Climate Change Adaptation for Coastal National Wildlife Refuges

saltwater marsh in setting sun

Mitch Eaton, Southeast Climate Science Center; Jennifer Costanza, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, NCSU; Fred Johnson, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, USGS; Julien Martin, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, USGS; Laura Taylor, Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy and Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, NCSU

Project Completion:  August 2019. This project is Phase II of Understanding Conservation Management Decisions in the Face of Sea-Level Rise Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast. This project has now been completed
Implements Science Plan Theme:
 2, 4 & 5

Overview

Coastal ecosystems in the eastern U.S. have been severely altered by local processes associated with human development, including drainage of coastal wetlands, hydrologic alterations affecting sediment supply, and land-use change, and by global-scale ecological changes including sea-level rise and other effects associated with climate change. Together, these forces are degrading the capacity of ecological and social systems to respond to disturbance. The goal of this project was to foster active engagement with stakeholders; develop a comprehensive problem definition that expressed local values, knowledge, and perceptions; and encourage building of effective networks and trust across organizations and individuals in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. To address global change impacts at a regional level, we established the Cape Romain Partnership for Coastal Conservation to include representation from federal and state resource agencies, local conservation NGOs and organizations representing underserved community interests. Research topics, originating from discussions with Partnership members, focused on quantifying key drivers of change including localized sea-level rise (SLR) predictions, estimates of hurricane inundation as amplified by SLR, urban growth trends and forecasts, and impacts on management. Additional research included efforts to inform coastal planning through the development of models for understanding salinity dynamics, land-use change and its effects on flooding, ecosystem services, and forest management, and the impacts of uncertainty and risk on long-term investments in land protection.

Emphasizing broad stakeholder engagement as a means for successful adaptation planning, our interactions with Lowcountry planners and residents revealed a complex relationship between society and the environment, with sense of place, cultural heritage, and quality of life being important considerations for adaptation planning. With guidance provided by a bridging organization, community-based governance of the commons, in which broad stakeholder participation and power sharing are key elements, is essential for adapting this social-environmental system to the forces of global change.