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A team of North Central CASC-funded researchers worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to incorporate climate change information into their strategic planning processes. This is part of a larger CASC initiative to increase engagement with the resource management community. 


An infographic showing 5 steps of Climate Informed Management Planning.
Climate Informed Management Planning infographic: A process co-designed by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and Wildlife Conservation Society to integrate climate change into a statewide habitatThis spotlight was written by Jordan Bush, National CASC Science Communication Specialist.plan. Click image to enlarge. (Public domain.)

Although experts have warned of warming temperatures for decades, climate change can feel like tomorrow’s problem. For the resource managers of America’s public lands -- stretched thin by tight budgets and broad responsibilities -- more immediate threats, such as advancing species invasions and widespread habitat loss, must often take priority over planning for potential climate eventualities. 

“There are literal and figurative fires that managers are putting out on a daily basis,” says Molly Cross, the Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Those are and feel very pressing, whereas climate change can still feel like something that’s a little further down the road.” 

Yet as forest fires, droughts, and extreme weather events have intensified in recent years, many management agencies are re-prioritizing  

They know climate change is already here. 

“Anybody who has their eyes out on the landscape and is monitoring populations of fish and wildlife is acquainted with the large-scale changes that are occurring [in Wyoming],” says Paul Dey, Aquatic Habitat and Program Manager with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department

“We’ve seen the snow lines receding. We’ve seen changes in timing, for [stream] runoff in particular. We’ve always had droughts, that’s the way it is, but the severity, the frequency of droughts is even higher.” 

As climate change shifts from tomorrow’s problem to today’s priority, managers are looking to expand their existing planning processes to incorporate climate insights. This can be difficult – analyzing and interpreting climate data can be time-consuming and complex, and determining a course of action necessitates hard conversations about values and priorities.  

“I was daunted by the prospect, to try to either facilitate [a workshop] myself or to find an internal facilitator,” Dey says. 

That’s where the Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) come in. 


Experts at North Central CASC and Wildlife Conservation Society connect scientists and managers 

Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of six consortium institutions that form the North Central CASC, work with resource managers integrate climate data into their strategic planning. This work is part of a series of CASC projects led by Cross exploring how to increase engagement with the resource management community. 

“[I work] as a boundary spanner to connect climate experts with natural resource managers and conservation practitioners who are making decisions about their goals and actions and trying to bring that information into their conservation planning,” says Cross.  

“To ignore climate change could mean that we are investing in conservation and management actions that are not going to be as effective as we thought they would be.” 

As part of this effort, Cross partnered with Dey and his colleagues to lead a climate change workshop for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department last April. The workshop focused on incorporating climate data into the agency’s 2020 Statewide Habitat Plan

“That habitat plan, as far as I’m aware, is fairly unique among state natural resource agencies,” Dey says. “[We use it to] coordinate how the different sections and programs throughout the agency work on habitat; so, it helps us all kind of work together and also utilize internal as well as external funding sources.” 

“As we were scheming and contemplating how we were going to go about the revision, we realized that our capabilities of addressing and thinking about climate change could use some help.” 

Cross was particularly excited about this opportunity to contribute to an actionable plan and learn more about what agencies need to improve their climate adaptation processes. 

“It was a really great opportunity to show how we can incorporate available information into [an existing plan], while also using the planning process to articulate high priority management-relevant information gaps and needs for the agency going forward,” Cross says. 


Virtual workshop yields surprising insights 

A wide waterfall cuts between sheer cliffs, ending in a rocky pool bordered by shrubs and pine trees.
The North Central CASC supported a workshop with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to explore the effects of climate change on aquatic habitats across the state. Photo taken in Gibbon Falls in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. (Credit: Alan Cressler, USGS)

Workshop participants attended a combination of lectures and discussion groups over several days, hearing from climate experts and each other about projections and the impacts of potential future conditions.  

“We spend a lot of time in our workshops talking about the consequences [of climate change],” Cross says. “But we try to spend an equal amount of time talking about, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ So trying to be really solution oriented and focusing on what can managers do to either reduce climate change impacts and vulnerabilities or think about shifting their goals.” 

In the Wyoming workshop, the organizers concentrated on aquatic habitats in four specific regions across the state. 

“Really going with the theme of trying to have specific actions, we decided to focus on [four] geographic areas around the state,” explains Dey. “It maximized benefit in a way, where there’s sort of something in there for everybody. You might not happen to be in that watershed, but you’re sort of nearby.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced the event completely online. Although there was some early discomfort with the virtual setting, Cross and Dey were pleasantly surprised to find that in some ways they experienced more participation than they would have at an in-person event. They had as many as 60 attendees in some sessions, about a quarter of the biology and management staff in the agency, and their brainstorming sessions were far more productive on shared Google Documents than they have ever been on whiteboards. 

“People would start typing their thoughts,” Dey recalls. “The very action of doing that seemed to stimulate others and soon there’s a whole lot of typing going on.” 

“We generated these pretty long lists of ideas that were really fruitful, really a treasure trove of information coming out of people’s brains as part of the workshop.”  

Cross agrees. “We got way more information from [the Google Docs] than I’ve experienced in an in-person workshop.” 

Dey, Cross, and a core group of leaders within the Wyoming Game and Fish Department spent a long time combing through these contributed ideas, looking for knowledge gaps that managers feel would improve their ability to create and implement climate adaptation strategies. Through more feedback from the whole staff (even those not at the workshop), they identified 20 “Statements of Information Needs.” 

Cross and her team intend to formally analyze these results as part of a larger initiative seeking to identify management priorities and needs across the North Central region. She will also share these information needs with her colleagues at the North Central CASC to help inform potential future research directions. 

“Part of the goal was to help guide strategic [science] decisions for the North Central CASC,” Cross says.  


Partnership between NGOs and North Central CASC pushes needle forward on actionable science 

The Wildlife Conservation Society, as well as their frequent collaborators Conservation Science Partners, are official members of the North Central CASC consortium. 

“The North Central CASC is currently the only CASC that has non-governmental organizations involved as consortium partners,” says Alisa Wade, the Research Coordinator for the North Central CASC. “They bring a wealth of experience in approaching science with communities and organizations as partners in mind.” 

“They’ve really been in some ways leaders for us as a CASC.” 

Cross’s projects embody the North Central CASC’s continuing commitment to creating science that can be used directly by managers and conservation practitioners to meet their priorities, dubbed actionable science. 

“I think the reason Dr. Cross is so successful in the work she does is that she is always open to the idea that there is no single best approach to doing actionable science,” says Wade. “Molly’s search for priorities has really helped us to identify broad questions [within systems] and more specific questions about planning processes.”  

“Having Molly as a partner has been great for the CASC.” 


Workshop translated into on-the-ground applications 

Bison calf in sagebrush in Wyoming
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department 2020 Statwide Habitat Plan provides a unified roadmap for how the department will work to protect and enhace habitats across the state, including sagebrush ecosystems like the one pictured. (Credit: Neal Herbert, National Park Service. Public domain.)

Since the workshop, Dey and his team have finalized revisions on the 2020 Wyoming Statewide Habitat Plan and the workshop report. In contrast to previous years, this new habitat plan has a mechanism for prioritizing management actions that specifically address climate change. 

“We have an internal funding source, the Habitat Trust Fund, and the employees put together applications annually to get funding,” Dey explains. “In our revised habitat plan, we [rate proposals] on a 15-point scale, and one of those points is about climate change now.” 

“It’s a very explicit outcome of the workshop where projects that promote resiliency in the face of climate change, they’ll get a leg up toward getting funding.”  

For Dey, this work represents a renewed and focused commitment by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to climate-informed management. He hopes to hold additional climate workshops in the future, perhaps on terrestrial systems to compliment this one’s aquatic theme. 

“I’m glad we did it and I look forward to the next project,” he says. “I hope we can keep rolling.” 

He is particularly grateful to Cross and her collaborators at the North Central CASC. 

“I’m so appreciative of the [North Central] Climate Adaptation Science Center for supporting Molly in this project,” Dey says. “I think it was exactly what we needed, and it really improved our habitat plan. I don’t think we could have done 10% as well if one of us would have tried to facilitate it.” 

Cross is thrilled that the workshop inspired the agency to consider climate change in such concrete terms. 

“What was interesting about this project was going deep into a single agency and a specific upcoming plan they were developing,” she says. “For me it was exciting to have that opportunity. And seeing how it actually got incorporated into the plan was incredibly rewarding.” 


This work was part of the projects “Enabling Climate-Informed Planning and Decisions about Species of Conservation Concern in the North Central Region: Phase 1 and Phase 2,” supported by the North Central CASC. 

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