Skip to main content

Long-Standing Partnership Yields Landmark Report to Conserve Regional Biodiversity

Friday, May 3, 2024

A four-year partnership between NE CASC, the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA), and twenty State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinators has culminated in the release of a landmark 400-page report that will enhance natural resource management and help conserve biodiversity across the Northeast. Authored by a team of NE CASC researchers in consultation with their state agency collaborators, the document fulfills management climate science needs in four key areas: observed and projected climate changes, species and ecosystem response to climate change, climate vulnerabilities and risks, and scale-specific adaptation strategies and actions. The completion of the report was timed to coincide with the beginning of the revision period for the region’s State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), comprehensive conservation strategies that are updated every ten years and assess the health of wildlife and habitats, identify resource management challenges, and outline actions needed to conserve natural resources over the long term. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., will use the report to guide the integration of climate change science into their decadal SWAP revisions, ensuring that it will play a critical role in helping state agencies advance climate adaptation for hundreds of wildlife species that have been prioritized for conservation.  

“This new NE CASC report will prove to be an indispensable resource for state resource managers in the Northeast,” said Brian Hess, Acting Director of the Wildlife Division at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, where he also serves as his state’s SWAP coordinator. “Because climate change is a stressor and amplifier to almost all threats that wildlife face, it is absolutely essential that our State Wildlife Action Plans coherently address climate change. We couldn’t do that without this product, which synthesizes a staggering number of research publications, develops new and appropriately scaled climate projections for northeastern states, and presents a wealth of other essential climate adaptation information. Due to their many work responsibilities, our staff members do not have the time needed to keep pace with the rapidly advancing field of climate change science. Consequently, the timely release of this new product is a great asset to state agencies as we carry out our shared mission to protect biodiversity in our region.”


The report, "A Regional Synthesis of Climate Data to Inform the 2025 State Wildlife Action Plans in the Northeast U.S.”, builds on a similar initiative that NE CASC led to facilitate development of State Wildlife Action Plans in 2015. Beginning in 2020, NE CASC developed several teams to engage with state partners, develop reliable and consistent regional and state-specific climate projections, and expand research capacity.  The NE CASC research teams then initiated monthly discussions with SWAP coordinators and the NEAFWA Fish and Wildlife Diversity Technical Committee to collectively determine the focal points of the report. The final product is the result of a four-year dialogic and collaborative process that ensured NE CASC researchers and state partners would exchange ideas and discuss progress on the report at regular intervals across multiple platforms. 

“The expansive scope and high quality of this report vividly demonstrate how relationship-driven science can be used to address the complex challenges managers face in helping species, habitats, and ecosystems navigate the impacts of climate change,” said Carrie Brown-Lima, NE CASC Regional Administrator. “The inclusive, collaborative approach that generated it will help guarantee its usefulness to our management partners as they revise their State Wildlife Action Plans. As a result, it will achieve its intended impact of advancing climate adaptation for many of the region’s most iconic species – from the Right Whale, Sea Turtle, and Bay Scallop to the New England Cottontail, Canada Lynx and Marbled Salamander.”

The report begins by summarizing how climate in the Northeast is changing and how it is projected to continue changing in the coming decades. Overall, its findings demonstrate that the Northeast is warming and sea levels are rising at rates greater than the global average, making the region a climate change hotspot. Moreover, it confirms that extreme events such as storms, heat waves, and droughts are becoming increasingly common in the region. Because climate impacts are not spatially or seasonally uniform across the Northeast, though, the report offers projections at state, ecoregion, and broader scales to align these data with the needs of state agencies. 

A succeeding section synthesizes more than 450 research publications to illustrate how the region’s 418 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, those prioritized for conservation across the region, are responding to climate impacts via shifts in distribution, abundance, location, and physical condition. It also identifies knowledge gaps where species haven’t been sufficiently studied to focus future areas of inquiry. In later chapters, the report synthesizes 24 new climate vulnerability assessments, adaptation frameworks, strategies, and actions to inform conservation objectives and monitoring targets. These sections present 392 new records for Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need and their habitats, including 92 species not previously captured in climate change vulnerability assessments. Finally, case studies and examples of implemented adaptation initiatives in the report’s concluding chapters illustrate how State agencies can work with partners and engage the public to enhance conservation efforts.


“Reflecting on my experiences as a member of both NE CASC SWAP teams in the past ten years, I think it is clear that much has changed within the state wildlife management landscape during this time,” said Toni Lyn Morelli, NE CASC Research Ecologist and a lead author of the report. “This new report shows that climate change impacts have become more pronounced and more visible since the publication of our 2015 report, infusing climate adaptation efforts with a greater sense of urgency. What has also become clear, however, is that resource managers have engaged in a broad spectrum of actions to move adaptation from a largely theoretical possibility to a concrete reality. While much of the information in this report – particularly its climate projections and biological response data – serve as a warning, a significant portion of the synthesis also illustrates that collaboration between managers and researchers can result in effective strategies capable of moving adaptation forward in our region. I’m proud to have contributed to this effort and look forward to seeing how the report will help enhance resource management in the coming years.”

Like the process used to shape the parameters of the report, authorship of the document was collaborative. The varied NE CASC authorship team consisted of fellows, USGS researchers, consultants, and university researchers, including: Kevin Burgio (ORISE Fellow, now with US FWS), Anthony D’Amato (Principal Investigator, University of Vermont); Hanusia Higgins (ORISE Fellow); Ambarish Karmalkar (Affiliated Investigator, University of Rhode Island); Alice Lubeck (ORISE Fellow); Toni Lyn Morelli (USGS-NE CASC Research Ecologist); Tracy Monegan Rice (Terwilliger Consulting, Inc.); Michelle Staudinger (a former USGS-NE CASC Science Coordinator, now a faculty member at the University of Maine); and Karen Terwilliger (Terwilliger Consulting, Inc.). The report covers the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia, in addition to Washington, D.C.

“After four years of work on this project, NE CASC team members are excited to see it come to fruition,” Brown-Lima said. “We are especially grateful to our management partners, who devoted so much time and effort to coproduce the synthesis. The beneficial outcome of this project suggests that it can be used as a template for future work together. We look forward to expanding our partnership with state agencies in the coming years by using the synthesis as a springboard for identifying knowledge gaps that we can collaboratively address.”