Strategic Habitat Conservation
Southeast Region

Tackling climate change in Tennessee’s State Wildlife Action Plan

Cover of  Tennessee's Coprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.  Credit: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Cover of Tennessee's Coprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Credit: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Tackling climate change may seem like an impossible feat, like trying to find a tiny needle in an enormous hay stack. But, if you take a small handful of hay and begin sifting through it, suddenly the challenge seems less monstrous. This is exactly how our Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency planning team felt as we attempted to incorporate climate change in Tennessee’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). As part of the State Wildlife Grants Program (SWG), each state had to complete a plan that identified species and habitats of greatest conservation need and outlined the steps to conserve them.

Early in January of 2005, Our SWG planning team met to begin discussions on species and habitat threats for inclusion in Tennessee’s SWAP. Our team was quite diverse and possessed the knowledge and years of experience needed to accomplish the task at hand. However, when it came to the topic of climate change, we scratched our heads. Climate change was beginning to get headlines in the national media and, to be honest, that was about the extent of our knowledge. We agreed climate change was a potential threat to Tennessee’s wildlife, but we also realized the enormity of the issue and decided to tackle this topic some other day.

Three years later, we began talking again about addressing climate change. We started educating ourselves and to help us, the volume and scope of peer reviewed literature had greatly increased. We soon realized that we not only needed to address climate change in terms of our greatest conservation need species and SWAP, but with all wildlife, including game species. Our approach, we decided, would be to develop a preliminary document summarizing the peer-reviewed literature with added discussions on how the literature results might be applied to habitats and wildlife in Tennessee. We then incorporated additional team members from various divisions within our agency. As a result of that meeting, faunal and habitat teams were created.

In the end, the process was not that painful and we were able to produce a good description of potential climate change effects in the terms of habitats, wildlife and recreation. By collaborating with others and chipping away small pieces at a time, we were able to begin tackling that climate change monster.

John Watkins of the Service’s Division of Federal Assistance is the Grants Manager for the SWG Program. Tennessee received $1,071,980 in SWG funds for FY 2009. For more information on TN’s SWG program, visit,

Submitted by Richard Kirk, non-game and endangered species program coordinator, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency


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Last updated: December 3, 2012