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2019 Climate Adaptation Leadership Awards

A logo that has the text of Climate Adaption Leadership Award for natural resources.
Climate Adaptation Leadership Awards for Natural Resources.

2019 Climate Adaptation Leadership Awards for Natural Resources Announced

The Award recognizes outstanding efforts to advance adaptation of fish, wildlife and plants as called for in the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy—a   unified nationwide effort reflecting shared principles and science-based practices for addressing the threats of a changing climate on fish, wildlife, plants, and the natural systems upon which they depend.


Federal Government

Tidal Marsh and Barrier Beach Restoration, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

For several decades, more than 4,000 acres at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in southern Delaware were maintained as a freshwater habitat for ducks and geese, using a complex engineering system that blocked the daily tidal flow of salt water from Delaware Bay into neighboring marshland. Following repeated dune breaches and a catastrophic intrusion of saltwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, refuge staff using state of the art science and engineering, decided the best long-term option for sustainability was to restore the marsh’s natural water regime. Working with partners and using funds for Hurricane Sandy restoration and resilience, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners restored the highly damaged tidal marsh and barrier beach ecosystem. This project is the largest restoration project of its kind in the eastern United States at a cost of $38 million. The restored barrier beach and salt marsh complex improved habitat for a wide array of migratory birds and marine life and will better withstand future storms, making the coastal environment more resilient. Wildlife and plants have responded quickly, especially threatened Piping plovers. Over the past three summers close to 100 fledglings have been produced on the restored barrier beach. Also, thousands of horseshoe crabs arrive each spring to lay eggs which are an important food source for Endangered Rufus Red Knotts.  Physically, the restoration has performed well through multiple intense storms. The project has been covered extensively by local and national environmental media.


State or Local Government

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plan, Pennsylvania Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ climate change work is guided by its official position statement: “Climate change is real and is impacting the commonwealth’s ecological and recreational resources. As the state’s leading conservation agency, DCNR will use the best available science to develop and implement climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies within each of its bureaus to minimize these impacts and serve as a role model for the citizens of Pennsylvania.” One of the department’s most significant achievements in addressing climate change occurred in June 2018, when it published its climate change adaptation and mitigation plan. The plan is the result of nearly two years of intense work by more than 70 staff members from across the department. DCNR worked closely with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) to conduct vulnerability analyses and develop adaptation strategies that address all aspects of DCNR’s work, from grant funding for land acquisition to habitat conservation, native plant conservation, invasive species control, providing healthful outdoor recreation, and managing state parks and state forests. The plan also includes mitigation recommendations for reducing its carbon footprint and increasing forest carbon sequestration. To address the broad spectrum of DCNR’s work, the plan includes separate vulnerability analyses and adaptation recommendations for infrastructure, state parks, state forests, geologic features, grant funding and community engagement, riparian buffers, emergency management, and training and communication.



Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad – A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu, Tribal Adaptation Menu Team

Traditional and indigenous knowledge and perspectives have not often been recognized in climate adaptation for natural and cultural resources. The Tribal Adaptation Menu was created to make a stronger connection between indigenous values and climate adaptation planning. The Tribal Adaptation Menu is an extensive collection of climate change adaptation actions for natural resource management, organized into tiers of general and more specific ideas. The Menu also includes a companion Guiding Principles document, which describes detailed considerations for working with tribal communities, such as the importance of respect and reciprocity in all our interactions with people and the natural world.  The Menu may be used to brainstorm appropriate adaptation actions, to connect specific actions to a larger intent and purpose, and also to communicate adaptation ideas to diverse audiences. In particular, the Menu may be useful to bridge communication barriers for non-tribal persons or organizations interested in indigenous approaches to adaptation and the needs and values of tribal communities. The Menu is for indigenous communities, tribal natural resources staff, and non-indigenous partner organizations. This first version of the Tribal Adaptation Menu was intentionally created from Ojibwe and Menominee languages, concepts, and values. The Menu can be customized for other communities using their language and cultural knowledge. This Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu, which was developed by a diverse group of collaborators representing tribal, academic, intertribal, and federal entities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, is a noteworthy advance in the on-going process of recognizing and promoting indigenous perspectives that can help confront some of today’s most pressing challenges. The team responsible for developing this resource deserves recognition for their contribution to the climate adaptation field.


Other Organization

Brian Obermeyer & Chris Hise, Site Wind Right, The Nature Conservancy

Wind energy provides a clean, renewable source of electricity; however, improperly sited wind facilities pose known threats to wildlife populations and may seriously degrade natural habitats and ecosystem connectivity.  Chris Hise and Brian Obermeyer of The Nature Conservancy were instrumental in developing, testing, and deploying a multi-layered geospatial data system, called Site Wind Right, to support the transition to low-carbon energy while protecting iconic landscapes and imperiled species. Unique from past siting efforts, Site Wind Right identifies low impact sites for wind energy development rather than just where to avoid. To provide a realistic estimate of where low impact wind energy may be developed, the Conservancy also factored in engineering constraints and land use conflicts. Site Wind Right promotes a positive vision for renewable energy by demonstrating that wind development goals are achievable and scalable on sites with minimal risk to sensitive species and habitats. Power purchasers acquiring wind-generated electricity from low impact sites can meet renewable energy goals while avoiding sensitive species and habitats. Likewise, developers are less likely to encounter wildlife-related conflicts and project delays, thus resulting in more reliable and efficient deployment of renewable energy. Successful implementation of Site Wind Right began in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle. It is now being deployed to all 17 of the U.S. "wind belt" states, where approximately 80 percent of interior U.S. wind energy resources exist. This region is also home to North America’s largest and most intact grasslands – one of the most altered and least protected habitat types in the world.


Broad Partnership

Gunnison Basin Wet Meadow and Riparian Restoration Collaborative

Land use practices and drought have contributed to unique wildlife management challenges that are now being exacerbated by climate change. The vast majority of the Gunnison sage-grouse population is concentrated in south western Colorado where continued habitat fragmentation and more prolonged and intense droughts are increasing the vulnerability of the species, which is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Over the past century, Gunnison sage grouse habitat in low-elevation and montane sagebrush ecosystems has been degraded by over grazing, erosion, and fragmentation. With climate change, many critical meadow and riparian habitats are vulnerable to changes in the timing of snow melt, drought severity, and increased invasion by non-native plant species. The goals of this project were to reduce soil erosion and restore meadow vegetation by re-establishing hydrological and soil development processes. Properly functioning meadows slow the rate of runoff, retain soil moisture longer, and facilitate the development of deep, productive soils by increasing sedimentation and deposition of organic matter. Restoring these processes improves Gunnison sage-grouse habitat by increasing available food sources, creating habitat connectivity and the amount of habitat available to sage-grouse during severe drought. Since 2012, over 1,500 rock structures have been installed at sites across public and private lands enhancing approximately 21 stream miles and more than 1,000 acres of habitat. The wet meadow restoration and resilience-building project is a collaborative effort that brings together the following partners: The Nature Conservancy of Colorado, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Bureau of Land Management, Gunnison Field Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, USDA Forest Service, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, National Park Service, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area, Gunnison County, BIO-Logic, Inc., Zeedyk Ecological Consulting, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Gunnison Conservation District, Western Colorado University, Western Colorado Conservation Corps, Mesa County Partners, High Country Conservation Advocates, Gunnison High School, Allen Ranches, Redden Ranches, and Wolf Creek Ranch.


Individual Achievement

Jessica Halofsky, University of Washington and USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station

For the past 12 years, Dr. Jessica Halofsky has led climate change vulnerability assessments and adaptation projects throughout the western U.S. These projects, facilitated by Adaptation Partners, cover 50 National Forests and 32 National Park Service units. Assessments have engaged 1,300 resource managers, 100 scientists, and 150 stakeholders through 28 workshops. Each assessment is accompanied by peer-reviewed documentation. Forest Service General Technical Reports are supplemented by journal articles and other publications (24 total). Dr. Halofsky was coauthor of Responding to climate change in national forests: a guidebook for developing adaptation options, a foundational publication with national guidance on climate change in the U.S. Forest Service. She recently published the book Climate Change and Rocky Mountain Ecosystems. Dr. Halofsky also led development of the Climate Change Adaptation Library which contains 870 adaptation options for water resources, fisheries, vegetation, wildlife, recreation, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. The Library is widely used by resource managers in federal agencies and beyond, thus facilitating the adaptation process and consistency across different locations and organizations. Dr. Halofsky is currently involved in assessments in California, Oregon, and Washington, with discussions underway for new assessments in three other Forest Service regions. She is working on revisions for the Forest Service scorecard process, thus ensuring accountability for climate change in National Forests. She is also working on a national template for implementing climate change in Forest Service planning processes. This will be widely used, as National Forests accelerate revisions of land management plans.


Student leadership

Tracy Melvin, Michigan State University

This student’s work could well qualify for an award were she a professional. Indeed, many of
her colleagues simply assume that she is a professor or agency professional. In addition to being a full time graduate student, with a demanding field season in Alaska each summer, she has served as the Chair of the Climate Change Working Group of The Wildlife Society (TWS) since 2018. When the American Fisheries Society (AFS) approached the TWS working group with seed money for a joint climate change project, she created a joint AFS/TWS initiative to convene a panel of experts on climate-driven ecosystem transformation, which will present results at the joint AFS/TWS conference in Reno this fall. In 2018, she organized a symposium titled “Big Ideas and Bold Actions for 21st Century Wildlife Conservation” on future direction and challenges to wildlife management. A former USGS Climate Adaptation Fellow, she always seems to be leading something. For example, she organized the first ever CANR Rising event (College of Agriculture and Natural Resources), which featured several deans and senior faculty telling stories about overcoming barriers in their personal and professional lives. However, her skills are not limited to leadership. Her research itself is promising, and it is grounded in field experience. She is measuring indicators of ecological change during an ongoing and climate-driven ecological transformation on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska, where climate is changing roughly twice as fast as in the continental United States. Her work will provide managers with tangible and measurable metrics of climate-driven ecological change, and it offers a preview of the types of challenges that managers at lower latitudes are likely to experience in coming decades. As a leader and researcher, Tracy exemplifies the next generation of wildlife ecologists who are driving adaptation with vision and pragmatism.


2019 Honorable Mentions

Individual Achievement Honorable Mention

Beth Stys, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Beth Stys has been quietly moving mountains to implement climate adaptation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for years.  Climate adaptation has never been part of Beth’s job -- she leads a spatial analysis team at FWC.  Yet through personal passion and leadership Beth has been the most significant contributor to FWC’s adaptation program in the agency’s history. Beth became lead of FWC’s adaptation working group around 2011.  In that capacity, Beth led development of the Florida Adaptation Guide, a comprehensive resource for natural resource managers.  Beth also took on the role of Science Coordinator for the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PFLCC) in 2015, and she leveraged this role to build partnerships and cultivate a forward-thinking approach to implementing adaptation at a landscape-scale.  Beth’s commitment to excellence and drive is apparent in how her body of work has evolved over time, regardless of setbacks.  When she saw the need for the Adaptation Guide to function as a living resource accessible to a wider audience, she expanded the content into the newly released Climate Adaptation Explorer, an interactive digital guide.  When funding for the PFLCC dissipated, she forged a collaborative partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to continue her mission of implementing adaptation on a landscape-scale. Beyond the accomplishments listed above, Beth has led numerous planning and training workshops and has secured funding and support for a full-time agency adaptation coordinator.  Beth has been a behind-the-scenes presence throughout much of her work.  However, from research and vulnerability assessments to policy to capacity-building, it is not an understatement to say that FWC would not have an adaptation program today without the efforts of this remarkable person who made the choice to step up and get involved.


Student Leadership Honorable Mention

Tina Mozelewski, North Carolina State University

Tina Mozelewski is a PhD student studying the effectiveness of various conservation strategies under uncertainty, especially when caused by climate and land use change. She uses landscape forecast modeling to examine how forests in central North Carolina will respond to climate change, and uses this as the base for studying the implications of conservation strategy spatial pattern on landscape-level connectivity under climate and land use change.




The Award is sponsored and guided by the Climate Adaptation Leadership Awards Steering Committee and is made up of representatives from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and various Federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In 2016 there were seven Award recipients and seven honorable mentions. In 2017 there were eight Award recipients and five honorable mentions. In 2018 there were six Award recipients and five honorable mentions.  The final number of Award recipients and honorable mentions depends on the nominations received.