Skip to main content
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 cultural resources: Navigating a precarious future

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Climate change creates conditions conducive to larger, more frequent fires, particularly in the American West. As a result, historic structures and artifacts are at greater risk of fire damage. The Bent’s Fort Fire started on the morning of April 12, 2022. Approximately 85% of the national historic site’s 800 acres burned. Thanks to the efforts of fire crews, the reconstructed adobe fort was undamaged.   |   National Park Service photo

Parks around the world contain abundant examples of how climate change is affecting the resources within. In the United States, climate change is giving a new urgency to the National Park Service (NPS) mandate to preserve places that tell the story of the country’s vast geography and complex history “for the benefit of future generations." Specialists in preserving historic structures, monuments, museum collections iand other cultural resources are increasingly called upon to address the consequences of a changing climate. This issue of PSF features a collection of articles that share case studies, mitigation strategies, and practical advice concerning the impacts of climate change on a wide range of cultural resources.


GUEST EDITORS: Margaret D. Breuker & Naomi Kroll Hassebroek

Points of View

Four signs

A trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore prompted our "Letter from Woodstock" columnist to think about what signs in parks tell us about what the National Park Service thinks is important—and how the stories the agency is telling are changing.

The power to question: A tribute to Dr. Nina S. Roberts, 1960–2022

A tribute to the late Dr. Nina S. Roberts, who authored the "Coloring Outside the Lines" column in Parks Stewardship Forum.

Featured Theme Articles

Climate change and cultural resources: Navigating a precarious future

Parks around the world contain abundant examples of how climate change is affecting the resources within. Here in the United States, climate change is giving a new urgency to the National Park Service (NPS) mandate to preserve places that tell the story of our country’s vast geography and complex history “for the benefit of future generations.” Specialists focusing on preserving historic structures, monuments, museum collections, archaeological sites, and other cultural resources are increasingly called upon to address the consequences of a changing climate. Here, we introduce the theme papers in this issue of Parks Stewardship Forum.

Mapping and the future of caring for the past: Using GIS as a tool to understand the risk of emergencies to cultural heritage collections

Natural and human-caused disasters have always been a risk to museums, libraries, archives, and all types of cultural heritage collections. The increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events brought about by climate change indicate that risk assessment and emergency preparedness and response will become even more important in caring for these collections in the future. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the art conservation and heritage preservation communities in the United States have worked to develop tools and networks for organizations preparing for and responding to collections emergencies. Some of these initiatives, including an interactive map called Active Weather Risks for Museums, Libraries, and Archives, have included the integration of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in mapping cultural heritage assets and identifying location-specific risks. Continued research into the applications for GIS in responsive risk assessment and emergency planning, and the utilization of publicly available hazard data from emergency management organizations and climate scientists, will help prevent catastrophic damage to our nation’s collections.

Plan the work, work the plan: An introduction to the National Park Service Climate, Science, and Disaster Response Program

The climate crisis poses significant and unprecedent threats to the resources stewarded by the National Park Service (NPS). Some impacts are already apparent, while understanding of other outcomes is still developing. While the rate and magnitude of climate change ultimately depends on worldwide management of greenhouse gas emissions, resource managers today face choices about what actions to take, despite the uncertainty. To support the mission of NPS and its cultural resource preservation goals, the Climate, Science, and Disaster Response (CSDR) Program has been developed to explore climate impacts, provide cultural resource expertise, and expand and accelerate initiatives related to cultural resources and climate change adaptation. Here we introduce the construct of the CSDR program, share the components of the program’s 2022–2025 Action Plan, and highlight initial activities.

Strategies for meaningful engagement: A commentary on collaboration in archaeological climate adaptation planning

There are calls from cultural resources professionals, academics, and diverse stakeholders for multivocality, co-creation of knowledge, and inclusion of local and traditional input in the management of cultural resources situated on public lands. Yet, associated communities often have little control or influence on management of their heritage sites beyond mandated consultation, particularly for archaeological sites. In a US National Park Service (NPS) context, managers are guided by standardized criteria, existing data management systems, and policy- and eligibility-based funding streams. The influences of these criteria, systems, and policies are particularly powerful when managers are prioritizing action for climate adaptation, as policy guidance focuses attention to cultural resources that are both significant and vulnerable to climate stressors. The results of a variety of engagement activities with Tribal Nations and NPS staff show that the co-creation of knowledge requires meaningful engagements, the valuing of Traditional Knowledges, and bridging the culture–nature divide. This paper highlights successful examples of such meaningful engagements and offers strategies for collaboration between NPS and citizens and staff of Tribal Nations in climate change adaptation planning for cultural resources on public lands.

A brief overview of climatization strategies of historic houses in the Netherlands: From “one size fits all” to “a process of deliberation”

In this paper, the authors would like to review a selection of historic houses that have been renovated in the past 25 years and in which the climate has been optimized. The observations are intended as a general overview made from a governmental perspective. The paper provides general descriptions of a selection of projects in which the agency has been involved. With this paper the authors hope to inspire the reader by presenting the decision-making process and the lessons learned for these case studies against the backdrop of climate change. Are the solutions that were chosen sustainable, and are the museums now more resilient to climate change?

Why do we keep doing this? An argument for informed environmental assessments

There is too often a tendency to presume that particular environments can be created within historic house museums simply by “tightening up” the envelope and installing sophisticated mechanical equipment. This approach is unsustainable from many standpoints. Extensive mechanical systems can be intrusive or damaging to historic fabric, expensive to operate and maintain (to the point of overwhelming the financial capacity of institutions), and inadvertently hasten climate change. Careful consideration should be given to the basis for expected environments to be maintained with respect to both the actual needs of the collections and the capacity of the envelope to contain them. Only with a thorough understanding of both, gained through survey, testing, and monitoring, can mechanical systems be appropriately designed. In so doing, one must be willing to use to fullest advantage the structure’s inherent historical methods of environmental modulation, and to creatively think “outside the box” when applying modern mechanical systems to fulfill the need.

Climate change and Martin Van Buren National Historic Site: Building a holistic plan

In a world where the devastating and immediate impacts of climate change threaten fundamental resources and visitor experiences at iconic National Park Service (NPS) sites like Yosemite and Yellowstone, how do smaller NPS units like Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (MAVA) plan for climate change resilience?

The Witness Tree project: A portfolio

The Witness Tree is a photography project about the effects of climate change around the world. From the melting ice of Antarctica to the wildfires of Australia to the encroaching deserts of Inner Mongolia, I am drawn to precious and precarious places that mark the shifting boundaries between nature and the effects of our not-so-natural disasters. I want to show the eerie, discordant landscapes in our stormy, drying world. I want to capture this life before it goes away and because I want it to live.

Cultural heritage resources in climate action

With the climate warming faster now than during any period in human history, every part of society—including the cultural sector— has a responsibility to advance changes that benefit communities now and in the future. Both intangible and tangible cultural heritage play an important role in climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience activities around the world, and can help mobilize climate action by optimizing connections to people and communities. Cultural heritage climate action applications range from sites providing a safe haven for communities during severe weather, to using artifacts like photographs as proxy indicators of climate change, to developing low- and zero-carbon footprint exhibitions. The authors follow the Talanoa Dialogue, a pattern of exploration and goal setting often used in cooperative planning for climate action. The process begins with “Where are we now?”, then proceeds to “Where do we want to go?”, and concludes with “How are we going to get there? This article outlines the origin, current practice, and future of cultural heritage resources in climate action, and concludes with recommendations for how to reach a place where cultural heritage plays a more significant role in taking and influencing climate action. Globally and nationally, the cultural sector’s footprint is significant. No site can avoid impacts from the changing climate; neither can their communities.

New Perspectives (Non-Peer Reviewed)

The power and potential of citizen science for park bonding, advocacy, and stewardship

Citizen science represents an opportunity to invite and encourage broad connections with the scientific community. Fundamentally, the research strategy urges public participation to answer important research questions. Citizen science offers tremendous possibilities to welcome a diverse audience to engage with science on public lands while addressing relevant management questions. The work described in this paper emphasizes the potential for using citizen science in the US national parks to not only advance pertinent scientific inquiry but also foster an appreciation for protected lands. It highlights the Rocky Mountain Sustainability and Science Network (RMSSN) as an organization that has capitalized on citizen science to explore worthwhile social­–cultural and environmental studies. Furthermore, RMSSN has stressed the importance of leveraging a diverse cohort of graduate and undergraduate students to accomplish such work. This approach has resulted in participants expressing an enhanced, deeper appreciation for the parks, recognizing them as special places, with stronger motivations to steward and advocate for them. The diverse social components of the citizen science-based experience appeared to have a critical role in cultivating such a response.

A history of recent US World Heritage nominations

The United States resumed making nominations to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009, after a period of 15 years during which no nominations had been made.  In the US, the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) is responsible for the World Heritage Program, under the authority of the Department of the Interior.  OIA manages the process to identify candidate sites for nomination, and guides the preparation of nominations, which are now lengthy documents, similar to a book in size and scope.  The small office has overseen seven World Heritage nominations during this recent era; of those, four have been inscribed on the World Heritage list, one was withdrawn, and two are in process.  This article describes the little-known processes involved in World Heritage nominations and the issues, including the international context, that influence their selection and ultimate success or failure.

Three landscapes: An excerpt from Olmsted and Yosemite: Civil War, Abolition, and the National Park Idea

The authors situate the intellectual foundations of the US national park system in the thinking of Frederick Law Olmsted, and analyze how Olmsted himself was shaped by the Civil War.

Using the best available science: An excerpt from National Parks Forever: Fifty Years of Fighting and a Case for Independence

Two brothers recount their experiences with US national parks and the National Park Service, and make the case that the Park Service should be an independent agency.

Advances in Research and Management (Peer-Reviewed)

Recent protected area–Indigenous Peoples research articles in Canada and the USA: A meta-review

We conducted a meta-review of 66 peer-reviewed articles published between 2008–2020 concerning Indigenous Peoples’ interactions with protected areas in the United States of America and Canada. Our meta-analysis centered on characterizing this literature’s response to the concerns of critical Indigenous studies by examining the topical, geographic, and disciplinary scope of the literature, as well as authors’ backgrounds and the journals where research is published. We additionally considered the presence of Indigenous persons as authors and participants. We found the literature is published widely, across many journals and disciplines. The research is concentrated in a handful of states and provinces. One article explicitly used Indigenous research methods, although Indigenous research participants were common in articles outside of the disciplines of history and law. Yet, those two disciplines dominate the current literature. We conclude that the community of scholars for whom relationships between parks and Indigenous Peoples are the central research question is smaller than those for whom it is one aspect of their research agenda.

Science and the evolving management of environmental hazards at Yosemite National Park

US national park managers must address a complex portfolio of foreseen and unforeseen challenges that arise in part from a dual mandate to preserve nature and facilitate visitation. To deal with resource management challenges, managers can identify potential pathways toward a solution through the use of science to inform policy and guide actions. The way science has been applied has evolved over the course of the National Park Service’s history, in large part due to the prevailing societal context and ways of thinking about the environment, and relatedly as a necessity to mitigate the impact from development and anthropogenic climate change. Landscape-scale environmental hazards are a fitting proxy to recount the changing use of science and policy because biophysical processes become most hazardous at the interface of infrastructure and the natural environment, where people are most exposed. This paper synthesizes modern administrative and environmental histories of hazards in Yosemite National Park from the late19th century to the early 21st century through archival records and long-term data, including significant events and trends in wildland fire, tree mortality (falls), extreme floods, and rockfalls and slides. Findings confirm increased severity and extent of wildland fire, correlations between periods of drought and high rates of tree mortality, warmer precipitation events lead to earlier annual peak streamflow, and connections between periods of prolonged cold with rockfalls, and prolonged precipitation with slides. These hazards exist as an interconnected system in the context of high seasonal visitation, and while there are averages of seasonal conditions over time, there are no “normal” years.

The Photographer's Frame

National parks, highways, and climate change

This visual essay in "The Photographer's Frame" explores how Americans’ love affair with road trips made a marriage of national park scenic landscapes and automobiles nearly inevitable—and has helped, literally, drive climate change.

Verse in Place

Bread and Roses

A poem in the "Verse in Place" section of Parks Stewardship Forum.