Policy and Planning

New! The updated Planning page can be found here.
Golden Gate
Park planners at Golden Gate NRA are incorporating climate change considerations to address immediate and future impacts such as access to Fort Point on the road seen flooded in this image. NPS photo.


The National Park Service Climate Change Response Strategy (PDF - 5.1MB), released in September 2010, guides all policies related to climate change. It provides direction to the agency and employees for addressing and lessening the effects of climate change. It describes goals and objectives to guide our actions to protect the natural and cultural resources under our care through the four areas of emphasis: science, adaptation, mitigation, and communication.

The Applying National Park Service Management Policies in the Context of Climate Change (PDF - 150KB) addresses emergent questions regarding the influence of climate change on the guiding principles of park natural resource management, and specifically focuses on how climate change relates to (1) “impairment,” and (2) NPS Management Policies directive to maintain “natural” conditions and processes within parks.

The Climate Change Action Plan (PDF - 5.1MB), released in November 2012, builds on the Climate Change Response Strategy. It lists high-priority actions the National Park Service is committed to undertake in the next two years to address climate change in national parks. It provides guidance to help NPS staff prioritize decisions so that actions are focused and integrated across the Service.

The Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources policy memorandum, signed February 2014, provides guidance and direction to the National Park Service regarding the stewardship of cultural resources in relation to climate change.

The Addressing Climate Change and Natural Hazards for Facilities policy memorandum, signed January 2015, provides guidance on the design of facilities to incorporate impacts of climate change adaptation and natural hazards when making decisions in national parks.


Examining current NPS policy, planning, and decision-making practices is critical in responding to climate change. The effects of climate change will affect the ability of the National Park Service to meet its mission and comply with legal mandates. Most resource protection laws were not written considering a changing climate. For decades we have been striving for "natural" or "historical" conditions in the national parks, but such conditions may be more difficult or impossible to maintain under climate change. Even the concept of naturalness becomes convoluted in an era where human activities play a role in shaping global climate. Should our mandate to leave parks "unimpaired" for future generations reference a historical state or a future one under an altered climate? As the scope and intensity of climate change increases, these kinds of questions will strain the current policy framework unless revisions are made.

Climate change is creating a new and dynamic decision-making environment in which we cannot assume a continuation of historical patterns. Effective decision making and planning will require decision support systems that are flexible to shifting conditions. Six principles from the National Research Council were adapted for the Climate Change Response Strategy:

  1. begin with managers' needs
  2. give priority to process and products
  3. link information providers and users
  4. build connections across disciplines and organizations
  5. enhance institutional capacity
  6. design for learning

Existing planning documents, such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, park general management plans, and park resource stewardship strategies will incorporate climate change into all phases. To allow parks to better cope with uncertainty in future climate conditions, scenario planning offers an additional approach. When future conditions are uncertain, formulating multiple scenarios and then finding the beneficial actions common to each of the potential futures becomes an efficient approach and will be used for park planning. This approach can best be summed up as being prepared for worst-case scenarios, best-case scenarios, and a range of future alternatives in between.

Last updated: February 5, 2024


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