Science Without Borders

Black bears were one of eleven case study species to have their potential future range shifts mapped by Meade Krosby in a project aimed at helping managers build climate resilience by enhancing landscape connectivity. (Photo by Diane Renkin.)

 Connectivity and Climate

On a grey Monday in the middle of March, Dr. Meade Krosby and I drive north from Seattle. Outside our windows, suburbia gradually gives way to farmland, and we begin to glimpse forest in the distance.

We’re headed to a workshop at the North Cascades Institute, where Krosby will present her latest research to a group of National Park Service managers. She’s also planning on unveiling a brand new computer tool to help these same resource managers and others like them respond to climate change.

As a researcher with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, Krosby has been busy compiling a series of maps that span northern Washington, northern Idaho, and southern British Columbia. These maps feature complicated shapes that look as if someone spilled colorful ink into the valleys of the North Cascades. In fact, the shapes represent output from models that combine information about habitat suitability for each of 12 different case study species with projected climate change and land use data to outline where future range shifts are likely to occur for species like black bear, bull trout, and lynx.

Under climate change, plant and animal communities are expected to shift in distribution. In the Northwest, species are expected to move further north and higher in elevation as they seek cooler habitats. Maintaining habitat connectivity to allow these range shifts to occur is a top conservation priority, but protecting critical corridors can be complicated. Many corridors span a patchwork of land use types including agricultural, residential, and public, much like the patchwork of land use types we see on our drive north. Even in protected areas rules and policies for management depend on whether land is private, National Forest, National Park, or tribal, and whether it lies within the United States or Canada. These divisions make it hard to plan at the landscape level.

Krosby’s colorful maps are the result of an impressive effort working with multiple agencies on both sides of the international border and with several tribes and First Nations to pull the best information into her maps. This effort required her to get all sorts of data sets to “talk to each other” and to get officials from multiple groups to do the same. The work has been challenging. At one point, Krosby had to hold a key meeting at the Peace Arch Park on the international border because getting clearance for American and Canadian officials to meet in either country was too complicated. Ecological connectivity requires a high degree of political connectivity, she says. But despite what she’s already accomplished, Krosby is nervous that her biggest challenge may still be ahead of her.

“I’m a little worried to be honest,” says Krosby. “I’m worried that managers may be getting jaded about yet another climate tool that won’t actually help them do their job.” Meade’s end goal is to turning all the data that she has compiled and organized into a tool that will be helpful for land managers.

As we arrive at the North Cascades Institute we meet Regina Rochefort, a science advisor for North Cascades National Park Complex and the group’s lead on climate adaptation. Soon more managers file in, including Jason Ransom, park wildlife biologist, and Ashley Rawhouser, park aquatic ecologist. Once everyone has introduced themselves, Krosby takes the stage.

“Enhancing ecological connectivity—the degree to which landscapes facilitate the movement of the organisms within them—is the most frequently recommended strategy for increasing biological resilience to climate change,” Krosby begins. “This is because a primary way species respond to climate change is by adjusting their geographic ranges to track shifting areas of climatic suitability.”

After her introduction, Krosby shows the workshop participants how to access her data files in the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative’s Conservation Planning Atlas (powered by Databasin), an online tool for mapping and analysis. Once the participants log in, they find a series of folders with the data files and final reports for each case species. Krosby walks everyone through simple functions from combining map layers to adjusting transparency—tasks that can be done in DataBasin without any expertise in Geographical Information Systems.

By the session’s end, everyone seems impressed. “We need to have more workshops like this,” says Rochefort. Krosby is more than ready to return for a follow up. She and Rochefort agree to schedule a future workshop for the end of summer.

“The main lesson learned from this project is that we need to be working across the border if we really want to help species respond to climate change,” said Krosby in her wrap up. “But to do that effectively requires intention and commitment. Seeing the barriers we’ve faced just with this project—like getting people in the same room, getting data to talk and people to talk—this stuff doesn’t happen unless you do something to make it happen. We’ve learned the importance of flexibility, creativity, and persistence in finding ways to bring people to work together, because people have really different jobs and really different mandates, and it can be hard.”

As we exit into the drizzle, I’m reminded of a meeting of the Northwest Climate Science Center (NW CSC) Executive Stakeholder Advisory Committee that was held in Portland more than a year earlier. After Krosby presented a summary of her work there, one of the agency managers summed up the research needs of her agency by saying, “We just need thirty more Meades [Krosby].”

Scaling Up/ Scaling Down

Further to the east of us in Idaho and Montana, Linh Hoang faces similar challenges trying to manage resources across changing landscapes that span multiple borders. Hoang is the Regional Climate Change Coordinator for the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service’s Region One. Her work with the Forest Service is guided by the USDA Climate Change Action Plan, developed in 2014 and by a series of executive orders requiring the Forest Service to evaluate the impacts of climate change to their public lands.

Forest Service Region One, like all forest service regions, received a Climate Change Performance Score Card in 2011 that requires, among other things, a climate vulnerability assessment for all managed resources.

“Every region is taking a different angle at meeting this particular requirement,” explains Hoang. “I felt it was best to go all in and do it all at once, large scale—assessing all the resources that we manage across the whole region.”

Going “all in” resulted in the Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership (NRAP), a region-wide climate change vulnerability assessment for natural resources and ecosystem services with a set of recommended adaptation strategies. It’s a several-hundred-page-long written synthesis of the very best climate science with multiple tables of recommended adaptation tactics. Hoang created NRAP with David Peterson and Jessica Halofsky of the University of Washington and Jessi Kershner of EcoAdapt.

Now Hoang has the dual challenge of connecting NRAP to larger, transboundary adaptation efforts while helping to turn it into something useful for managers in their day-to-day decision making. Essentially, she has to both scale it up and scale it down.

As for scaling it up, Hoang sits on the steering committee of the Crown Managers Partnership (CMP), a transboundary partnership among the agencies of Alberta, British Columbia, and Montana and several First Nations and tribes. To date, the CMP has worked with partners in the Crown Adaptation Partnership (CAP—Crown Managers Partnership, Crown Conservation Initiative, the US Forest Service’s Northern Rockies Adaptation Partnership, and The Wilderness Society) to hold a series of workshops on cold water fisheries, terrestrial invasive plants, and whitebark and limber pine. The next topic to be addressed will be mesocarnivores, mid-sized predators like coyote, lynx, fox and wolverine.

Hoang’s current challenge is related to scaling down. Specifically, she’s working with Forest Service planning teams to develop approaches to filter through NRAP’s recommended strategies and tactics to determine which are most relevant—not just for their subregions—but for their forests, landscapes, and projects. The goal, as Hoang describes it, is to use the hundreds of pages of synthesis to decide “what to do first and what to do second, and what to spend money on in the short term and what to spend money on in the long term.” Essentially, how to weigh climate vulnerabilities with the feasibility of specific actions.

It can be hard to get managers to commit the time to be deliberate about climate adaptation planning, according to Hoang. There’s a temptation to jump to one of two strategies: trying to protect all refugia or putting money toward the most vulnerable resources. In some cases, it may be better to identify areas that are projected to stay refugia and leave those places alone. Similarly, it may be best to stop investing in the most vulnerable resources with the recognition that money is better spent elsewhere.

“Thinking big is scary,” explains Hoang, “because it creates accountability. Managers have to explain, Why this action? Why here? Why now? What they need is a framework for justifying those decisions.”

This is where Jessi Kershner of EcoAdapt and Alicia Torregrosa and Andrea Woodward of the US Geological Survey come in. With funding from the NW CSC, Kershner, Torregrosa, and Woodward are working with Hoang to create exactly that type of framework—one that will help managers use NRAP to rationalize difficult decisions about how to manage their resources. Their aim is to develop flexible, informative tools that support decisions without being too prescriptive or complicated. As Torregrosa explains, “As a scientist I can get really deeply into the scientific climate change data and why this projection is better for this area, but a lot of that ‘how the car works’ stuff is unimportant to someone who only wants to drive the car.”

According to Hoang, success for the project will mean being able to say that specific pieces of NRAP were used to incorporate specific elements of climate adaptation planning into specific forest plan components. “In the next two years or so, I think we’ll be able to actually show how we’re using this information,” says Hoang. “But for now, that process is still under development.” The Forest Service is currently developing a revised set of climate scorecards due to come out in 2017. Hoang hopes the emphasis in the 2.0 generation will shift from synthesizing the science to developing and sharing the processes of using that science.

“We will evolve as we do this, and we’ll have to go back and evaluate what part worked and what part didn’t.” As Hoang puts it, “We’re in the trenches right now, and rather than planning the trenches, we have to stay down in there digging them.”

This map shows projected changes in the black bear climatic niche (area of climatic suitability) for the 2080s created with results from two different global climate models under a high emissions scenario. Areas with types of land use or vegetation that are not compatible with Black bear have been removed. Maps like this help managers identify which areas are most important to long-term species conservation. (Image courtesy of Meade Krosby.)

Dr. Meade Krosby compiled a series of maps spanning northern Washington and Idaho and southern British Columbia to outline where future range shifts are likely to occur for species like black bear, bull trout, and lynx. She has also developed online tools to help make her maps easy to use for resource managers in different agencies and governments. (Photo courtesy of Meade Krosby.)

Meade Krosby works with partners at the National Park Service to provide data synthesis for climate-smart conservation planning. (Photo courtesy of Meade Krosby.)

Linh Hoang is the Regional Climate Change Coordinator for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Region One. Currently, she works with Forest Service planning teams to develop strategies for building climate resilience into forests and landscapes in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and Montana. (Photo by Linh Hoang.)

Planning for large-scale habitat connectivity to support climate-driven range shifts means pulling together data and people from multiple agencies and governments—a task that is rarely easy. Pictured: the Columbia River in Washington. (Photo by the Army Corps of Engineers.)