Categorized | Climate Change

Climate Convergence: Common Themes in Agency Climate Plans

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo: NPS

Adaptation plans. Mitigation strategies. It seems sometimes that hardly a week goes by without one or more agencies putting forth an approach for managing land, water, infrastructure or other assets in the face of already-occurring and anticipated future changes in climate. Since the nation as yet lacks an overarching planning framework and communication structure for the development of these plans, they have to date mainly been developed in isolation. This begs the question: how do the various plans compare? Are the agencies drawing similar conclusions about what they need to emphasize and how to proceed? Are any (or all) of the agencies moving forward with significant gaps in their plans?

Defenders of Wildlife examined recently-released climate change response plans from three of the four major federal land management agencies: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S Forest Service (USFS). The Bureau of Land Management has not yet embarked on a comprehensive climate change strategic plan.

In comparing the three plans we found significant parallels, despite the fact that each agency produced its climate change strategic plan independently and in the absence of overarching guidance for the elements those plans should contain. Though they differed in structure, the areas of emphasis in each could be summarized under four major topic areas, which provide a solid general framework:

  • Climate Change Policy
  • Adaptation Science and Management
  • Mitigation
  • Education, Outreach and Collaboration

Within each of these larger themes, our analysis presents the specific objectives and actions presented by each agency’s plan.  Looking at the three plans in tandem provides a clearer vision of the types of goals and actions needed to prepare agencies to respond to climate change than any of the three plans offer alone. Thus, viewing the three in this crosswalk format and drawing lessons from that is more useful than using any single plan as a template for future plans. We suggest that future climate change planning efforts can benefit from this crosswalk, which shows both the commonality among the agencies and highlights ways in which their thinking on particular aspects of climate change planning have differed.

Defenders of Wildlife’s “Climate Change and Federal Land Management” comparison paper is available at:

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- who has written 22 posts on dotWild.

Aimee Delach is a Senior Policy Analyst at Defenders of Wildlife. Aimee develops policies to help land managers and decision-makers incorporate climate change threats into efforts to protect wildlife and habitats.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.