Southwest Climate Change Initiative


The Earth’s climate is being disrupted irrevocably by the accelerated release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In fact, climate change is already well underway in the southwestern U.S.— more so than anywhere else in North America, outside the northernmost latitudes—and it is already affecting native plants, animals and habitats in ways we can see and measure. The challenge to the conservation community is to manage our forests, grasslands, deserts and rivers to build resilience and to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on people and nature. Now is the time to prepare for more change. Any action we take now to understand the local effects of climate change and to build ecosystem resilience will help protect our natural areas and the clean water, clean air, and wildlife habitat they provide. The Nature Conservancy has joined with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (University of Arizona), National Center for Atmospheric Research, Western Water Assessment (University of Colorado) and Wildlife Conservation Society to form the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (SWCCI). Our aim is to provide information and tools to build the resilience of natural areas in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Landscape Workshops

The Nature Conservancy initiated the SWCCI in 2008 to provide guidance to conservation practitioners and land managers in climate change adaptation planning and implementation on more local scales. This project specifically aims to: (1) further develop and expand our impacts assessment protocol to adjacent states in the Southwest (AZ, CO, and UT), and (2) apply a vulnerability assessment tool being developed by the U.S. Forest Service and an adaptation planning framework developed by a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) working group to a series of case-study sites in the four states.

The case studies were conducted as a series of landscape workshops and provided opportunities to further test and refine each component of the overall adaptation framework, by building on new research, strengthening existing partnerships, and laying the foundation for future innovation, including on-the-ground application and testing of adaptation strategies. Together, these field-tested tools will be useful in developing conservation action and monitoring plans (e.g., a climate change module in TNC's CAP process), forest and fire plans, and in building a regional learning network, all crucial to meeting the challenges posed by climate change for conservation.A series of landscape workshops where scientists and managers explored how to use climate change information to adjust their management practices. The documents below illustrate how focusing on climate change in a particular landscape can generate specific and concrete ideas for climate adaptation action.


Climate Change Adaptation for People and Nature (March 2012)

  • In the U.S. Southwest, global climate change, acting in concert with extant stressors such as urbanization and over-allocation of water resources, is changing ecosystems in measureable and sometimes dramatic ways. Twentyfirst century projections indicate accelerating climate change and cascading ecological consequences. Our experience suggests that adaptation efforts can be effective if they are focused at the local scale; employ learning networks; and engage in ecosystem-based adaptation: the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems so that they continue to provide the services that allow people to thrive in changing environments.

Evidence of Climate Change in NM (April 2008)

  • There is now strong scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is affecting the earth's species and ecological systems. The Nature Conservancy's state-wide assessment of recent climate change enables practitioners and managers to make better informed decisions and to take action in the near-term by identifying the potential vulnerability of habitat types, priority conservation sites and species to climate change.

Evidence of Climate Change in NM (December 2008)

  • The second of three reports assesses the conservation implications of recent climate change on New Mexico’s watersheds and hydrology. Analyzing recent trends (1970-2006) in a water balance variable—climate water deficit—that indicates biological moisture stress or drying, this study identifies watersheds of high conservation importance in New Mexico that are most and least vulnerable to ongoing climate change.

Managing Changing Landscapes in the Southwestern United States (January 2011)

  • This regional assessment examines the impacts of temperature change from 1951-2006 on natural resources in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. It documents that warming has already affected habitats, watersheds, and species in the Southwest, by influencing the timing of seasonal events or amplifying the impacts of natural disturbances such as wildfire and drought. The report concludes that to begin adapting to climate change, natural resource managers should reevaluate the effectiveness of current restoration tools, modify resource objectives, learn from climate-smart adaptive management and monitoring, and share information across boundaries.

New Mexico Climate Change Ecology and Adaptation Workshop (October 2007)