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Informing Climate Change Adaptation Planning in National Parks

Technical Assistance and Capacity-building for the NPS: Actionable Science for Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument and a New Model for Incorporating Climate Science into Resource Stewardship Strategies
Principal Investigator
Amy Symstad


Start Date
End Date


One of the biggest challenges facing resource managers today is not knowing exactly when, where, or how climate change effects will unfold. In order to plan for this uncertain future, managers have begun to use a tool known as scenario planning, in which climate models are used to identify different plausible climate conditions, known as “scenarios”, for a particular area. In a previous project, researchers with the North Central Climate Science Center worked with natural resource managers at Badlands National Park and on surrounding federal lands to model how different climate scenarios and management activities would impact the area’s resources. The model that was developed answers critical “what if” questions regarding how management [...]

Child Items (3)


Principal Investigator :
Amy Symstad
Co-Investigator :
Brian Miller, Gregor Schuurman, Chris Church
Funding Agency :
North Central CSC

Attached Files

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“Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park - Credit: NPS”
thumbnail 617.88 KB
“Bison in Badlands National Park, Amy Symstad, USGS”
thumbnail 3.25 MB
“Devils Tower National Monument, Alex Demas, USGS ”
thumbnail 76.12 KB


In our previous work with the North Central Climate Science Center, our team worked with natural resource managers of Badlands National Park and surrounding federal lands to develop a simulation model to better understand how a variety of future climate scenarios and management environments may impact grazing resources. This project will build on that work by 1) closing the loop with Badlands-area mangers through producing management-relevant and manager-accessible publications that will ensure the longevity and translation of our work’s results into future planning efforts; and 2) using the knowledge gained from our work with Badlands-area managers to develop a process for integrating robust scenario planning and climate science into National Park Service Resource Stewardship Strategies. Through these two efforts, we seek to accomplish two larger capacity-building goals: 1) continue developing partnerships among scientists and managers to ensure that the North Central Climate Science Center continues to provide management-relevant science, and 2) developing a repeatable methodology that the National Park Service can use to better incorporate scenarios and climate science into critical planning documents being developed for all Park Service units across the nation.

Project Extension

projectStatusIn Progress
typeTechnical Summary
valueDozens of national parks across the country have engaged in climate change scenario planning in recent years, exploring the application of this technique to support management decisions in the face of variability and uncertainty in a rapidly changing environment. Simultaneously, the National Park Service (NPS) has developed a new streamlined approach to guiding prioritization of a park’s long-term investments in resource stewardship, known as a Resource Stewardship Strategy (RSS). Development of an RSS occurs during one or two workshops, during which staff must assess all available information about the condition of, and threats to, park resources and determine priority management strategies and actions. Observed trends, projections, and projected effects of climate change are assessed as part of this work and must be considered as one of the many influences evaluated. Consequently, NPS is developing a structured, repeatable approach for providing climate projections and scenarios to inform RSS development. This servicewide planning initiative presents a valuable opportunity for the NPS to collaborate with staff of the North Central Climate Science Center (NC CSC) and build on work recently completed in the northern Great Plains. Our team has identified two opportunities to facilitate management application of, and to extend knowledge gained from, our previous NC CSC work: 1) Develop a management-relevant and manager-accessible publication and resource brief to support short-term planning at Badlands NP and in surrounding federal and tribal lands and lay the groundwork for future RSS development at the park; and 2) Pilot a process for integrating more robust scenario planning and climate science into NPS RSSs by collaborating on the upcoming RSS development for nearby Devils Tower NM. 1) In our earlier work, we made substantial strides in combining qualitative and quantitative scenarios, which stretched manager thinking about the range of possible future conditions, highlighted important management tradeoffs, and identified remaining information needs. Because the team’s scientists and adaptation specialists collaborated closely with resource managers in the development of a simulation model specific to the region and its key resource questions, as well as in interpreting its output, the managers understand and appreciate the model’s implications. However, documenting the voluminous and multifaceted results of the modeling is necessary for their longevity and translation into future planning efforts. Therefore, we will publish the modeling results in a comprehensive, peer-reviewed article and distill them into a management-relevant resource brief. 2) The NPS RSS program will develop RSSs for all NPS units in coming years. The RSS effort thus represents a critical opportunity to ‘mainstream’ climate considerations into park planning servicewide. The NPS Climate Change Response Program (CCRP) typically provides guidance on climate change considerations, including park-specific climate projections and potential resource impacts, as well as methods for planning under uncertainty using principles of scenario planning. For most parks, this is a first and necessarily brief experience with scenarios and scenario planning, and therefore CCRP typically shares just two climate scenarios that bound a range of possible climate changes and resource impacts. Participants are encouraged to develop long- and short-term resource goals and management activities that explicitly consider this range of possible future conditions, in what is effectively a “lite” form of scenario planning. The opportunity to explore the integration of more robust climate-change scenario planning into the RSS process for Devils Tower NM has the potential to benefit many other national park units interested in planning to address future impacts of climate change. We will intensively weave scenario thinking and climate science into the RSS of Devils Tower NM, an NPS unit with a strong interest in climate change assessment and adaptation, and fully document the process and lessons learned as a model for other NPS units to refine and replicate. Our work, which focuses on translating existing climate science and incorporating it into an established planning process for two parks, seeks to accomplish two larger capacity-building goals: 1) continue developing the NC CSC-NPS science-manager partnership to foster understanding of “client” needs so that the CSC can continue to provide management-relevant science, and 2) develop a repeatable methodology that the NPS can use to better incorporate scenarios and climate science into RSSs.

Budget Extension

typeAward Type
valueInteragency Agreement
typeAward Number

Bison in Badlands National Park, Amy Symstad, USGS
Bison in Badlands National Park, Amy Symstad, USGS


Spatial Services

ScienceBase WMS


  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers
  • North Central CASC


Fiscal Year
Science Themes
Science Tools For Managers


Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 02e77faf-3cae-43ae-91d9-97dc6620c59b
StampID NCCWSC NC17-SA1229

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