Resist-Accept-Direct Framework

What is RAD?

Park managers today face growing challenges. As climate change interacts with other stressors such as land use change, pollution, and nonnative species, ecosystems are changing beyond the bounds of historical variability. These changes are increasingly difficult to resist. Thus, managers are thinking more broadly about how to effectively conserve resources in this rapidly changing world. In this context, the resist–accept–direct (RAD) framework helps decision makers make informed, purposeful, and strategic choices. This tool is simple and flexible, complements other important climate change adaptation approaches, and applies to a wide range of decisions that managers must make as they steward transforming ecosystems.
Vector art showing three sailboats in a storm, labeled Resist, Accept, and Direct

In short, one can respond to the trajectory of change by resisting (working to maintain or restore based upon historical or acceptable current ecosystem conditions), accepting (allowing an ecosystem to change without intervening), or directing (actively shaping ecosystem change toward preferred new conditions).

Consider the analogy of a sailboat being pushed away from its home port by strong winds (right). Each option differs in terms of costs and outcome:

  • To accept is to lower the sails and allow the boat to move with the winds, arriving wherever they lead.
  • To direct is to use the winds, via sails and rudder, to steer the boat to a specific new, preferred destination, both far from home port and from where the winds alone would take it.
  • To resist is to lower the sail and fight the prevailing winds, using a motor to attempt to return to home port.

Where does the RAD framework come from?

The RAD framework emerges from efforts by the NPS and partners since 2015 to hone a tool to foster strategic thinking and clear communication about how to steward transforming ecosystems. It builds on the Resist-Accept-Guide framework first proposed in Beyond Naturalness (2010), though the NPS and partners replaced "Guide" with "Direct" to explicitly recognize the potential for strong intervention at key points to foster preferred new conditions. Initially, the NPS experimented with "Accommodate" in place of "Accept," and this formulation appears in NPS publications as early as 2016 (e.g., Coastal Adaptation Strategies Handbook, Resource Management and Operations in Central North Dakota). Ultimately, Resist-Accept-Direct was chosen because each option may require associated management actions.

We continue to share, develop, and apply the RAD framework with a broadening circle of partners. In recent years, the RAD framework has helped structure the work of the Federal Navigating Ecological Transformation (FedNET) working group, where representatives from federal natural resource management agencies collaborate to develop guidance for stewarding transforming ecosystems.

The NPS and partners have recently:

Learn more about RAD

The RAD Framework has also been central to numerous recent collaborative efforts that have produced the following: The USGS RAD page provides additional graphics and recorded RAD webinars, and the USFWS climate change page includes more resources and a case study.
An illustration of three sailboats in a storm labeled resist, accept, and direct
Another representation of the sailboat analogy above. The Resist boat powers upwind in an attempt to return to where it started. The wind and waves push the Accept boat to parts unknown. The Direct boat captain uses the prevailing conditions to steer to a new location of choice.

Last updated: November 17, 2021

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