Enhancing Parks and Protected Area Management in North America in an Era of Rapid Climate Change through Integrated Social Science


  • Ryan L Sharp Eastern Kentucky University
  • Christopher J. Lemieux Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Jessica L. Thompson Northern Michigan University
  • Jackie Dawson University of Ottawa


climate change, parks, protected areas, social science, policy, management, adaptation, governance, adaptive co-management


The contributions of the social sciences to the advancement of protected areas and climate change adaptation discourses and deliberations have remained relatively marginal and under-recognized. Given the slow response by protected area agencies in terms of the development and implementation of adaption strategies and site-level management actions, it is becoming increasingly clear that solutions to the complex challenges posed by rapid climate change will require an integrated approach—one that extends beyond the biological realm to one that acknowledges the inextricable links between biological and social systems. This paper illustrates how some of the significant advances in the social sciences are improving the cultivation of knowledge of climate change impacts, and reframing protected areas policy and practice. First, we discuss the ways in which social science work has already improved conservation knowledge and practice related to climate change. We argue that social science's critique of conservation ideas and management norms has improved both knowledge and understanding of climate change, understanding the management implications thereof, and has contributed to the development of a range of insightful tools and methods in support of adaptation efforts. We then proceed to outline ways in which the social sciences can be used to communicate uncertain climate risks to policy- and decision-makers, and an increasingly concerned public. Next, we look at emerging governance paradigms relevant to protected area management, including adaptive co-management, which may encourage dialogue amongst stakeholders working in complex, multi-jurisdictional land use planning contexts and enhance management flexibility in an uncertain future. We conclude by emphasizing that the ability of the conservation community to better understand and effectively adapt to climate change will require a more substantive effort to integrate natural and social science perspectives in research, policy and practice. Such adaptations will not be easy and imply a major paradigm shift in current parks and protected areas policy and planning, and the practice of climate change research.





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