To print this page, select File-> Print from your browser menu.

Working Today for a Healthy Future

Climate-smart Conservation

Ellie M. Cohen

Ellie M. Cohen. PRBO photo.
My seven-year-old is convinced that some day in his lifetime we will be able to travel through time. He thoughtfully explains how being able to see problems in the future will allow us to know exactly what to do differently today. I can’t help but agree how wonderful that might be!

While time travel is not possible (yet!), we at PRBO are able to peer into the future, combining our long-term ecological data with sophisticated projections on climate, development, and more—to make better decisions, and better investments, today.

As highlighted in this Observer, we are developing and testing climate-smart approaches to conservation that specifically address impacts of climate change, in concert with other threats to nature, while promoting adaptation to the changes ahead.

Based on the National Wildlife Federation’s climate-smart framework, as well as the California Resource Agency’s Adaptation Plan draft update (both of which PRBO contributed to), we have developed six guiding principles, listed below, to advance conservation in a time of increasing extremes and unknowns.
An Acmon blue butterfly and its nectar source. Photo © Alan King /

1. Focus goals on future conditions not the past (‘stop trying to prevent ecological change’); incorporate extremes; and use plausible scenarios with modeled projections to address uncertainty in near- and long-term time frames.

2. Design actions in an ecosystem context by prioritizing ecosystem health (e.g., fresh water) and ecological diversity to benefit multiple species on broader geographic scales (e.g., watersheds); and, think and link beyond current protected areas including private lands. .

3. Employ adaptive and flexible approaches for the most timely, effective responses to continual change in climate, ecology, and economics; this includes the adaptive management framework, with regular monitoring to actively apply learning from what works and what doesn’t.

4. Prioritize actions based on the best available science, across multiple plausible scenarios (including extremes and worst cases) and across multiple species, to best prepare for ongoing change and to produce the greatest benefits to wildlife and people.

5. Collaborate and communicate across sectors by establishing and expanding non-traditional alliances to accelerate effective problem solving (e.g., between and among public and private resource managers, scientists, and decision-makers); share knowledge openly and actively; communicate the science while also conveying hope; engage local communities, especially youth, to instill a conservation ethic for long-term success.

6. Practice the “TEN” percent rule—Test and Experiment Now—by using 10% (or more) of one’s time every day to develop and explore creative new approaches at every level of natural resource conservation (and in every sector of society!).
A vision for the future: because of our climate-smart actions today, we will have healthy ecosystems sustaining wildlife and our communities.

My son’s time-travel dreams tickled my imagination. I envisioned traveling to 2050 and what it might look like, based on our climate-smart conservation collaborations today. I saw mountain riparian meadows and rangeland creeks flowing year-round despite persistent drought. I saw huge swaths of tidal marsh slowing down flood waters and rising seas while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. I saw thriving marine food webs, protected in real time, for whales, seabirds, and other marine wildlife.

Despite the daunting environmental changes ahead, we believe that because of our climate-smart conservation science efforts today—made possible by your generosity—healthy ecosystems will continue to sustain vibrant wildlife and human communities, on land and at sea, for decades to come.