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Management focus: Applying climate scenarios to National Park Service planning

Management highlight: Applying climate scenarios to National Park Service planning

Incorporating climate variability and change into resource management planning can complicate an already difficult process. The variety of climate models, emissions scenarios, and downscaling methods creates uncertainty about which future climate to plan for and how to balance conflicting management needs within the possibilities.

Recognizing the need for location-specific climate information and decision support, researchers from the NC CASC, USGS, and National Park Service (NPS) are developing a process to integrate climate change scenario planning into standard Service-wide resource planning procedures, such as NPS Resource Stewardship Strategies (RSS). NPS units in the northern Great Plains have served as testing grounds for this process.  

The process begins with scenario planning specialists and their supporting scientists working with park managers to identify particular climate-sensitive natural resource concerns, such as vegetation production, wildlife population management, and erosion, for the site in question. Building on the results of these discussions, the project team develops three to four quantitative climate futures tailored to the identified resource management concerns.  The team then leads a climate change scenario planning workshop with park managers and subject experts to develop each climate future into a climate-resource scenario – a description of expected resource responses in that climate future – and explore whether current management actions and goals are tenable in each scenario.

Scenario planning workshops with resource managers took place at several sites: Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Badlands National Park, and Devils Tower National Monument. Reports on the outcomes of the Knife River and Badlands scenario planning workshops are now available, as are journal publications on lessons learned from combining scenario planning with quantitative ecological simulation modeling at Badlands and, from earlier scenario planning work, at Wind Cave National Park. Researchers are now working with management partners to summarize the most management-relevant findings for Badlands, and to determine how climate change scenario planning can be more seamlessly integrated into the NPS long-term planning processes, using the Devils Tower RSS as a test site.=

Overall, this project is not only pioneering a new method for developing climate scenarios, but is also using lessons learned from that effort for more direct incorporation of climate change scenarios into the NPS planning, an approach that also could be used by other agencies.

Contact Amy Symstad, project lead, for more information. 

Photos by Brian Miller and Robin O'Malley