Climate change is altering the landscape– and the way land conservation organizations do their work. It affects what to protect and how to plan. Today, more than ever before, land protection is vital for ensuring that ecosystems and the species that depend on them will thrive tomorrow. As the planet warms and the natural world is forced to rearrange itself, land trusts need to permanently protect a network of resilient habitats that will support a full range of biological diversity under changing conditions. Learn more about defining these terms to build resilience here.
Land trusts have an important role in responding to climate change. The federal government’s national Climate Adaptation Strategy for wildlife and plants, a set of recommendations for the next decade, speaks to the importance of land protection in its very first goal: “Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife, and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climate.” The activities this, and other state or local plans, recommend– conservation, adaptation, mitigation — are ones in which land trusts are already actively engaged, bringing a sweeping global challenge down to the local level of specific places. But they also need to adapt to new realities.
Resilience and its opposite, vulnerability, are measured along a spectrum. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines vulnerability as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes.” (You may be familiar with the vulnerability assessments that have been done for some states and regions. These are useful if you are managing land for a specific species, but less so if you are trying to protect one play that will remain relevant as change occurs.)
The three most desirable traits for climate resilience are:
Although the idea of connected, resilient habitat types is simple and intuitive, integrating climate science and new perspectives into land acquisition may sound like a tall order. However, whether your organization works independently or with partners, the information land trust practitioners need is highly accessible. Advances in mapping and computing technologies mean there is more information than ever before to help you understand the biological and physical traits of landscapes. These emerging tools let land trusts measure and consider many factors at once on the scales they need. In this way, it becomes possible to build regional ecological priorities into local land-protection considerations.
This website will help your land trust access the knowledge it needs to learn, plan, adapt, and inspire conservation actions that are responsive to changing climate systems and future uncertainties. If you’re not sure where to get started, try taking our self-assessment, visiting initial guidance in the “learn,” “plan,” “adapt,” and “inspire” categories, or viewing resources by region or land type.
All of the science, maps and models in the world won’t get us closer to building resilience without land conservation on the ground. Land trusts have been leaders in protecting hard-to-protect places, like fertile lowlands, that provide critical diversity of habitat types. The lessons learned from selecting and preserving lands at scale in a shifting environment will guide our field now and for generations ahead. Thank you for your hard work and ongoing leadership and commitment to saving the lands we love!