How One Funder Hopes to Bridge Conservation and Climate Work

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly urgent, the line between conservation and climate change work wears ever thinner. For those in the conservation camp struggling to cross over, there’s a new online resource, funded by Doris Duke. 

How do you manage a sandy barrier island at low elevation as sea levels rise and storms pummel its shores? Or a stretch of treasured forest as intense fires and invasive beetles tear through its trees? 

The old-school philanthropic approach to environmentalism that hinges on buying up land for protection is becoming increasingly difficult to parse from the work of climate change mitigation and adaptation. We’ve written before about certain conservation players not being entirely engaged in the climate change fight, but there’s a new resource that attempts to bridge this gap. 

Related: Where the Hell Is All the Climate Funding?

Funding from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported a website that encourages all land trusts not only to start prepping for how climate change will affect them, but also to become climate activists in their own way. 

Land protection and management is complicated enough, but add in the barrage of impacts from climate change, and there’s a whole new set of challenges facing those who manage protected land. The Land Trust Alliance’s new website, “Conservation in a Changing Climate,” hopes to offer something of a tutorial to help managers face climate reality. The site states, rather bluntly, in one section:

Since we cannot stop climate change, we must embrace climate change adaptation as a new and permanent element of conservation and land trust management plans. This means that some land trusts may even need to revisit their mission statement, conservation goals and selection criteria in order to maximize their positive impact in a climate changing world.  

The site offers self-assessment tools, a catalog of impacts affecting all types of protected land and regions, and a searchable toolkit. But it’s not just about adapting conservation strategies, it’s also about how land trusts can use their strengths to mitigate climate change with carbon capture, for example, and how to become advocates for inspiring action on climate. "Ultimately, land trusts may be able to help shape climate change policy, reduce community-wide carbon footprints and enhance the resilience of natural and developed environments to climate change impacts."

Related: Why This Funder is Backing a Database for Disaster

One of the most useful elements of the site is its case studies database, which shows the steps various trusts are taking. For example, the Big Sur Land Trust is addressing threat of fire and changes to stream flow in its long term management plan. And the small Otsego Land Trust in New York has launched a Climate Change Initiative that involves community outreach in support of renewable energy, as well as embarking on socially responsible investment.

The funding falls under Doris Duke’s conservation program, which often seeks to form a bridge with climate change work. It involves things like funding conservation strategies that take climate change into account, or making sure clean energy development isn’t destroying wildlife habitats, for example. It’s also a big supporter of the land trust community, and the Land Trust Alliance itself. 

The conservation and climate website is another interesting intersection between the foundation’s merged interests. Of course, a website isn't going to solve the problem. But aside from being potentially useful, it also represents a clear stance and a call to action from an association representing 1,100 member land trusts across the country.