Making America Climate Resilient


By Liz Tully | November 7, 2023

By lowering water levels by nearly a foot at Indian Ridge Marsh, Audubon Great Lakes and partners have created an additional 21M gallons of water storage in a highly urbanized area already prone to flooding. Photo credit: ©Audubon Great Lakes

At the end of September, President Biden hosted the first-ever White House Summit on Building Resilient Communities and launched a new National Framework for Climate Resilience. The new Framework identifies six critical objectives:

1. Embed climate resilience into planning and management.

2. Increase resilience of the built environment to both acute climate shocks and chronic stressors.

3. Mobilize capital, investments, and innovation to advance climate resilience at scale.

4. Equip communities with information and resources needed to assess their climate risks and develop the climate resilience solutions most appropriate for them.

5. Sustainably manage lands and waters to enhance resilience while providing numerous other benefits.

6. Help communities become not only more resilient, but also more safe, healthy, equitable, and economically strong.

Over the past twelve years, the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund (CAF) has been a leader in the adaptation field. With support from the Doris Duke Foundation, the CAF has funded U.S. non-profits to catalyze innovative, science-driven projects responding to the impacts of climate change on wildlife and people. Through this work, we have developed deep expertise on the 3rd, 4th and 5th objectives of the National Framework, and we are actively pursuing opportunities to inform and support their implementation.

Members of the restoration team practice skill-building by installing process-based restoration structures downstream along the Mancos River. Photo credit: ©Trees, Water & People

Our portfolio of 140 projects, network of over 100 lead implementing organizations and broader network of 300–500 cross-sector partner organizations have given us a rich understanding of factors that contribute to an adaptation project’s success. In advance of the framework’s release, CAF and partners briefed the Council of Environmental Quality and their interagency working group on adaptation, key authors and contributors for the framework, on these lessons learned.

The Climate Adaptation Fund has funded U.S. non-profits to catalyze innovative, science-driven projects responding to the impacts of climate change on wildlife and people.

Going forward, outreach and convening efforts will allow CAF to transfer these lessons to government agencies and assist them in implementing this new guidance. Through our work, we’ve developed several resources, including planning and evaluation frameworks, practitioner guidance documents, and a national network of hundreds of experts and practitioners. We’ve also learned that cross-sector partnerships that include local partners are critical to most effectively build climate resilience.

For example, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe are installing in-stream structures and cotton and willow plantings on Ute lands in Colorado and Utah. These structures will slow the flow of water and increase stream meanders to raise water levels and combat the effects of climate-driven drought.

Upstream view of crew building a beaver dam analogue in the Middle Mancos River. Photo credit: ©Mountain Studies Institute

This project brings together diverse stakeholders across the watershed to implement these strategies and preserve the ecological values of fish and freshwater habitat, plant species that are culturally valuable to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and sustain agricultural livelihoods. These partnerships promote cross-cultural exchange and shared learning, and serve as replicable tactics to recruit regional-scale adoption.

In Chicago, a partnership of landowners, non-profits, local governments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and BIPOC community organizations worked to restore urban wetlands providing stopover sites for migratory birds.

In the Calumet region of Chicago, local landowners and a partnership consisting of non-profits, local governments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and BIPOC community organizations installed water control structures to restore urban wetlands that serve as important habitat and stopover sites for migratory birds.

The outcomes benefitted nearly one million residents in a historically underserved community dependent on coastal-related tourism and recreation for their livelihoods. This project built urban resilience to climate change in an under-resourced and densely populated region while also improving water quality for wildlife, reducing flooding, and ensuring that migratory birds’ access to stopovers is preserved in a changing climate.

Tribal harvester and Montezuma Land Conservancy Cross-Cultural Programs Director, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, visits with a family of participating landowners. Photo credit: ©Trees, Water & People

In our experience, bringing the right level of support to the right partners — as these examples illustrate — is critical to achieving climate resilience outcomes. The work is knowledge-intensive and often requires a dedicated intermediary to ensure funds are channeled in ways that address what’s needed on the ground. While that may increase “transaction” costs, the benefits of increased effectiveness and impact far outweigh those costs.

CAF and its partners will continue to help advance federal agency missions, including efforts to build climate-ready coasts, manage climate-ready forests for current and future generations, and reduce the negative impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats.

We hope to share these lessons, and others, to support the U.S. government’s effort to make America climate resilient.

Liz Tully is Director of the Climate Adaptation Fund at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).



Wildlife Conservation Society
WCS Conservation Solutions

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.