In April of 2013, the National Park Service Park Cultural Landscapes Program  gave a presentation which articulated the NPS Climate Change Response Strategy (CCRS) for Cultural Landscapes.  Following the CCRS, the cultural landscape response is divided into four strategies: science, mitigation, adaptation, and communication.


Cultural Landscape managers are called to “use the best available scientific data and knowledge to inform decision-making about climate change” and to “inventory and monitor key attributes of the natural systems, cultural resources, and visitor experiences likely to be affected by climate change” (Goals 1 and 3 in the CCRS).

apple tree

Recording blooming of apple trees in Saint-Gaudens NHS can give information about how the timing of the arrival of spring has changed since historic times, NPS photo

Cultural landscape managers should therefore use up-to-date scientific information in historic research, in analyzing existing conditions, and when researching information about relevant natural systems.  Managers can also contribute to climate change data collection when they complete Cultural Landscape Reports, Cultural Landscape Inventories and National Register Nominations which document ongoing changes to landscapes and records of treatment. Key attributes to record include: change in the landscape, identification of vulnerable cultural resources and sensitive natural systems, articulation of historic character, and information on treatment and maintenance decisions.


eleanor roos

At Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, a historic red pine stand has been struggling for some time, infested with the red pine scale. Rather than replace the stand with more red pines, which will likely continue to struggle, a substitute pine species will be chosen to replicate the historic character of the stand.

Recommendations for Adaptation fall under Goals 6 and 7 of the CCRS:

6.  Implement adaptation strategies that promote ecosystem resilience and enhance restoration, conservation, and preservation of park resources.

7.  Develop, prioritize, and implement management strategies to preserve climate-sensitive cultural resources.

Adaptation measures may include: substituting or altering the components in the landscape in accordance with the SOI standards, physically protecting vulnerable resources, committing to on-going cycles of maintenance, repair and replacement, relocating resources under imminent threat, and at last resort, recording and releasing the resources to succession.


Endangered n?n? at ‘?inahou Ranch in Hawai‘i Volcanoes NP use the landscape for breeding during the winter. Mowing and other maintenance activities are scheduled and carried out so that they do not impact the n?n?.

Adaptation can create more resilient landscapes that will better withstand adverse conditions. Resilient landscapes can be created by: selecting stronger materials, improving the health and vigor of the biotic systems, and replacing vulnerable vegetation with more hardy species.  Including non-historic native plantings can create a desired character, while increasing the landscape’s resiliency to adverse conditions.

Preserving resources in the face of changing conditions often means recognizing that frequent and on-going maintenance, repair, and replacement are necessary.  Properly maintaining fruit trees improves their health and helps them withstand periods of drought and fend off disease.  When no amount of protection can ensure survival of cultural resources, they may be relocated.  Resources that cannot be saved in any case, may be recorded and released.


Climate change mitigation denotes actions that reduce gas emissions and energy and resource consumption, thereby reducing our carbon footprint.  Cultural landscape managers can reduce impact by: using environmentally friendly practices in landscape maintenance, reducing the level of maintenance required in the landscape, and building healthier, more self-sufficient systems in our historic landscapes.

valley forge

Meadow land at Valley Forge requires less maintenance, NPS photo

Cultural landscape management creates carbon through mowing, water, fertilizer, and herbicide usage.  Mowing can be reduced by defining smaller areas for mowing.  Managers can also substitute non-historic species or varieties that are better adapted to current conditions and that will reduce dependence on maintenance resources.  Historic landscape practices may also create less carbon output as well as enhancing historic character and providing an opportunity for interpretation.

Other suggestions for mitigation in cultural landscapes:

  • Drip irrigation
  • Solar pumps and controllers
  • Irrigating at night
  • Irrigating only when needed
  • Compost trimmings and apply them to the landscape

Use equipment that is retrofitted to run on alternative fuels such as propane gase, biofuels, or electricity

Herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers can harm cultural resources; use alternative methods for weed removal like hand-pulling, black plastic, or steam weed removal.  In the end, vital, balanced systems are better able to withstand other climate change-related impacts like: pests, diseases, drought, invasive vegetation, and high winds.


Sharing expertise with colleagues within the park service increases the knowledge base, fosters stewardship, and allows park managers to make informed decisions about how their cultural landscapes are managed.  Communicating efforts with visitors, neighbors, and partners brings relevance and immediacy to climate change and its impacts, and demonstrates practices that can reduce carbon footprint.

The above article was adapted from the presentation transcript.  For more information and to download PDF of the presentation see the National Park Service Park Cultural Landscapes Program webpage.