Factors influencing individual management preferences for facilitating adaptation to climate change within the National Wildlife Refuge System.
National Wildlife Refuge System policies reference both historical condition and naturalness, but these concepts may not be valid management goals in a world with rapid climate change. Currently, within the refuge system, managers and biologists can individually decide whether management actions to maintain historical condition (retrospective) or actions to promote and enhance future condition (prospective) are appropriate. In February 2008, we surveyed 203 refuge system managers and biologists (via email) about climate change and management strategies to facilitate adaptation to climate change. Our goal was to explore factors that influence preference for retrospective or prospective strategies. Most managers and biologists (76%) believe that climate change has already influenced their refuge, but land-use change and invasive species were considered more important landscape drivers. We did not find evidence that refuge purpose or inclusion of climate change in planning documents influenced individual preferences about strategies to facilitate adaptation. However, managers and biologists who conceptualize climate change as anthropogenic in origin were more likely to prefer retrospective strategies. Written responses indicate that managers and biologists prefer historical condition, but believe that retrospective strategies will be costly or impossible. Written comments also indicate that managers and biologists prefer strategies that allow species to adapt naturally and without intervention. We conclude that land management agencies need to provide the rationale for how climate change should be conceptualized in the short and long terms. Explicitly addressing conservation values may help to refine agency priorities in a rapidly changing world and to build the consensus necessary to strategically coordinate management across individual units in conservation reserves.