose the right places to protect–the ones that offer the most climate adaptation advantages–and then we must make the most of them by restoring them to top condition and managing them to keep them that way.  Both of these elements-careful, scientifically-driven targeting of projects and integration of restoration and management strategies-are needed to create  redundant and resilient natural systems that can sustain us through climate change.

This scientifically based, integrated, and targeted approach with the specific goal of reducing the impacts of climate change sets current climate adaptation efforts apart from the conservation of the past.  The good news is that agencies and nonprofits are figuring it out, and I will be back next week with a few examples, including a project to protect habitat for the lovely trout species pictured above .

Editor’s Note: Jad Daley is director of TPL’s Climate Conservation Program.

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One Response to “What’s so new about climate-adaptation conservation?”

  1. Archangel Says:

    My sense is that the threats that prompted these familiar-sounding protective initiatives in the past were from things like commercial development and/or other man-made intrusions into wilderness areas. What’s different about the threats that a climate-oriented program addresses?

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