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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley


Parks Stewardship Forum delivers interdisciplinary information and problem-solving techniques across all topics relevant to the world’s parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation. The journal represents all areas of inquiry relevant to understanding and management of parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation, including but not limited to the natural sciences, cultural resources-related disciplines, social sciences, and interdisciplinary perspectives. 

Climate Change and Protected Places: Adapting to New Realities

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Historic Fort Jefferson and the marine resources of Dry Tortugas National Park (USA) are already being affected by climate change. Designing resilience to climate change will be the major challenge facing protected area managers in the decades to come. DOROTHY A. DAVIS AND GARY E. DAVIS
Climate change is the most serious challenge facing place-based conservation. The featured theme papers in this, the inaugural issue of Parks Stewardship Forum, include essays and case studies focused on adapting and building resilience to climate change, offering examples of what's being done now and ideas about what needs to be done in the future.  Several authors suggest that climate change compels us to rethink conservation from the ground up.


Welcome to Parks Stewardship Forum: An Introduction to the Journal from the Editors

An overview of Parks Stewardship Forum from the managing editors, published in the inaugural issue of the journal, whose theme is "Climate Change and Protected Places: Adapting to New Realities."

Points of View


A "Letter from Woodstock" editorial column.

Theme Articles

Collaborating to build climate resilience

A short commentary on Jonathan B. Jarvis's essay "Designing climate resilience for people and nature at the landscape scale," published in this issue of Parks Stewardship Forum.

Collapse of a desert bird community over the past century driven by climate change

Climate change has caused deserts, already defined by climatic extremes, to warm and dry more rapidly than other ecoregions in the contiguous United States over the last 50 years. Desert birds persist near the edge of their physiological limits, and climate change could cause lethal dehydration and hyperthermia, leading to decline or extirpation of some species. We evaluated how desert birds have responded to climate and habitat change by resurveying historic sites throughout the Mojave Desert that were originally surveyed for avian diversity during the early 20th century by Joseph Grinnell and colleagues. We found strong evidence of an avian community in collapse. Sites lost on average 43% of their species, and occupancy probability declined significantly for 39 of 135 breeding birds. The common raven was the only native species to substantially increase across survey sites. Climate change, particularly decline in precipitation, was the most important driver of site-level persistence, while habitat change had a secondary influence. Habitat preference and diet were the two most important species traits associated with occupancy change. The presence of surface water reduced the loss of site-level richness, creating refugia. The collapse of the avian community over the past century may indicate a larger imbalance in the Mojave and provide an early warning of future ecosystem disintegration, given climate models unanimously predict an increasingly dry and hot future.

New Perspectives (Non-Peer Reviewed)

Makah Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Resource Assessment: A preliminary framework to utilize traditional knowledge in climate change planning

Since time immemorial, Qwidičča?a•tx, or the Makah Tribe, have lived on the northwest Olympic Peninsula in what is currently Washington state. Climate change has already impacted the Makah Tribe and will continue to do so in the future. Our history, archaeological archives, stories, and knowledge have proven that the Makah Tribe has an extensive history of adapting to changing climates. Traditional, cultural, and Indigenous knowledges can play an important role in climate adaptation planning, and for tribes and Indigenous peoples it can be a crucial component in ensuring that planning strategies and outcomes are culturally appropriate and aligned with community values. The Makah Climate Change Workgroup, an internal workgroup of the Makah Tribe, has begun a Makah Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Resource Assessment to complement and inform our Makah Climate Impacts Assessment and Makah Climate Adaptation Plan. In this presentation, we outline our preliminary framework demonstrating how tribes and Indigenous groups can utilize traditional and Indigenous knowledges within their own planning processes in the following ways: to (1) provide historical baselines and fill in gaps in monitoring data; (2) identify cultural resources that are vulnerable to future climate change; (3) identify potential climate adaptation and mitigation strategies; and (4) engage the community on climate change impacts.

Building resilient communities in Belize through climate-smart agricultural practices

Indigenous communities have always coexisted with nature. Their subsistence has had a dependence on the heightened stewardship of the natural environment, requiring that their farming practices evolve and adapt to today’s rapidly changing environment. As the effects of climate change become more obvious in weather pattern alterations influencing agricultural yields, so do the resilient farming practices that are being adapted to strengthen the agricultural sector. Since forests are sources of livelihoods for Mayan communities, agricultural advances promoting forest conservation and good governance are viewed as socially and environmentally responsive approaches to rural development. Cacao-based agroforestry is a long-term solution to improve our forests’ health and livelihoods in southern Belize. This system allows for the development of entrepreneurship opportunities through small-scale business models in agrotourism that highlight the cultural and biodiversity richness in these communities. The incorporation of apiculture and Inga alley cropping ensure that traditional crops such as corn, beans, and vegetables can be continuously cultivated, decreasing the deforestation rate, hence conserving our landscape and its ecosystem. These practices involve the growing of staples for the organized communities, who are embracing ecofriendly solutions for a sustainable future. The experience and knowledge developed within the communities have resulted in the development and application of climate-smart solutions and adaptation mechanisms that ensure livelihoods continue to thrive. These local initiatives establish an easy-to-replicate forest governance model, influencing regional and even national solutions to building climate-resilient forest communities in the Maya Golden Landscape.

Evaluating the adaptive capacity of cultural landscapes to climate change: Incorporating site-specific knowledge in National Park Service vulnerability assessments

Cultural landscapes are complex systems of natural and cultural resources that are affected by changes in climatic and non-climatic factors. The National Park Service, Pacific West Region, has developed a vulnerability assessment (VA) model for identifying, evaluating, and responding to the effects of climate change to cultural landscapes by utilizing peer-reviewed data and local knowledge to inform management strategies that can reduce the vulnerability of cultural landscapes to deterioration and loss. Key to developing site-specific adaption plans is a VA based on analysis of the significance, exposure, and sensitivity of landscape characteristics and features, and identification of the management capacity to reduce the sensitivity of the cultural landscape to change. The resulting assessment compares the level of projected vulnerability of the landscape as a whole and of each characteristic or feature under evaluation, and the identification of methods for minimizing the sensitivity of the cultural landscape to climate change. This paper provides an overview of the VA model through case studies from the state of Washington, the territory of Guam, and Tinian, commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.

Linking agrobiodiversity and culture through the adoption of agroforestry practices: The Agroforestry Indigenous Agents

Agroforestry is the result of a dialectical relationship between humans and the environment, capable of increasing agricultural biodiversity. In the Brazilian Amazon region, Agroforestry Indigenous Agents have been disseminating these practices through participatory processes. They combine traditional knowledge and new techniques and technologies in order to ensure food security, improve environmental conservation, and guarantee a good quality of life. They promote behavior change towards more sustainable land management practices through knowledge sharing.

A tale of two cities: Annapolis and St. Augustine balancing preservation and community values in an era of rising seas

Annapolis, Maryland, and St. Augustine, Florida, are colonial cities on the East Coast of the United States with national historic landmark designations recognizing the strong blends of natural and cultural resources that make each community unique. Annapolis faces nuisance flooding that is challenging the above-ground resources and the natural settings and cultural frameworks that support and enhance them. St. Augustine has witnessed dozens of hurricanes and frequent coastal flooding, impacting the delicate balance of natural and cultural resources in a fast-growing population with significant vulnerabilities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a model for determining “community value” in cultural resource hazard mitigation planning. These communities can prioritize the protection of historic places threatened by natural disasters by comparing that model against the United States Secretary of the Interior’s factors for determining historic integrity. This framework can serve as a model approach for evaluating public sentiment for the protection and preservation of historic places within the larger context of disaster preparedness and recovery. This can enable communities to evaluate and prioritize places that matter to prepare for and recover from rising waters.

A perfect storm: An archaeological management crisis in the Mississippi River Delta

Engineered projects resulting in unintended consequences, coastal erosion, subsidence, and sea-level rise are rapidly destroying archaeological sites in the Mississippi River Delta (MRD). The processes of site obliteration are intensifying and accelerating due to anthropogenic transformation of the environment, including cumulative engineered alterations of the landscape and climate change. Combined with increased inundation and erosion from storm surges, hundreds of terrestrial sites formerly located on natural levees, barrier islands, and other coastal landforms are progressively eroded, redeposited, deeply buried, and submerged. These include thousand-year-old earthen mounds and shell middens constructed by Native Americans, as well as centuries-old fishing communities along the coast. These irreplaceable cultural properties can provide crucial information on the unique history and ecology of the MRD. Ongoing studies include consulting with interested parties and implementing data sharing agreements. Re- searchers have formed a consortium of universities and state and federal agencies, and are partnering with culturally affiliated Native American tribes, descendant groups, and coastal communities. The consortium is developing a robust GIS-enabled risk matrix for analyzing threats and effects to endangered sites. It is using the risk matrix to select 30 sites for monitoring, assessment, aerial photogrammetry, and recording environmental data on water table fluctuations. Analysis of action-based scientific data on these imperiled and rapidly disappearing places is urgently needed and will provide the impetus and baseline for future studies. Otherwise, ongoing site destruction will erase any remaining opportunities for learning about Louisiana’s deep history and diverse cultural heritage.

Parks Canada’s adaptation framework and workshop approach: Lessons learned across a diverse series of adaptation workshops

In 2017, the Canadian Parks Council Climate Change Working Group, a team of federal, provincial, and territorial representatives, developed a Climate Change Adaptation Framework for Parks and Protected Areas, guiding practitioners through a simple, effective five-step adaptation process. This framework was adapted by Parks Canada into a two-day adaptation workshop approach, with 11 workshops subsequently held from September 2017 to May 2019 at Parks Canada sites in the Yukon, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Ontario. Lessons learned from each workshop have been integrated into the approach, with the development of tools and guidance for each phase of the process, and a shareable, visual “placemat” that describes each step of the framework, acting as a map for those navigating the process.

Wetland restoration design modifications to mitigate climate change impacts at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: A case study report

Historic temperature and precipitation trends, and their projected climate change effects, were used to inform the development of wetland design tactics to restore a 30-acre degraded wetland at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The adverse effects of climate change to be addressed in the restoration design include increasing average daily air temperatures, rising stream and groundwater temperatures, increasing stream erosion, increasing precipitation, and increasing lake evaporation. Specific actions or tactics were developed that provide prescriptive direction in how restoration strategies can be translated to changes in on-the-ground conditions. Traditional on-the-ground tactics are described, along with modifications to the traditional tactics that should facilitate adaptation and increase the system’s capacity to survive adverse effects of climate change.

A partnership-based, whole-watershed approach to climate adaptation in Acadia National Park

Changes in climate and associated changes in seasonality, invasive plants and insects, and visitation are stressing ecosystems and infrastructure in Acadia National Park. Over the past five years, park staff and partners have begun taking an interdisciplinary, partnership-based approach to assessing baseline conditions, identifying stresses, developing climate change scenarios, and restoring the ecological and cultural integrity and resilience of whole watersheds. The approach contrasts with past resource management in which managers frequently tackled problems with minimal coordination between disciplines (e.g., water, wildlife, cultural resources, and maintenance) and locations. The result has been a series of projects that have begun to measurably improve the health of one of the park’s most visited and iconic watersheds: the Cromwell Brook watershed, which includes Sieur de Monts (Acadia began in 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument) and the Great Meadow, and whose namesake waterway flows through the gateway town of Bar Harbor. Projects (inside and out of the park) have included rehabilitating a historic spring pool, replacing undersized culverts with open-bottom bridges, removing a poorly sited septic system, removing invasive plants, restoring native wetland, establishing monitoring to assess changes in watershed health, and working with the town and other stakeholders to plan future projects that would further improve the health of Great Meadow and downstream areas in Bar Harbor. The combination of planning; monitoring; restoring healthy, functioning ecological communities; and minimizing stresses from human infrastructure and visitation offer the best chance of main- taining Acadia National Park for the enjoyment of future generations.

National park research fellowships increase capacity and creativity in responding to climate change

The challenges posed by climate change in national parks and other protected areas demand creative approaches, new ideas, and experiments that are beyond the capacity of any single park or agency staff. Research fellowships provide a critical way that the National Park Service (NPS) and its partners can address the agency’s needs to address climate change adaptation challenges. At least 30 such programs support stewardship-relevant science in national parks. Some national programs and initiatives at Acadia National Park in Maine, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California serve as examples of how researchers in these programs are informing restoration, relocation, vegetation and fire management, and resource protection activities; documenting change that has already occurred; providing baseline data on biodiversity; and conducting novel experiments. Successful fellowship programs have strong engagement of resource managers, emphasize communication with management and public audiences, and incorporate ongoing support and evaluation. As a result

of these successes, NPS and partners are working to expand and strengthen the sustainability and effectiveness of research grants and fellowships.

Adapting to a changing ocean: Experiences from marine protected area managers

Marine protected areas (MPAs), like their terrestrial counterparts, face a wide range of climate change stressors that challenge traditional management strategies. Ocean acidification, dynamic boundaries, high connectivity, and other complexities create climate management challenges unique to the ocean system. Further, there is a concerning disconnect between global oceanic climate impacts and the relative lack of experience and action needed to address these stressors at local and regional scales. As climate impacts are increasingly being experienced by marine and coastal managers, they are beginning to focus on climate assessment and adaptation within the protected areas of our ocean. In this article, we share case studies and experiences of MPA managers on the cutting edge of climate adaptation. Lessons learned from the kelp forests of California and the coral reefs and seagrass meadows of the Florida Keys highlight hands-on applications of climate management and mitigation. Yet managing for climate change in a dynamic ocean requires more than direct action. We highlight the successes achieved through capacity building, community engagement, and partnership development that span geographic, institutional, and community boundaries. The dynamic nature of climate change in the ocean environment requires MPA managers to be flexible, adaptive, and inclusive to implement successful and meaningful management actions. Ultimately, the experiences highlighted in this article reflect the need for close collaboration with scientists, communities, and diverse stakeholders in identifying and implementing adaptation actions. In doing so, these case studies provide the beginning of a road map for successful climate management in MPAs.

Using social science in National Park Service climate communications: A case study in the National Capital Region

Since 2012, the National Park Service’s (NPS’s) Urban Ecology Research Learning Alliance (UERLA) and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication have partnered on a collaborative “research-to-practice” internship program that employs undergraduate and graduate-level students to produce interdisciplinary, science-based climate change communication products for parks in the NPS National Capital Region (NCR). Materials created through this program are rooted in social science insights (e.g., trusted sources, social norms, place-based learning), climate science, and the communication needs of participating regional parks. As a result, the end products (e.g. websites, videos, ranger toolkits) produced by this program fulfill many functions: increasing public awareness of climate impacts on park resources, nurturing the connection between people and places, meeting evolving interpretation demands by developing material for a variety of channels, effectively engaging visitors in climate dialogue, and helping parks lead by example by addressing how a changing climate can alter cultural, natural, historical, and recreational resources. The success, adaptability, and longevity of this program have provided NCR parks with a wealth of innovative products that support the park stewardship mission to preserve resources for future generations. Five examples will demonstrate the breadth of work undertaken by interns.

The power of place in disaster recovery: Heritage-based practice in the post-Matthew landscape of Princeville, North Carolina

This article examines shortcomings and possible improvements to standard post-disaster recovery processes through the lens of recovery in Princeville, North Carolina, the oldest black town in the United States. Princeville has faced existential challenges since it was settled in the Tar River floodplain in 1865, most recently in 2016 with flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. The article describes the power of place attachment and the trauma caused by place-based disaster. It points out that significant rebuilding typically begins a full three years into a standard recovery timeline. And it argues that in the midst of that recovery process, our identification of significant landscapes—i.e., landscapes worth protecting and restoring—is too heavily driven by the object-oriented standards of traditional historic preservation. This article describes work coordinated by North Carolina State University design faculty in partnership with the town of Princeville to supplement abstract, top-down recovery processes with practice that is landscape-based and interactive, that marks histories and establishes concrete symbols of ongoing life, and that promises to help displaced communities to build social-ecological resilience and to heal. This type of work will only become more vital as more communities face climate-induced disasters and the need to rebuild. By describing the impetus and possible impact of NC State’s post-disaster work with Princeville, this article seeks to start a conversation about how our recovery processes can better recognize the power of place and the role of the land as a vehicle for resilience and healing.

Assessing the climate vulnerability of the world’s natural and cultural heritage

Climate change is the fastest-growing global threat to the world’s natural and cultural heritage. No systematic approach to assess climate vulnerability of protected areas and their associated communities has existed—until now. The Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) is scientifically robust, transparent, and repeatable, and has now been applied to various World Heritage properties. The CVI builds upon an established Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) framework to systematically assess vulnerability through a risk assessment approach that considers the key values of the World Heritage property in question and identifies key climate stressors. The CVI process is then used to assess the climate-related vulnerability of the community (including local residents, domestic visitors, and international tourists) associated with the World Heritage property considering economic, social, and cultural connections. Climate impacts are increasingly adding to a wide range of compounding pressures (e.g., increasing tourism, infrastructure development, changing land use practices) that are affecting places, people, customs, and values. Applications of the CVI to date have led to commitments to integrate outcomes into relevant management plans, and to periodically repeat the process, enabling responsive management to changing future circumstances. The CVI has also demonstrated its potential applicability for protected areas beyond World Heritage properties. The CVI process engages local community members in determining impacts, provides opportunities for identifying adaptation and impact mitigation within the community, and aids broader communication about key climate issues.

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Cherokee relationships to land: Reflections on a historic plant gathering agreement between Buffalo National River and the Cherokee Nation

This piece reflects on my involvement in a historic agreement between Buffalo National River and the Cherokee Nation regarding the implementation of the “Gathering of Certain Plants or Plant Parts by Federally Recognized Indian Tribes for Traditional Purposes” rule, 36 CFR Part 2 (Code of Federal Regulations, title 32, sec. 2.6., 2016). This rule allows federally recognized tribes to gather plants within national parks with which they are traditionally associated. Representatives from the Cherokee Nation’s formally constituted body of elder knowledge keepers—the Cherokee Medicine Keepers—lent their expertise on land-based knowledge and stewardship practices that provid- ed the basis for such a landmark agreement. Plant gathering within Buffalo National River offers Cherokee people a way to continue traditional cultural practices that are impacted by climate change in eastern Oklahoma. In many cases, plants are more plentiful and healthier within the park boundaries than on our limited tribal trust lands that are threatened by climate change and contemporary agricultural and development practices. The agreement also acknowledges our ancestral and political relationships to the lands within the park and allows Cherokee people to reestablish our connection to the park lands as a collective source of traditional sustenance, cultural knowledge, and health. In this piece, I offer some context for the project, specifically in terms of Cherokee relationships to land, given my previous scholarship and my longtime work with the Medicine Keepers.

The Photographer's Frame

Echoes of the sea around us—Human hopes in the balance

Earth’s human life-support system shows signs of failing. Human capacity to alter landscapes and the atmosphere is reaching catastrophic levels. Only the oceans seemed to be beyond control, but still they are not beyond human influence. Limited experience in protecting nature’s integrity, health, and resilience in seascapes offers the potential to reverse sliding global environmental conditions by providing realistic expectations, offering moral fortitude, stimulating imagination, and proffering hope. The ocean’s capacity to evoke human awe and inspiration may be sufficient to focusmankind on the global existential threats we face. It is now vital to heed Rachael Carson’s 1937 prescient observation “Against this cosmic background the lifetime of a particular plant or animal appears not as a drama complete in itself but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change.” The world will keep spinning, whether people are able to enjoy the ride or not.