Planning for Climate Change in Michigan Coastal Wetlands

How will Great Lakes coastal wetlands fare in a changing climate? While many uncertainties remain about potential climate change impacts in the Great Lakes, it is clear that coastal areas may be subject to a diverse set of impacts, ranging from warmer water temperatures, significant water level changes, generally decreased ice cover, and increased spring storm events.

In order to help plan for these types of changes, NWF worked with Great Lakes Commission staff and Dr. Jennie Hoffman on a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality-funded project to identify approaches to climate change adaptation applicable to Michigan coastal wetlands. The project benefited from the advice of an expert Project Review Committee (with wetlands or climate adaptation experts from academia, agencies, other nongovernmental organizations and private industry). Through a literature review, committee input, and recent experience, the team identified a number of potential “best practices” that can be pursued by coastal managers in optimizing wetland protection and restoration in a changing climate. Following a prioritization process, we identified 18 best practices, which would be pursued either at an individual project level or an institutional level (e.g., through state regulatory or policy changes).

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (M. Murray)
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (M. Murray)
The practices are summarized in a recently released toolkit, Best Practices for Climate Change Adaptation: Spotlight on Michigan Coastal Wetlands, which includes summaries of the practices, challenges and opportunities, case studies, and resources. The practices range across diverse topics, including:

  • Continuing education of practitioners, which has already been pursued in a number of environmental fields. The NOAA Climate-Ready Great Lakes effort is a key example in the region, consisting of three training modules, a notebook, and other resources.
  • Climate screening of wetland-related policies addresses the gap often seen in wetland policies not originally taking into account climate change. Two approaches highlighted include an effort to incorporate climate adaptation planning into Habitat Conservation Plans carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the recently revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which includes a Climate Change annex and recommendations to include climate change in a new nearshore framework.
  • Incorporation of climate change in land protection decisions will be increasingly important in an era of potentially more extreme water level changes. The Bete Grise Reserve consists of an 8,000+ acre wetlands complex on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and additional land acquisition in the past two years should increase the resiliency of the area to climate change impacts.
  • Climate vulnerability assessments are being increasingly used to understand how climate change may impact particular species or habitats and help determine adaptation actions that should be pursued. NWF, NOAA, and EcoAdapt partnered in a project to incorporate adaptation planning into seven Great Lakes habitat restoration case studies, and the resulting publication highlights the general approach to a climate-smart restoration process in Great Lakes coastal areas, including relating to wetland restoration.


The toolkit provides summaries, cases studies and other information for other best practices, both at the institutional and project levels. Though the toolkit was designed to help inform coastal wetland management in Michigan, the identified practices and supporting information should be useful to wetlands management in other coastal states considering how to manage wetlands in a changing climate.
Take ActionTake action on wetlands in Michigan and around the country by supporting a rule to strengthen Clean Water Act protections.

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Published: November 4, 2014