Planning for Future Climates at Wrangell-St. Elias: Mainstreaming Park-Based Actions

Joel H. Reynolds, Climate Science and Adaptation Coordinator, Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service (retired)
Mark E. Miller, Ecologist, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, National Park Service
Amber Runyon, Ecologist, Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service
Gregor W. Schuurman, Ecologist, Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service
Jeremy Littell, Research Scientist, Alaska Climate Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
Pamela J. Sousanes, Physical Scientist, Central Alaska Network and Arctic Network, National Park Service
Tom Olliff, Program Manager Landscape Conservation and Climate Change, Intermountain Region, National Park Service
Larry Perez, Communications Coordinator, Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service
Wylie Carr, Climate Change Planning Specialist, Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service
David Lawrence, Ecologist, Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service
Jeneva Wright, Archeologist for Climate Change, Climate, Science, and Disaster Response Program, National Park Service

Glaciers flow together high in the mountains.
Merging of two glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.


Warming temperatures are creating management challenges in Alaska parks. Thawing permafrost is a major concern because it leads to many ecological, physical, and chemical changes across the landscape (see Sousanes et al., this issue). The loss of sea ice exposes shorelines to winter storms, resulting in rapid erosion and loss of cultural sites and artifacts. Archaeologists must prioritize sites for excavation and conservation based on their vulnerability to erosion and other climate-related risks (see duVall, this issue). The warming climate impacts wildlife species, both terrestrial and marine (see Chambers et al. and Coletti et al., this issue). Climate-driven glacial retreat has cascading effects on river flow regimes, aquatic ecosystems, and subsistence salmon resources, as well as geophysical hazards in mountain and coastal regions (Higman et al. 2018, Jacquemart et al. 2022). These ecological and physical changes impact people—especially those who live near parks and depend on natural resources for subsistence (see Mason and Craver, this issue) and those who manage parks and seek to adapt operations to climate-driven changes, like loss of access due to landslides along road corridors (Lader et al. 2023).

Climate change is the largest and most persistent threat to our parks and requires a focus on managing for continuous change. How can park staff not only respond to the immediate impacts of climate change on park resources and operations, but also prepare for impacts in the foreseeable future? The National Park Service (NPS) Climate Change Response Strategy Update (NPS in press) provides a framework centered around four cornerstones of action: understand, adapt, mitigate, and communicate. These cornerstones underlie the NPS Alaska Leadership Council’s main themes for climate change communication (ALC 2023-25 workplan): Indigenous knowledge, science, how NPS is addressing the challenge, and what the Alaska parks are doing.

Every park can take several basic steps under these cornerstones. These fundamental “mainstreaming actions” help parks address climate change in daily operations and decisions and may be augmented or tailored to park-specific situations. They are part of the next phase of evolution in how the agency works to meet its mission in its second century.

Examples largely drawn from the recent Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Wrangell-St. Elias) Resource Stewardship Strategy (RSS) planning process illustrate the mainstreaming actions. Early in this planning process, park staff identified climate change as a foremost concern with pervasive implications for park resources and values. The RSS provided an opportunity to take a deep dive into those implications; the NPS Climate Change Response Program (CCRP) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center (AK CASC), and the USGS North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (NC CASC) provided support.

The deep-dive RSS included both a multi-resource climate change vulnerability assessment using subject-matter expertise (Runyon et al. in press) followed by scenario-based adaptation planning (Schuurman et al. in press). While the effort’s scope and complexity are unique, many concerns and considerations at Wrangell-St. Elias equally apply to other parks in Alaska. We hope these examples and insights will help other parks advance their own efforts to manage for change.

The actions described below appear in a sequence, with some clear dependencies, but parks should act on whichever step(s) are timely. Understanding deepens through action and learning; invariably, parks will revisit these steps as conditions and context further evolve. Each section highlights key resources, and a summary of useful links appears at the end.



Wrangell-St. Elias’ climate story includes both how climate has changed in the (recent) past and how it may change in the future. Information on past and plausible future climates comes from different sources. While communities in Alaska have many resources to help answer these questions, we focus on resources for park-specific summaries. Given the spatial and temporal scale of climate, the websites listed at the end of this article provide a rich foundation for basic understanding of climate trends for Alaska and elsewhere.

Different data products serve different purposes. Each NPS inventory and monitoring (I&M) network in Alaska sustains weather stations and provides summaries of those station observations (hourly, daily, monthly; search by network in the NPS DataStore in IRMA, the Integrated Resource Management Applications portal). Those observations are available for investigating local weather trends and a resource’s climate sensitivities. The NPS Climate of Alaska web site provides links and points of contact.

A graph of temp and precip from 1930-2020
Figure 1. Historical Wrangell St-Elias National Park and Preserve annual mean temperature (top panel) and annual total precipitation (lower panel) from 1925-2020. Black points and lines show annual values, and red lines are 10-year running averages.

Each graph includes two blue linear regression lines—one for the entire period and one for 1971-2019 (avoiding the period of global cooling due to industrial pollution, Wild et al. 2007). Statistically significant regression lines (p<0.05) are solid.

NPS station observations are integrated with those from stations across Alaska to create gridded historical climate products with statewide coverage. The integration incorporates factors such as topography and changing network configurations to create a temporally and spatially complete, error-checked product (e.g., no missing data). These products generally are available over longer time periods and provide broad spatial coverage with a uniform spatial resolution (usually of a few kilometers) and temporal resolution (usually daily or monthly). As an example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) nClimGrid provides a 5-km gridded product from 1925 to the present. Gridded historical products covering Alaska are available from the USGS AK CASC (Littell 2023) and University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Scenarios Network for Alaska + Arctic Planning (SNAP) as well as other sources. Spatiotemporal coverage and resolution vary widely, as do methods for development and resulting products, so which data products are “best” depends on your information needs. For the Wrangell-St. Elias RSS, CCRP climate scientists summarized historical climate trends (Figure 1) from a gridded historical product selected through discussion with climate scientists at the AK CASC. A forthcoming effort provides coarser-resolution, statewide trends for Alaska climate divisions (Ballinger et al. 2023) summarized from both NOAA nClimGrid and a reanalysis product (ERA5 - C3S 2017).

Wrangell-St. Elias has many plausible future climates due to the complexity of climate variability, the developing science of climate modeling, and uncertainty regarding future greenhouse gas emissions. While the number of climate projections and the large size and topography of Alaska parks pose some challenges for planning (Runyon et al. in press), there are strategies for developing a small but representative subset of these futures in order to identify the range of impacts and risks plausible in the foreseeable future (Lawrence et al. 2021).

Two to four plausible future climates appear to be both sufficient to characterize a range of risks due, ultimately, to changes in temperature and precipitation (Brekke et al. 2009, Snover et al. 2013, Miller et al. 2022), and useful for multi-resource scenario planning (where a small set of climate scenarios helps constrain the complexity; Lawrence et al. 2021). Scenario-based planning identifies impacts under each plausible climate scenario, including even potential high-impact events with low probability of occurrence (however plausible). Looking across all scenarios broadly constrains the consequences of uncertainty and identifies implications under a range of bracketing future conditions (Dessai et al. 2009), though it does not eliminate uncertainty.

Climate scenarios are most effective when selected through consideration of the climate sensitivities of the targeted resources (e.g., soil moisture or heat index may be more relevant to resource sensitivities than just temperature and precipitation; Lawrence and Runyon 2019). Other methods of model selection (e.g., weighting or selecting a subset of projections based on historical model skill, Littell et al. 2011, Terando et al. 2020) could produce somewhat different scenarios and thus adaptation ideas. Although most climate assessments do not develop probabilistic outcomes, such approaches are often employed when relative likelihoods of outcomes across many models are preferred over just the range of impacts. For example, in impacts modeling where complex interactions of future conditions require considering the combined risk and likelihood, decision makers may want more scenarios to better represent the distribution of possible futures (e.g., Pierce et al. 2018).

WRST climate scenarios graphed by temp and precip.
Figure 2. Projected changes in average annual temperature and precipitation for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Points represent differences between average values for the three-decade period 2025-2055 versus 1950-1999 for each of the twenty projections. Average annual temp. is >2°F.

Projections that were selected as divergent climate futures are identified as: blue circle – warm wet; pink square – warm dry; red triangle – hot wet (also see Table 2).

The Wrangell-St. Elias RSS considered twenty projections of future climate: two emission scenarios projected by each of ten global climate models (GCMs; Figure 2). Each was treated as equally likely; there was no explicit accounting for individual model skill (Runyon et al. in press). Three of those twenty projections were selected (called climate futures, Figure 2) as the climate scenarios for use in considering the range of plausible resource impacts or responses (called climate-resource scenarios; Runyon et al. in press). The selection considered aspects of the climate projections (per season average temperature and precipitation, measures of water deficit, and others) identified as most relevant to RSS priority resources (a subset of which are listed in Table 1). Technical details are in Runyon and others (in press).

The AK CASC has created summaries for every NPS unit in the Alaska region for a range of historical and projected climate metrics (Littell 2023); contact Pam Sousanes for further details or Jeremy Littell for questions regarding the data release. The AK CASC and SNAP are also finalizing the Northern Climate Reports website (in beta testing for release in FY24) that provides summary statistics, graphics, and geospatial displays for a wide range of projections and impacts, including ranges of projected changes in permafrost, wildfire flammability, and potential vegetation change. The site provides these summaries for each protected area, watershed subbasin (HU8 level), and community (and other jurisdictions) in Alaska and the Yukon. Planned updates of Northern Climate Reports include more climate futures and hydrologic metrics.

Table 1. A subset of priority resources and associated resource components considered as targets for the scenario-based climate change vulnerability assessment phase of the Wrangell-St. Elias RSS, listed, broadly, from physical to ecological to social-ecological systems. For the full set of priority resources and components, see Runyon et al. in press.
Resource Group Resource Components
Hydrology Glaciers
Hydrology Rivers
Hydrology Non-glaciated streams
Hydrology Lakes
Vegetation Boreal forests
Vegetation Subalpine shrub/woodland
Vegetation Alpine tundra
Wildlife (biology) Caribou
Wildlife (biology Moose
Wildlife (biology) Dall's sheep
WIldlife (biology) Wolves
Wildlife (biology Brown bears and black bears
Aquatics Salmon
Aquatics Freshwater fishes
Cultural resources Archeological resources
Cultural resources Cultural landscapes
Cultural resources Historical and prehistoric structures
Cultural resources Kennecott Mines NHL
Cultural resources Museum collections
Human systems Motorized recreation
Human systems Aviation
Human systems Backcountry use
Subsistence Salmon
Subsistence Freshwater fishes
Subsistence Moose
Subsistence Wood and berries
Wilderness Solitude
Wilderness Night Skies
Wilderness Wilderness character


Proactively managing Wrangell-St. Elias’ resources requires understanding their climate-driven vulnerabilities. Climate change vulnerability assessments (CCVAs) identify both the vulnerability of the assessment targets (e.g., specific resources, facilities, or operations) to plausible future climates and, in the process, the vulnerability’s cause. A CCVA typically evaluates three factors: (1) the target’s climate exposure, (2) its sensitivity to that exposure, and (3) for targets that are living resources, their adaptive capacity. Combined, these factors describe vulnerability. The vulnerability’s cause will inform possible adaptation actions, actions considered may differ for a vulnerability driven more by high sensitivity than by high exposure.

Resources mentioned in Step 1 help identify a park’s climate exposure. Depending on the motivating management decision, more specific exposure information may be required (e.g., seasonality of precipitation dynamics rather than just annual mean temperature and total precipitation; see Lawrence et al. 2019). Understanding of sensitivities can come from park and regional staff, especially I&M network subject matter experts (SMEs), other partner SMEs, Indigenous partners, and the scientific literature.

Since sensitivities depend on the target, and exposure depends on the target’s location, no single CCVA will answer all park questions and inform all park decisions. Different types of management decisions require different types of CCVAs. A CCVA for a major infrastructure investment concept may only require qualitative consideration of the major exposure concerns and the (broad) sensitivities of the proposed structure, while a CCVA to inform the final design and siting of that structure can require much more rigor. Some CCVAs produce ranked relative vulnerabilities, some produce numerical vulnerabilities, and some qualitatively characterize vulnerabilities and highlight critical ones. Which approach is appropriate depends on the level of detail required to inform the decision, resources available to conduct the CCVA, and the state of scientific understanding required to project target responses to future climates (also called impact modelling).

The uncertainty associated with projected climate impacts is usually much larger for impacts on individual species or ecological communities than it is for impacts on physical processes. Subsequently, CCVAs focused on biological or ecological targets are often more qualitative than quantitative due to data limitations.

Many CCVAs have been conducted in Alaska over the last decade, including broad-scale CCVAs focused on major ecotypes (e.g., in northwest Alaska, Jorgenson et al. 2015) or drivers of ecosystem change (e.g., changes in flammability), specific regions (e.g., Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai Peninsula | USDA Climate Hubs, Hayward et al. 2017), or parks (exposure summaries and some major physical drivers of change; park-specific scenario planning reports in IRMA). Resource-specific CCVAs have targeted physical resources (e.g., snow, Littell et al. 2020), biological resources (e.g., breeding birds, Liebezeit et al. 2012), subsistence resources (e.g., on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Herman-Mercer et al. 2019), and even aspects of operations (e.g., moose monitoring methods, Kellie et al. 2019; landslide risks, Lader et al. 2023). Starting points for locating CCVAs include the latest National Climate Assessment, the projects and publications of the AK CASC, SNAP, and the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy, and IRMA for park-specific or park-funded products. Many human-community-focused CCVAs are available through Adapt Alaska and SNAP’s Community Charts tool.

Despite the significant climate-change vulnerabilities facing parks, relatively few have site- or resource-specific CCVAs targeting their major management decisions (Peek et al. 2022, Michalak et al. 2021).

The Wrangell-St. Elias RSS considered a broad suite of priority resources and associated resource components—more than 50 in all—and conducted a (qualitative) CCVA for each. For each resource target, the SMEs drew on their knowledge and experience regarding the target’s sensitivities to identify the potential implications for that resource under each climate future. For some targets, like glacial rivers, the implications were similar in nature and direction under each climate future, but differed in magnitude of impact (Table 2). For others, like sockeye salmon, the uncertainty regarding potential impacts on freshwater rearing populations was so great as to mask potential differences between scenarios. For example, under each scenario, while rearing conditions are expected to improve, population variability is expected to increase (Runyon et al. in press). The park is reviewing these critical uncertainties to identify priority research and monitoring needs.

The results provide an assessment of critical vulnerabilities for each resource target and help inform priorities for further scoping (Table 2, excerpts from Runyon et al. in press). While finer details of exposure and, perhaps, resource sensitivity, may differ from park to park, the RSS provides a broad foundation for use in CCVAs at other parks.

Table 2. Highly abbreviated and simplified examples of relative vulnerabilities identified under each of the three climate futures (scenarios) for select natural and cultural resource targets considered by the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve RSS. Magnitudes are for mid-century relative to historical period 1950-1999. The more extensive summaries in Runyon and others (in press) include summaries of critical uncertainties shared across scenarios for each target resource.
Climate Scenario 1
(warm, wet summers, more snow)
Climate Scenario 2
(dry summers and falls, early snow melt)
Climate Scenario 3
(hot summer, mild winter, rainy)
Hydrology—glacial rivers
  • more runoff (14%)
  • more Fall floods
  • less river ice (and ice-based access)
  • less bank stability
  • more (6%) and earlier runoff
  • lower, earlier base flows
  • longer ice-free season
  • less bank stability
  • more runoff (30%)
  • more Fall floods
  • earlier base flows
  • no river ice
  • more bank erosion
Riverine archeology Sites degraded or destroyed due to more flooding causing direct erosion and flood-driven human land use changes. Sites degraded or destroyed due to more landslides (post-wildfires), more erosion (from flooding), and wildfire-driven human land use changes. Sites severely degraded or destroyed due to erosion from flooding and wildfires and flood-driven human land use changes.
Coastal archeology Reduced site integrity due to possible saltwater intrusion and likely flooding. Site inundation due to more coastal change.
Reduced site integrity due to likely saltwater intrusion and flooding. Site inundation due to dramatic coastal change. Reduced site integrity due to saltwater intrusion and flooding. Greatly increased site inundation due to dramatic coastal change.


A key tenet of the NPS Climate Change Response Strategy Update (NPS in press) is that all employees have a role in incorporating climate change into their realm of park operations and planning. This requires a basic level of climate change literacy, which the NPS CCRP supports through the development of training plans, content delivery, outcomes evaluation, and coordination across bureaus in the Department of the Interior. Training is also available through the National Conservation Training Center and other sources. The Department of the Interior is currently coordinating workforce literacy curricula across bureaus (contact CCRP for details).

The 2016 NPS Workforce Climate Change Literacy Needs Assessment and Training Strategy provides a service-wide blueprint for cultivating a climate-capable workforce. The strategy informs training for specific occupational categories and investments in future curricula. The CCRP offers a blended portfolio of formal and informal learning opportunities targeting NPS employees across occupational series (NPS 2016a). Many of the formal training modules are free and available on demand for self-paced learning.



After determining the most important climate change vulnerabilities associated with a management issue, the next step is to decide whether, when, and what adaptation actions may be beneficial to prevent or mitigate potential impacts. The report Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD)—A Decision Framework for the 21st Century Natural Resource Manager (Schuurman et al. 2020, see also Schuurman et al. 2022) frames the suite of management goals available when responding to ecosystems facing potential rapid, irreversible ecological change. The framework encourages natural resource managers to consider strategic, forward-looking goals rather than just maintain management goals based on past conditions. There are only three RAD options:

  1. Resist the trajectory, by working to maintain or restore ecosystem composition, structure, processes, or function based on historical or acceptable current conditions.
  2. Accept the trajectory, by allowing ecosystem composition, structure, processes, or function to change autonomously.
  3. Direct the trajectory, by actively shaping ecosystem composition, structure, processes, or function toward preferred new conditions (Schuurman et al. 2022).

The options differ in if and how managers intentionally intervene to shape the trajectory of ecosystem change. Where and when they do decide to intervene, managers can choose preferred ecological outcomes that vary from return to a historical benchmark to persistence of existing (non-historical) conditions or emergence of conditions for which there may be no local precedent. Note that for most natural resources, maintaining either historical or current conditions will be increasingly costly and over time may become infeasible.

While developed with natural resources in mind, the RAD framework can also help identify feasible management approaches for cultural resources and facilities. Ongoing work (Wright and Hylton 2022) is helping to identify and categorize cultural resource adaptation strategies across the full RAD spectrum, including:

  • Limiting climate exposures of cultural heritage resources in situ;
  • Reducing the sensitivity of resources in situ;
  • Reducing exposure by removing resources from their environmental context and accepting diminished integrity; or
  • Acknowledging imminent destruction, mitigating data loss, and preserving the memory and stories that the resources represented.

For natural resource managers who have intentionally established an appropriate goal for a given resource (and thus determined whether to resist, accept, or direct), a useful aid for developing specific strategies or actions to achieve that goal may be found in the “adaptation menus” developed by the Northern Institute of Climate Applied Science. These menus are focused on a specific management domain (e.g., wildlife management, fire-adapted ecosystems, etc.) and identify management strategies and associated actions from extensive syntheses of the published literature (Swanston et al. 2016). Three of the thirteen wildlife adaptation strategies, for example, are (1) maintain and enhance genetic diversity, (2) facilitate shifts in the geographic range of the species in anticipation of future conditions, and (3) adjust harvest regulations to manipulate populations of harvested species. Although focused on the tribes and forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal climate adaptation menu (Tribal Adaptation Menu Team 2019) provides a menu of culturally appropriate adaptation strategies and actions. While not all of these menus of strategies and actions will be appropriate to protected areas in Alaska, like RAD, they provide a starting point for prompting broad and creative adaptation thinking.

The Wrangell-St. Elias RSS led to detailed step-by-step documentation of the workflows for both the CCVA and adaptation development phases. The draft guidance includes templated worksheets. Staff at Haleakalā National Park are testing the guidance in their self-facilitated scenario-based adaptation planning process, with technical support from CCRP. The guidance is expected to become available in late FY24.


Policy Memo 12-02 (NPS 2012), Applying National Park Service Management Policies in the Context of Climate Change, reminds park managers of the comprehensive scope and flexibility of Management Policies (NPS 2006) and the need to ground decisions in the best available science using transparent decision making. Thus, park planning processes must account for novel environmental dynamics and trajectories of ecological transformation stemming from climate change. This accounting is achieved by incorporating climate change considerations into existing planning processes and tools, not by conducting a separate planning endeavor. As described in Step 2, the specific decision or planning focus dictates the framing of the vulnerability assessment and, thus, the framing of the adaptation process.

Planning for a Changing Climate (P4CC; NPS 2021b) guides NPS planners and managers in identifying climate adaptation options as a regular practice across comprehensive, strategic, and implementation plans. It advances and customizes Climate-Smart Conservation (Stein et al. 2014) to NPS planning purposes. Specifically, P4CC highlights that climate-informed planning processes must:

  1. Develop forward-looking goals that consider future climatic conditions. Adaptation planning looks to the future, not the past, by using climate projections to adopt forward-looking goals; and
  2. Consider more than one scenario of the future when developing management strategies and actions. Given the uncertainty in the speed and magnitude of future climate change, considering multiple scenarios is necessary to develop adaptation strategies that are robust, that is, can protect or mitigate against a range of impacts.
The planning for climate change planning cycle.
Figure 3: The NPS Planning for a Changing Climate (P4CC) process. Colored circles around steps 2-5 indicate where key principles of developing forward-looking goals and considering multiple scenarios play a critical role.

The P4CC cycle (Figure 3) follows the familiar stages of adaptive management because climate change adaptation is a continuing process rather than an endpoint. The other steps highlighted in this article all stem from the cycle. Implicit in the cycle is the need for increased attention to effectiveness monitoring of adaptation actions and documenting and sharing lessons learned.

P4CC training for planners is offered regularly. CCRP has worked with Park Planning and Special Studies and the Denver Service Center to standardize and streamline how to include climate change in the development of Resource Stewardship Strategies (NPS 2020). A P4CC handbook for any NPS planning process, further detailing the component tasks under each stage of the cycle, is under development.

Incorporating climate considerations into facility management is addressed in Policy Memo 15-01 (NPS 2015a) and its companion handbook (NPS 2015b, NPS 2023a). The handbook includes a Natural Hazard Checklist to screen the most likely hazards a project may confront; completing the checklist is required for any submission to the Bureau Investment Review Board. Incorporating climate considerations into cultural resource management is addressed in Policy Memo 14-02 (NPS 2014) and the companion Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy (Rockman et al. 2016).



Park managers are modifying operations to both reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt decision making to novel, climate-driven challenges (NPS 2010). Both components, mitigation and adaptation, are essential. After all, the NPS manages the largest number of built assets of any civilian agency in the federal government (NPS 2016). NPS efforts to mitigate production of GHGs take many forms, as exemplified by the ten broad sustainability goals identified in the Green Parks Plan (NPS 2023b).

A wayside exhibit about climate and glaciers.
Wayside exhibits at parks, like this one at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, help visitors understand the effects of climate change.




National parks are living laboratories where the effects of climate change can be readily observed and interpreted. Given an annual reach of 800 million in-person and digital visitors—and our vast cadre of communication specialists—the NPS is uniquely positioned to advance public dialogue on the climate crisis and support future adaptation solutions. Studies have found that park visitors are interested in climate change discussions at parks (Davis et al. 2012), and each park has its own story to engage visitors in climate change at the local level (Roberts et al. 2021).

The CCRP provides guidance and inspiration for park-level communications. The National Climate Change Interpretation and Education Strategy (NPS 2015c) advances four broad goals for communicating about the science and impacts of climate change across the NPS. The NPS climate change website provides robust, public-facing information on NPS climate change response. Climate-related updates also are shared regularly through dedicated monthly newsletters and via social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Several ongoing, targeted efforts further support park-level communication. Research on visitors’ perceptions of climate change (Davis et al. 2012) and current methods for online climate-change interpretation (Roberts et al. 2021), both of which included Alaska parks, provide insight to guide the development of products and messaging. Annual offerings of the Interpreting Climate Change virtual course and the Earth to Sky Academy provide training to front-line communicators on best practices in climate communication. And curriculum-based K-12 education on climate-related topics is supported through various partnership efforts (Perez et al. 2020), including the Park for Every Classroom program.

Technical assistance requests, one-time project funding, and youth internship programs provide additional opportunities to advance discrete climate communication projects. In the past, such mechanisms have supported the development of park wayside exhibits, park-specific climate web pages, interpretive multi-media videos, and climate communication strategies.



The scales of climate change impacts far exceed the ability of any one park, agency, or organization to effectively respond as a single entity, highlighting the value of partnerships in increasing our collective ability to respond to climate change. But this is nothing new for Alaska parks as the scales of these protected areas already have led to long-standing partnerships in wildlife monitoring and management, among others. Since 2010, the challenges of climate change have introduced some new partners, namely the USGS AK CASC and, through 2017, the five U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-hosted landscape conservation cooperatives, three of which continue advancing community and landscape-scale collaboration under the Northern Latitudes Partnerships. All these entities have a strong record of helping parks respond to climate change.

Evaluate and Learn

Climate change greatly increases the uncertainties managers must contend with. Future management decisions will be more successful to the degree we dedicate ourselves now to assessing the effectiveness of our climate adaptation actions and sharing the lessons learned. Assessments will be most effective when they are considered and designed soon after or in conjunction with the initial adaption action (Lynch et al. 2022). For example, if you implement a specific action as part of a goal to resist the ecological trajectory, also articulate what thresholds will trigger the need to revisit that decision, such as: the threshold of reasonable costs, outcomes that are unacceptable (e.g., no natural regeneration from restoration efforts), and other trigger points.

Embracing and implementing basic adaptive management in our climate adaptations will help future park managers better navigate how to meet the NPS’s mission under these changing conditions. As an organization that manages parks for learning and by learning, NPS leaders have an outsized role in prioritizing in situ learning and adaptation, and in supporting the novel actions required by climate change.


Alaskans, and especially those directly engaged with protected areas in the state, are increasingly aware of the impacts of climate change on natural and cultural resources, subsistence lifeways, park facilities and operations, and visitor experiences. Such awareness can be overwhelming, both to individuals and the organizations managing those areas. The mainstreaming actions described in this report can be used to guide and advance resource stewardship in this era of uncertainty and novel change.

Alaska’s expansive parks and preserves are an enviable foundation for learning about ecosystem responses and resilience to the many consequences of climate change, and for learning about effective adaptation actions in the face of those consequences. As the NPS Climate Change Response Strategy Update (in press) acknowledges, everyone has an important role in advancing climate change adaptation—especially NPS leaders who can prioritize climate topics, encourage action, and promote inclusivity. Together we can learn how to manage these changes across the next century.


This article was only possible thanks to the sustained commitment and efforts by the staff of Wrangell-St. Elias and partners who collaborated with CCRP and Denver Service Center on the recent Resource Stewardship Strategy with scenario-based climate change adaptation planning. This article is based on Olliff and others (in press), which focuses on climate change adaptation at parks in the Intermountain Region. The first six authors greatly appreciate the foundation, largely preserved, provided by them and their co-authors.

If your park is engaged in a planning process or decision that requires more specialized climate summaries, reach out jointly to CCRP (via the System for Technical Assistance Requests) and the USGS AK CASC. These groups will collaborate to determine the information needed, available resources and capacities, and a path forward to address these needs.


Ballinger, T. J., U. S. Bhatt, P. A. Bieniek, B. Brettschneider, R. T. Lader, J. S. Littell, R. L. Thoman, C. F. Waigl. J. E. Walsh, M. A. Webster. 2023.
Alaska terrestrial and marine climate trends, 1957-2021. Journal of Climate 36(13): 4375-4391.

Brekke, L. D., E. P. Maurer, J. D. Anderson, M. D.Dettinger, E. S. Townsley, A. Harrison, and T. Pruitt. 2009.
Assessing reservoir operations risk under climate change. Water Resources Research 45(4): W04411.

Chambers, N., J. Hart, M. Loso, R. Salazar, and M. Steigerwald. 2020.
Kennicott Glacier Interpretive Concept Plan. NPS Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Copper Center, AK. 32 pp.

Davis, S., S. Karg, and J. Thompson. 2012.
Climate Change Education Partnership Visitor Survey Summary Report. Place-based Climate Change Education Partnership. Fort Collins, CO.

Dessai, S., M. Hulme, R. Lempert, R. Pielke, Jr. 2009.
Do we need better predictions to adapt to a changing climate? EOS 90(13): 111-112.

Hayward, G. H., S. Colt, M. L. McTeague, T. N. Hollingsworth. 2017.
Climate change vulnerability assessment for the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai Peninsula. Gen. Tech. Report. PNW-GTR-950. Portland, OR; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 340 p.

Herman-Mercer, N. M., M. Laituri, M. Massey, E. Matkin, R. C. Toohey, K. Elder, P. F. Schuster, and E. Mutter. 2019.
Vulnerability of subsistence systems due to social and environmental change: A case study in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Arctic 72(3): 258-272.

Higman, B., D. H. Shugar, C. P. Stark, G. Ekström, M. N. Koppes, P. Lynett, A. Dufresne, P. J. Haeussler, M. Geertsema, S. Guilick, A. Mattox, J. G.Venditti, M. A. L. Walton, N. McCall, E. Mckittrick, B. MacInnes, E. L. Bilderback, H. Tang, M. J. Willis, B. Richmond, R. S. Reece, C. Larsen, B. Olson, J. Capra, A. Ayca, C. Bloom, H. Williams, D. Bonno, R. Weiss, A. Keen, V. Skanavis, and M. Loso. 2018.
The 2015 landslide and tsunami in Taan Fiord, Alaska. Nature Scientific Reports 8: 12993.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2014.
Annex II: Glossary [Agard, J., E. L. F. Schipper, J. Birkmann, M. Campos, C. Dubeux, Y. Nojiri, L. Olsson, B. Osman-Elasha, M. Pelling, M. J. Prather, M. G. Rivera-Ferre, O. C. Ruppel, A. Sallenger, K. R. Smith, A. L. St Clair, K. J. Mach, M. D. Mastrandrea, and T. E. Bilir, editors]. In Climate change 2014: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part B: Regional aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [V. R. Barros, C. B. Field, D. J. Dokken, M. D. Mastrandrea, K. J. Mach, T. E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K. L. Ebi, Y. O. Estrada, R. C. Genova, B. Girma, E. S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P. R. Mastrandrea, and L. L. White, editors]. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA.

Jacquemart, M., E. Welty, M. Leopold, M. Loso, L. Lajoie, and K. Tiampo. 2022.
Geomorphic and sedimentary signatures of catastrophic glacier detachments: A first assessment from Flat Creek, Alaska. Geomorphology 414: 108376.

Jorgenson, M. T., B. G. Marcot, D. K. Swanson, J. C. Jorgenson, and A. R. DeGange. 2015.
Projected changes in diverse ecosystems from climate warming and biophysical drivers in northwest Alaska. Climatic Change 130: 131-144.

Kellie, K. A., K. E. Colson, and J. H. Reynolds. 2019.
Challenges to monitoring moose in Alaska. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Management Report ADF&G/DWC/WMR-2019-1, Juneau.

Lader, R., P. Sousanes, U. S. Bhatt, J. E. Walsh, and P. A. Bieniek. 2023.
Climate indicators of landslide risks on Alaska national park road corridors. Atmosphere 14(1): 34.

Lawrence, D. J., A. N. Runyon, J. E. Gross, G. W. Schuurman, and B. W. Miller. 2021.
Divergent, plausible, and relevant climate futures for near- and long-term resource planning. Climatic Change 167: 38.

Lawrence, D. J. and A. N. Runyon. 2019.
Implications of climate change for the water supply of the Chisos Mountains developed area: Big Bend National Park technical assistance request 4945. Natural Resource Report. NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2019/2045. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado.

Liebezeit, J., E. Rowland, M. Cross, and S. Zack. 2012.
Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability of Breeding Birds in Arctic Alaska. A report prepared for the Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Wildlife Conservation Society, North America Program, Bozeman, MT., 167pp.

Littell, J. S., D. McKenzie, B. K. Kerns, S. Cushman, and C. G. Shaw. 2011.
Managing uncertainty in climate-driven ecological models to inform adaptation to climate change. Ecosphere 2(9): 1-19.

Littell, J. S., J. H. Reynolds, K. K. Bartz, S. A. McAfee, and G. Hayward. 2020.
So goes the snow: Alaska snowpack changes and impacts on Pacific salmon in a warming climate. Alaska Park Science 19(1): 62-75.

Littell, J. S. 2023.
Alaska Climate Futures (mid and late 21st century) and Historical References (20th century). U.S. Geological Survey Data Release.

Lynch, A. J., L. M. Thompson, J. M. Morton, E. A. Beever, M. Clifford, D. Limpinsel, R. T. Magill, D. R. Magness, T. A. Melvin, R. A. Newman, M. T. Porath, F. J. Rahel, J. H. Reynolds, G. W. Schuurman, S. A. Sethi, and J. L. Wilkening. 2022.
RAD adaptive management for transforming ecosystems. Bioscience 72(1): 45-56.

Michalak, J. L., J. J. Lawler, J. E. Gross, and C. E. Littlefield. 2021.
A strategic analysis of climate vulnerability of national park resources and values. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2021/2293. National Park Service, Fort Collins, CO.

Miller, B. W., G. W. Schuurman, A. J. Symstad, A. N. Runyon, and B. C. Robb. 2022.
Conservation under uncertainty: Innovations in participatory climate change scenario planning from U.S. national parks. Conservation Science and Practice 4(3): e12633.

National Park Service (NPS). 2006.
Management Policies. Washington, D.C.

NPS. 2010.
Climate Change Response Strategy. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

NPS 2012.
Policy Memorandum 12-02. Applying National Park Services Management Policies in the Context of Climate Change.

NPS 2014.
Policy Memorandum 14-02. Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources.

NPS. 2015a.
Policy Memorandum 15-01, Addressing Climate Change and Natural Hazards for Facilities. U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

NPS. 2015b.
Addressing Climate Change and Natural Hazards. Facilities and Design Considerations. Level 3 Handbook. U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

NPS. 2015c.
The National Climate Change Interpretation and Education Strategy. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

NPS. 2016.
Workforce Climate Change Literacy Needs Assessment and Strategy.

NPS. 2020.
Supplemental Guidance: Integration of Climate Change Scenario Planning into the Resource Stewardship Strategy Process. National Park Service.

NPS. 2021a.
Coming to terms with climate change: Working definitions. National Park Service, CCRP, Fort Collins, Colorado.

NPS. 2021b.
Planning for a Changing Climate: Climate-Smart Planning and Management in the National Park Service. National Park Service. Fort Collins, CO.

NPS. 2023a.
Addressing Climate Change and Natural Hazards Handbook: Checklist for Assessment of Environmental Change and Effects on National Park Service Facilities.

NPS. 2023b.
Green Parks Plan (3rd ed.). National Park Service, Sustainable Operations Branch. Green Parks Plan: Third Edition (

NPS. In press.
National Park Service Climate Change Response Strategy 2023 Update. National Park Service, Washington, DC.

Olliff, S. T., P. Benjamin, A. Erwin, J. Reynolds, W. Carr, L. Perez, G.W. Schuurman, D. Lawrence, J. Gross, A. Runyan, J. Wright, and M. Hylton. In press.
Responding to climate change-driven drought in the American Southwest: Using tools, frameworks, and strategies to build a park-based climate response. Intermountain Park Science, 202x. Lakewood, CO.

Peek, K. M., B. R. Tormey, H. L. Thompson, A. C. Ellsworth, and C. H. Hoffman (editors). 2022.
Climate change vulnerability assessments in the National Park Service: An integrated review for infrastructure, natural resources, and cultural resources. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2022/2404. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Perez, L., A. Delorey, M. Nelson, R. Stubblebine, and M. Holly. 2020.
Every kid in a park climate change academies: Notes from the field. Park Stewardship Forum. 36(2): CCCA4-CEC-2018-006.

Pierce, D. W., J. F. Kalansky, and D. R. Cayan. 2018.
Climate, drought and sea level rise scenarios for California’s fourth climate change assessment.

Roberts, R., M. Holly, and L. Perez. 2021.
Categorizing online climate change interpretation across the National Park System. Journal of Interpretation Research 26(1): 6-23.

Rockman, M., M. Morgan, S. Ziaja, G. Hambrecht, and A. Meadow. 2016.
Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy. Washington, DC: Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science and Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service.

Runyon, A. N., G. W. Schuurman, B. C. Robb, J. Littell, M. E. Miller, and J. H. Reynolds. In press.
Climate-resource scenarios to inform climate change adaptation in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. NPS Natural Resources Report NPS/WRST/NRR-2023/XXX. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Schuurman, G., D. N. Cole, A. E. Cravens, S. Covington, S. D. Crausbay, C. Hawkins Hoffman, D. J. Lawrence, D. R. Magness, J. M. Morton, E. A. Nelson, and R. O’Malley. 2022.
Navigating ecological transformation: Resist–Accept–Direct as a path to a new resource management paradigm. BioScience 72(1): 16-29.

Schuurman, G. W., C. Hawkins-Hoffman, D. N. Cole, D. J. Lawrence, J. M. Morton, D. R. Magness, A. E. Cravens, S. Covington, R. O’Malley, and N. A. Fisichelli. 2020.
Resist-accept-direct (RAD): A framework for the 21st-century natural resource manager. Natural Resource Report. NPS/NRSS/CCRP/NRR—2020/ 2213. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado.

Schuurman, G. W., A. N. Runyon, B. C. Robb, M. Hylton III, and J. P. Wright. In press.
Resource stewardship objectives and actions for climate change-sensitive cultural and natural resources in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve: Outputs from January-February 2022 Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Development. NPS Natural Resources Report NPS/WRST/NRR-2023/XXX. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Simeone, W. E. and E. McC. Valentine. 2007.
Ahtna knowledge of long-term changes in salmon runs in the upper Copper River drainage, Alaska. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Subsistence Management, Fisheries Resources Monitoring Program, Final Report (Study No. 04-553). Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence, Juneau, Alaska. 136 pp.

Snover, A. K., N. J. Mantua, J. S. Littell, M. A. Alexander, M. M. McClure, and J. Nye. 2013.
Choosing and using climate-change scenarios for ecological-impact assessments and conservation decisions. Conservation Biology 27(6): 1147-1157.

Star, J., E. L. Rowland, M. E. Black, C. A. F. Enquist, G. Garfin, C. H. Hoffman, H. Hartmann, K. L. Jacobs, R. H. Moss, and A. M. Waple. 2016.
Supporting adaptation decisions through scenario planning: Enabling the effective use of multiple methods. Climate Risk Management 13: 88-94.

Stein, B. A., P. Glick, N. Edelson, and A. Staudt (eds). 2014.
Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C.

Swanston, C. W., M. K. Janowiak, L. A. Brandt, P. R. Butler, S. D. Handler, P. D. Shannon, A. Derby Lewis, K. Hall, R. T. Fahey, L. Scott, A. Kerber, J. W. Miesbauer, L. Darling, L. Parker, and M. St. Pierre. 2016.
Forest Adaptation Resources: climate change tools and approaches for land managers, 2nd ed. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-GTR-87-2. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 161 p.

Terando, A., D. Reidmiller, S. W. Hostetler, J. S. Littell, T. D. Beard Jr., S. R. Weiskopf, J. Belnap, and G. S. Plumlee. 2020.
Using information from global climate models to inform policymaking—The role of the U.S. Geological Survey. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1058, 25 pp.

Tribal Adaptation Menu Team. 2019.
Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Odanah, Wisconsin. 54 pp.

Valentin, M. M., T. S. Hogue, and L. E. Hay. 2018.
Hydrologic regime changes in a high-latitude glacierized watershed under future climate conditions. Water 10(2): 128.

Vose, R.S., S. Applequist, M. Squires, I. Durre, M. J. Menne, C. N. Williams Jr., C. Fenimore, K. Gleason, and D. Arndt. 2014.
NOAA Monthly U.S. Climate Gridded Dataset (NClimGrid), Version 1. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Wild, M., A. Ohmura, and K. Makowski. 2007.
Impact of global dimming and brightening on global warming. Geophysical Research Letters 34(4): 1-4.

Wright, J. P. and M. Hylton III. 2022.
Plan the work, work the plan: An introduction to the National Park Service Climate, Science, and Disaster Response Program. Parks Stewardship Forum 38(3):389-411.

Part of a series of articles titled Reckoning with a Warming Climate.

Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve

Last updated: March 7, 2024