The impacts of climate change are threatening the resources in our national parks, including many of the cultural resources within them. This month we interviewed Lauren Meyer, Program Manager for the National Park Service Intermountain Historic Preservation Services Office, and Dr. Gregg Garfin, former director of the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center consortium and climatologist at the University of Arizona, to learn more about a project they worked on to develop an online, interactive tool for assessing the vulnerability of cultural resources to natural hazards that climate change may intensify in the Intermountain region of the US. Image credit: USDA photo by Bob Nichols.
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DOI Southwest CASC: https://www.swcasc.arizona.edu/
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[00:00:00] Emile Elias: Welcome to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub
[00:00:05] Sarah LeRoy: and the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center or Southwest CASC. I'm Sarah LeRoy Science Applications and Communications Coordinator for the Southwest CASC.
[00:00:17] Emile Elias: And I'm Emile Elias, director of the Southwest Climate Hub.
[00:00:21] Here we highlight stories to share the most recent advances in climate, science, weather, and climate adaptation and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and communities.
[00:00:33] Sarah LeRoy: We believe that sharing some of the most innovative forward thinking and creative climate science and adaptation will strengthen our collective ability to respond to even the most challenging impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.
[00:00:55] The contents of this podcast are for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as endorsement for any of the products, technologies, or strategies discussed.
[00:01:06] I still fondly remember my grade school field trip to Mesa Verde National Park, where I got to climb a ladder up the side of a cliff and enter the cliff dwellings built by the ancestral Pueblo people, nearly 800 years ago.
[00:01:21] National parks in this country are enjoyed by many. In fact, in 2021 there were nearly 300 million visitors to national parks in the US. The impacts of climate change are threatening the resources in our national parks, including a lot of the cultural resources such as those at Mesa Verde. Current planning for the stewardship and conservation of cultural resources in the National Parks has been based on historical patterns in weather and material response.
[00:01:52] But as the climate changes, these norms may no longer be applicable and National Park Service cultural resource managers are concerned. To prepare for future changes, the National Park Service Vanishing Treasures Program partnered with the University of Arizona and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center to develop a framework to address climate change impacts on cultural resources in the Intermountain region, which includes an interactive online vulnerability assessment tool that incorporates environmental factors and calculates resource sensitivity.
[00:02:28] I was the project manager for this work and I'm thrilled to welcome two of my colleagues on the project. Lauren Meyer, program manager for the National Park Service, Intermountain Historic Preservation Services Office, and Gregg Garfin, former director of the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Consortium and climatologist at the University of Arizona.
[00:02:52] Thanks for talking with us today. Lauren, I wanted to start by asking you a question because you had the vision for this project a very long time before it actually became to be a reality. So could you give us a little bit of background on the types of climate change impacts that you're seeing to cultural resources in the region and why this framework was needed in the National Park Service?
[00:03:17] Lauren Meyer: Sure, Sarah and thanks for inviting me to join the conversation. First, just as a reference point for the discussion as the Intermountain Historic Preservation Program and more specifically, the Vanishing Treasures Program of the National Park Service, we focus our work on the documentation, assessment and preservation of heritage architecture and traditional building practices and materials in the region.
[00:03:40] This is important to note as we start to talk about the resources that are the subject of this project. Broadly, the National Park Units in the Southwest preserve and protect both the tangible or the physical and intangible elements of a really complex and diverse regional cultural heritage. These places tell stories of life ways and traditions that have endured over decades, centuries, and being the traditional homelands of numerous American Indian tribes for millennia.
[00:04:07] Architectural heritage expanse in the region, spans centuries and ranges from the vernacular to the local or regional construction. Very influenced by cultural traditions and the environment in which they're built through the public designed like monumental buildings that we see across park units.
[00:04:23] Some of the oldest architectural heritage in the country is in the southwest. Much of that being particularly susceptible to environmental impacts because of their age, the fragility of their construction materials and their current state of preservation. So many of them are lacking structural components or exist in landscapes that are constantly changing as a result of erosion.
[00:04:45] Now, these places have endured for so long because of the environment in which they sit, the materials that they're built out of, and the cultural practices that have maintained them. That being said, in the last several decades, weather patterns have very obviously been changing. This is causing higher than normal rates of degradation to significant structures and sites in our parks, and is forcing managers to rethink their overall approach to resource documentation, assessment, monitoring, treatment, and forcing us in reality to also assess visitor access, due to concerns related to safety.
[00:05:18] Increased temperatures and long duration drought have resulted in large high intensity wildfires that have threatened damage or destroyed cultural resources. Atypical high intensity, high capacity rain events have caused significant wall collapses, loss of architectural features, erosion of site materials, changing drainage patterns across the landscape.
[00:05:37] As the climate continues to change and become more unpredictable throughout the region, these threats are gonna increase exponentially and standard approaches to management and preservation become no longer relevant or sustainable. So why was this work needed? Previous to, and at the time of this project's initiation, a lot of the focus related to vulnerability of cultural heritage in the National Park Service, the US and elsewhere was, and to be honest, still is on sea level rise and coastal impacts.
[00:06:05] The West and the Southwest in particular has its own unique set of issues and threats. And as we're seeing in actuality, stands to be a hotspot for changes that'll significantly impact people, lifeways, landscapes, everything. So fire increased severe weather, flooding, erosion. Our landscapes are inherently parched and fragile, and they'll become more so in the coming years.
[00:06:26] So our job, our intent was to help site managers know where to start, how to prioritize, and where to focus effort. We need tools to help build knowledge, support, decision making towards intervention, or alternatively not to intervene and to justify actions. And this was our attempt at that first step.
[00:06:45] So taking some form of action in support of the vast resources within and honestly outside of our park boundaries, and to better understand the physical conditions and threats to help frame the conversation.
[00:06:57] Sarah LeRoy: Excellent. Thanks Lauren. So developing a framework like this is a pretty big task. And so Gregg, I wanted to ask you you know, who was involved in the project and where did the team start in trying to tackle this task?
[00:07:10] Gregg Garfin: Thanks for the questions Sarah, and thanks for inviting me to be on the podcast. Well, the project was entitled Framework for Addressing Cultural Resource Vulnerabilities in the National Park Service Intermountain Region. And it was developed as a cooperative agreement between the National Park Service and the University of Arizona, and we'll come back to cooperative agreement later.
[00:07:36] So we submitted a proposal to the Park Service before I was affiliated with the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center or Southwest CASC, and the project was approved after I was affiliated with the CASC. And that'll resonate with some remarks that I'll probably have, sometime later. But at any rate, we started out with a University of Arizona team that included climate scientists, remote sensing and ecosystem scientists, experts in architecture and historic structures.
[00:08:11] And a really strong project manager to keep the group on task. And then we were joined by Holly Hartman, a consultant who's long worked on group decision processes using strategic scenario planning.
[00:09:08] And the park service team included Lauren, whose professional background I believe is as an archeologist and architectural conservator and Pam Benjamin an ecologist and National Park Service climate change manager. Rachel Adler, another archeologist. And then later on we were joined by Evan Oskierko-Jeznacki, who's a researcher on historic and archeological structures.
[00:09:39] So that, that was the team basically. And where do we start to tackle this? Well, you know, we began where any study typically begins with a literature review on climate change impacts on cultural resources and historic structures and cultural landscapes, and we looked at a lot of National Park Service publications and publications that were funded by the Park Service, you know, studies that were funded by the Park Service. And we also began by assembling data, you know, climate data, remote sensing data, and whatever structure condition data we could get or that the Park Service could direct us to. But the really, the key to starting out here was to focus on methods that could be replicated.
[00:10:30] And as Lauren mentioned, most of the methods that had been developed up to that point were really focused on coastal environments and risks related to sea level rise and storm surges, which I hope in our lifetimes anyway are not an issue for the Intermountain West.
[00:10:49] Emile Elias: Thanks, Gregg. Thanks for that background. Lauren, adaptive capacity is something often incorporated into vulnerability assessments. Can you define adaptive capacity and share your thoughts on incorporating adaptive capacity into assessments for cultural resources, including this one?
[00:11:08] Lauren Meyer: So adaptive capacity is the degree to which a resource can naturally adapt or acclimate to a climate change impact, the ability of a species or system to accommodate or cope with climatic and environmental change with minimal disruption.
[00:11:23] With this work, the team chose to leave out adaptive capacity as a factor in determining resource vulnerability to changing conditions. For built heritage is these structures, buildings and sites don't have any innate ability to adapt on their own. The adaptive capacity for these resources is fully dependent on human intervention, on those approaches implemented and changes made related to management and maintenance.
[00:11:48] The conservation and building materials and techniques available to make these sites more resilient, technologies that can be implemented and the ability of our policies to accommodate changing interventions and approaches among other things. But these are all external factors. Because we wanted to first look at inherent characteristics and physical vulnerability of these sites and structures.
[00:12:10] We chose to remove adaptive capacity from the equation. A lot of other studies included. Does it mean that it should not be a consideration overall because we left it out? Absolutely not. But there's almost a social component to understanding adaptive capacity when human intervention and decision making drives it.
[00:12:27] And that subjectivity, that variability from place to place, park to park, resource to resource would be very difficult to quantify, which is why we chose to leave it out.
[00:12:38] Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks Lauren. And that's good background and information for people who are thinking about doing future cultural resources vulnerability assessments.
[00:12:46] So Gregg, this is a question for you. How did the team decide to define vulnerability for cultural resources?
[00:12:54] Gregg Garfin: Yeah, thanks for that question, Emile. You know, after doing literature review for a while and looking into the data that was available to us, we as a group, you know, we kind of had this overall feeling that we were tasked with a unique project and that no single vulnerability assessment methodology would fit our project scope.
[00:13:19] So, We determined that we needed to create our own vulnerability assessment method, but with a little more reflection, we realized that rather than develop yet another method, it would be more effective and probably build more learning. You know, if we could bring together the multiple researchers and Park Service practitioners that work on cultural resources vulnerability assessment, and you know, basically develop cultural resources, climate change, vulnerability, community of practice. And so, You know, we did that. Pulled together folks in a workshop and through that process of exchanging knowledge and through our literature review and our internal deliberations, we arrived at a definition.
[00:14:18] You know, typically vulnerability is measured in dimensions of exposure to climate change, sensitivity, you know, how things will react. And adaptive capacity, which Lauren just explained, we removed from the process. So we, you know, we had to define these things and then put 'em together somehow. So we defined exposure as the degree to which environmental factors impact an area or a structure, or a cultural landscape. And we took into account, you know, again, based on iterative discussion within the group and amongst our partners. And from our literature review, we honed in on a few climate and environment exposure parameters, and those included changes to annual maximum temperature, changes in the freeze thaw frequency, the number of days with extreme precipitation, the number of dry days, the potential for soil erosion, and the potential for a wildfire hazard.
[00:15:41] And we combined those factors in an additive manner, and then we defined sensitivity as the degree to which a cultural resource is impacted by an exposure. And the team ultimately decided to assign sensitivity scores based on the cultural resource as a system, which is something that maybe Lauren can describe better than I can. But before, before we hand that over to Lauren, what we did was we combined the exposure and the sensitivity scores, and that gave us an overall vulnerability rating for each kind of building system. And we defined that vulnerability as environmental exposure times the system sensitivity, and that gave us the overall system vulnerability.
[00:16:50] Emile Elias: Great. Thanks Gregg, and thanks for defining sensitivity because this next question dives into that a little bit more. So, Lauren, you and another member of the team developed a novel way of looking at sensitivity of cultural resources by looking at a whole building as a system. So can you describe this approach and how it evolved?
[00:17:12] Lauren Meyer: Sure, and I think maybe the first thing to note is that we went through several iterations of the sensitivity valuation as we refined and ultimately got to where we are now. You know, there are a lot of factors that influence and affect the physical vulnerability of a site or structure. Initially we were looking just at materials, but quickly realized that there were other things that needed to come into play and into the valuation to help us really understand and make comparisons across resources.
[00:17:44] So again, just focusing on physical material, vulnerability, right, or sensitivity. We first work to determine those characteristics of a building or structure that influence its vulnerability, the attributes of a building that make it more vulnerable or alternatively more resilient to the impacts of the environment.
[00:18:04] So what are those? Predominant system material, obviously, those building materials don't exist in a vacuum. Their performance or failure is dependent on many other things. So we did incorporate other characteristics into the evaluation. The structure type, the more robust of structure types being more resilient. Construction complexity, assuming the more complex the construction, the more stable. For example, the existence of foundations, bonded and multi wide walls, those would be less sensitive to impacts than structures that didn't have those elements that weren't sitting on a foundation. The weatherability of materials and the durability of those against environmental exposure, the existence or absence of preservation treatments assuming that the presence of those treatments means that a site is being more actively maintained, offering it greater resilience.
[00:18:58] The existence of protective systems like roofs, shelters whether they're natural like alcoves at Mesa Verde or constructed. Maintain vegetation systems, which stabilize a site in which a building sits. All of these attributes, we considered those that contribute to or build resilience in a site, or alternatively make them more vulnerable if they do not exist.
[00:19:21] So we combined those attributes to create 120 building systems that hopefully represent the majority of resources out there in the field. These systems were then assessed against the exposure variables that Gregg was speaking to, and scores were developed based on specific and technical knowledge by discipline specialists related to performance, and then known and assumed failure mechanisms.
[00:19:44] The scores are reflective of how each system is assumed to respond to each of the exposure. An example would be a system with the following attributes. An earthen system that has bearing walls, simple construction, poor weatherability of the materials no treatments, so very little maintenance and no protective systems.
[00:20:06] So no roofing systems, no closure systems. And a system like that in our program would be categorized as Earth one in the tool. That has a high vulnerability score related to increased precipitation then say a stone system with a, with similar characteristics because of the way this type of earthen system would respond to significant precipitation events.
[00:20:28] A lot of this work can be attributed to the work of the historical architect within our program, Evan Oskierko-Jeznacki who led the effort to evaluate and provide the scoring system. And again, what we did was we did sort of this valuation and this scoring had technical specialists review it based on their understanding of performance of buildings and responses to materials and other characteristics to environmental conditions. And we're now in the field testing a lot of that just to confirm our assumptions.
[00:21:01] Sarah LeRoy: Thanks, Lauren. And so as I mentioned in the intro, a large output of this project was an online GIS based tool. And so the building system sensitivity piece that Lauren just described and the whole equation for vulnerability that Gregg you described is a part of this tool that managers can use to essentially access the vulnerability assessment.
[00:21:26] And as it says, assess vulnerability for their cultural resources at their park. So Gregg, I was hoping you could describe the tool a little bit and then also explain, you know, why the team decided to create this type of output for the assessment.
[00:21:41] Gregg Garfin: Yeah. I'll start by describing why we decided to develop the tool and then I'll endeavor to describe it.
[00:21:51] So about midway through the first phase of the project one of our team members, Susan Bierer, developed an interim report and in that report she looked at climate change related impacts to cultural resources and used some Park Service data, something called a list of classified structures, which is like a computerized inventory of all the historic and prehistoric structures that have significance to the Park Service.
[00:22:33] And as a set of case studies, she looked at this kind of data, these classified structures for a subset of four parks in our intermountain region and she combined those with the kind of geospatial hazard data on drought and wildfires and soils and erosion, that kind of stuff that our remote sensing colleagues on our team really excel at. And what she developed was a set of maps for these four parks to show the vulnerability of cultural resources to each of these environmental factors. And that was a really great first step to begin to assess how to define the exposure and sensitivity of the cultural resource.
[00:23:24] But the output was just a set of static maps, and you know, upon further discussion with our Park Service partners, they realized that it would be more beneficial to have a dynamic assessment, you know, something in the form of an interactive tool that could be updated. And so the team developed the Cultural Resources Environmental Vulnerability Assessment tool or CREVAT.
[00:24:02] You know, scientists try to come up with these catchy names, hahaha CREVAT. Anyway, it allows the park managers to interactively develop vulnerability ratings using the assessment approach that I described earlier. We determined that CREVAT was best suited to make preliminary assessments of cultural resources in a park and not so much to assess individual structures and that kind of individual structure assessment using on the ground site assessments are the specialty of our colleagues at University of Pennsylvania, and they've developed a really rigorous and well documented replicable assessment procedure.
[00:25:08] So, CREVAT gives you an entry point, and it's also unique because it includes those projections of future climate and the, our U-Penn colleagues developed this really rigorous site assessment of actual structures. So, you know, again, based on input from Lauren's team and other park service colleagues, we revised CREVAT from being just a kind of a GIS thing-a-ma-bob to provide two levels of cultural resource vulnerability analysis. One is a summary of cultural resource vulnerability at the level of a park, and another is of a summary of vulnerability at a regional scale. You know, where the users can of CREVAT can compare vulnerabilities across parks, and that's a really key output for somebody like Lauren who manages a big program. So, know, so we developed this interactive GIS tool.
Like with most websites, you enter the website and you're presented with with choices in a clearly labeled matrix where you can look at background materials and how the data were constructed and all that stuff. But really, the main entry point is to select your cultural resource system, and you're guided through a decision list that helps you narrow down from those 120 different structure system categories that Lauren described down to the one that you really wanna home in on, and then you can evaluate the vulnerability of a system at a location where you enter a GIS interface. We've all done that. And you can select different exposure layers. And basically what you get is a map and a set of summary tables that show the different exposure parameters and other information based on the sensitivity of the system.
[00:27:53] So again you're looking at a map and you can get down to some of the individual data, individual grid cells or you can select a region of your choice. And then there's a, another entryway to look at the vulnerability of park units across the units landscape and in comparison to nearby units.
[00:28:17] And there you're sent to a dashboard and you get a map of where the unit is and where nearby units are, and you get ratings of the overall vulnerability of the system type and you also get a graph of the vulnerability of that park, which you can, using the map, expand the range. So you can compare with nearby parks.
[00:28:48] So you get a bar graph where you can compare the different vulnerabilities, and then you can also get a pie chart of all the exposure factors and how much each factor contributes to the vulnerability. It's a lot of really cool information and it's a very intuitive kind of interface.
[00:29:14] Sarah LeRoy: Thank you Gregg for that very good description of CREVAT and I appreciate you saying that it's intuitive because I know we worked a very long time and you know, we even had some focus groups and received feedback and had multiple iterations to make CREVAT what it is today.
[00:29:31] And so we will include the link to CREVAT in the description for this podcast episode so people can access it if they'd like and see it visually. And so Lauren, I wanna ask you, you know, Gregg just described the CREVAT and we've talked about the framework and so, you know, I thought it'd be nice for the listeners to hear how you envisioned using this framework, you know, at the regional scale.
[00:29:55] And then, you know, you mentioned that CREVAT is being used on the ground now. You are seeing managers use it. Is it in the way that you intended?
[00:30:05] Lauren Meyer: Well, just starting with, you know, some of what Gregg mentioned. So CREVAT is meant to provide, again, both this park scaled and regional scaled output, right? Park focused outputs where the regional hotspots are related to a specific set of climate stressors, which building system types are more vulnerable than others in a certain area based on those climate projections, which stressors contribute most to that system's vulnerability. And then the regionally scaled via comparison of vulnerability of a system type across parks in the region, or comparison of vulnerability generally across parks.
[00:30:39] So, you know, with that, the idea was that a manager would be able to use this as a first step in understanding how the various resource types or building systems that lie within their park boundaries might respond to changing conditions in their specific part of the world by bringing to bear the expertise of cultural resource specialists, the architects, conservators, archeologists, engineers, and then the climate scientists, geospatial experts, natural resource specialists.
[00:31:05] We would build a system that could be run without the addition of large and park specific data sets. So we're working to try to require minimal effort on the part of the user and provide that user with a place to start a process of identifying the geographic locations and resource types that are most at risk, and a way to compare resource types.
[00:31:26] So again, this is just reiterating a little bit of what Gregg said. I think it's really important just to make sure that it's really clear what this system does and doesn't do. You know, once a resource manager has that information in hand, they could drill down into their specific park resources. And as Gregg said, there are other tools out there and available to be used alongside this tool like scenario planning, like the University of Pennsylvania model that he mentioned so that they could pair those programs and those projects, those tools, with this one to really start understanding vulnerability sensitivity. So is it being used? Yes. We're seeing it being used in the parks. We are using it as regional programs. As I mentioned, we're still testing the system. We're working with parks across the region to identify the system strengths, find gaps, understand needs.
[00:32:16] We're getting a lot of positive feedback. The goal, again, in part, was to empower Park and regional specialists to be able to better advocate for resources, to give them a tool that would provide information to instigate conversation about management in light of threats to bring awareness to regional climate change concerns related to cultural resources.
[00:32:36] And we're most definitely seeing that happen. There's a lot of work that needs to be done to follow up and to continue to develop this tool, but we're seeing a lot of positive response to the work that's already been done.
[00:32:49] Sarah LeRoy: Excellent. That's good to hear. Thank you. So to me, this project really is an excellent example of co-produced research in the, you know, the sense that we worked with the Park Service team along the way.
[00:33:01] So Gregg, I'm wondering, could you explain what science co-production means and you know, really how this project exemplifies science co-production?
[00:33:11] Gregg Garfin: I'll use a definition of some colleagues including Southwest CASC investigator Allison Meadow, and these folks wrote a key paper on co-production back in 2015, and here's what they said, and I quote, Co-production of knowledge is the process of producing usable or actionable science through collaboration between scientists and those who use science to make policy and management decisions.
[00:33:40] And so this process, you know, involves a collaboration between scientists and, you know, people using scientific information to frame questions and decide how to answer the questions and how to analyze the findings. And what research shows us is that this kind of collaboratively produced knowledge is more likely to be transparent to the end user, perceived as legitimate.
[00:34:12] It's easier to integrate with existing decision processes, and the end user has more of a sense of ownership. And so in the case of this project, which was defined as a cooperative agreement, so right in there we've got cooperation built right in, and it was super, so we had a really high degree of cooperation.
[00:34:35] We worked as partners making the most of the knowledge and the resources that could be brought to bear by both the Park Service and the Park Service network of staff and funded researchers and by the university and the Southwest CASC and our networks and connections to other scientists and data repositories and national climate initiatives and tribal climate resilience liaisons and others.
[00:35:08] You know what really characterized this co-production was that we had real, you know, two way exchange of information. You know, it wasn't like some expert standing up on a pedestal, you know, dictating down to someone else. And in some cases, especially with the workshops we convened, we had a lot of multi-directional communication.
[00:35:35] And in addition, The research questions and like the need for a product like CREVAT, it originated from our partners in the Park Service and in that whole process of developing CREVAT and in the scenario planning work, we intentionally designed it to build capacity within the Park Service, but also within the university and the CASC communities so that we could better understand the issues at hand and the limitations of the data and the limitations of the vulnerability methodology, the assessment methodology. And really to learn how to work together on an issue that has been under-researched and receives like a fraction of the budget that similar natural or physical science endeavors receive.
[00:36:37] So, you know, in some ways for three or more years, we were joined at the hip and it was a really great experience.
[00:36:46] Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks Gregg. So you just mentioned some benefits inherent in this cooperative project, and I'm wondering were there any challenges that arose during the course of the project and how did you address them? Lauren will start with you.
[00:37:01] Lauren Meyer: Sure. And I think some of Gregg's response gets at this already, actually. You know, we walked into the project without really a shared vocabulary between our team, the cultural resources team and the climate side of things. And before we got too far into the system development, we first really had to learn from each other about our specific disciplines, about our priorities, terminology, standards, approaches to resource management.
[00:37:26] And I think this really gets at that co-production and collaboration that Gregg was speaking to. We worked really long and hard at coming together and working to better understand how we all could bring benefit to this project to each other, just generally to the conversation around climate change impacts on resources in general, but to cultural resources in particular.
[00:37:47] And then the second piece is data. So our hope when we initiated this project was that we'd be able to take advantage of existing data sets that could be brought into a tool and provide a manager with information that would be very specific to their resources on the ground when overlaid with the environmental data.
[00:38:04] We learned pretty quickly that we didn't have the right data at the right level in the Park Service systems, specifically the historic structures inventory that Gregg mentioned earlier, cultural landscape inventories and some of the archeological data sets. They weren't at the right level for us to be able to do that.
[00:38:21] We were limited by these existing systems and then also the functionality of the platforms available to us to build the tool. So essentially we created our own, and that was how we resolved that issue.
[00:38:34] Gregg Garfin: I'd like to add a couple of other challenges. One was the COVID pandemic, you know, so the project got started late in 2017 and we were really building up steam throughout 2019 and as we came towards the last year of the project, when we're planning to have several in-person workshops, BLAMO the pandemic hits.
[00:39:04] That had an effect on maybe on the dynamic of the workshops, as we all know, convening by Microsoft Teams or Zoom it, it's a it's a different kind of dynamic. It's a little limiting and it kind of wears you out faster, I think, than than when you're together in a room and you can take a break and have some social interaction, things like that.
[00:39:30] Another challenge was reconciling the different scales of vulnerability assessment, and this required a lots of long conversations with our Park Service colleagues and our University of Pennsylvania colleagues, and ultimately with the goodwill that we developed through meeting multiple times in workshops and phone calls and o, other things along those lines, and, and good faith efforts. And Evan's timely graduation from the University of Pennsylvania program and into the Vanishing Treasures program, thus freeing up his insights and valuable input, we were able to work through those major improvements to CREVAT and agree on this kind of two step, two scale system assessment where CREVAT provides this coarse spatial scale entry point, and the future climate projections and the University of Pennsylvania's rapid cultural resource assessment methodology is very site and structure specific and fine scale. And in tandem we learned that it's a powerful system for assessing vulnerabilities to both current and future conditions. But wow, some of those conversations were a bit testy for a while.
[00:41:04] Emile Elias: Great. Thank you Lauren and Gregg for outlining those challenges.
[00:41:08] I think all of our listeners especially can relate to the COVID 19 pandemic and that changing the way we work and disrupting projects. So, Gregg, the framework applies to national parks in the Intermountain region. Can it be used more broadly, say, by managers in national forests?
[00:41:28] Gregg Garfin: Yeah. Well, I'm so glad you asked that.
[00:41:31] It can definitely be used more broadly. Certainly by anybody within the boundaries of the National Park Services Intermountain region, which stretches from Montana down to Texas. That's a pretty huge region. And you know anybody managing cultural landscapes or resources or historic structures, as long as you can describe your cultural resource system of interest, the CREVAT tool allows you to hone in on a user selected area. You can get a summary of that exposure and vulnerability information based on your selection of the cultural resource system and its sensitivity. And you can get all sorts of other information and you can download the exposure data used to calculate vulnerability.
[00:42:31] So it's it's quite flexible in that regard.
[00:42:37] Sarah LeRoy: Thanks Gregg. And here's another question for you in regards to scenario planning, as this was also a large part of this project. Can you explain what scenario planning is and also explain how it was used here to identify potential adaptation measures?
[00:42:52] Gregg Garfin: Okay so, scenario planning it it's a structured process for organizing complex information about how the future might evolve and you can use it to test decisions or develop strategies, particularly in the context of uncontrollable and uncertain factors, right? So climate change. Any individual park service employee doesn't have a whole lot of control over climate change, nor I presume, do they have control over national or international economics or politics or public support for various things and or technological innovations and so on.
[00:43:46] So you can see there's a lot of uncontrollable and uncertain factors and essentially what you do is work together to develop a plausible and internally consistent story about the future that challenges people to consider how you'd operate under novel conditions. So it really spurs disruptive and outside the box thinking, and I think it's really important to emphasize that scenarios are not forecasts or predictions. So what we did was we worked through this structured process of co-developing exploratory scenarios through a number of focus group meetings and workshops.
[00:44:39] And in a nutshell, via Zoom, heaven help us over the course of a year, we worked to come to some common understandings about assumptions, about various things that affect cultural resources and some of the key challenges faced by Park Service cultural resource managers. We defined a set of focal issues to explore, you know, under kind of the rubric of how will the Park Service manage cultural resources that may be threatened or destroyed by climate stresses.
[00:45:24] And we, we did a series of facilitated interactive workshops and webinars that were facilitated by our consultant partner, Holly Hartman. So we looked at the driving forces of change, all of those things I mentioned before, the climate projections, the information from CREVAT, our ideas about some of the non climate factors like the economy or the abundance of human and economic resources or public support for the Park Service or the strength of leadership and so on. And we created multiple distinct scenarios, and then we use those workshops to spur conversations to look at potential impacts and then potential strategies to adapt to these plausible changes suggested by the scenarios.
[00:48:01] And so, let's imagine a situation where the climate stresses are really high and the, there's maybe unsupportive partners outside the national park and I don't know other factors like a public that's maybe not supportive of different kinds of Park Service interventions and things along those lines. And maybe the economic situation is really challenging. So there's few resources. So this might, you know, this kind of scenario might stimulate the Park Service to figure out how they could proceed with fewer active interventions.
And then we applied an engineering methodology called critical path method. And that helped us determine the final sequencing of the actions based on the most robust set of actions for these very difficult choices and that helped us build some capacity to use this scenario process and to connect it with some of the existing kinds of planning processes that folks in the Park Service use.
[00:50:34] Sarah LeRoy: Thank you, Gregg for giving us a summary of the scenario planning. Just for our listeners, you and I put together with our colleagues, you know, 180 page report on the scenario planning for this project. So you did a great job of paring that down a bit and giving us a good summary. So I wanted to shift gears just slightly and ask you another question, Gregg, about tribes and whether they played a role in the development of the framework or any of the outcomes of the project.
[00:51:04] Gregg Garfin: So, you know, in the course of doing this we mentioned this work to tribal climate resilience liaisons in the CASC Network, and it was a topic of interest to them. So we invited them to our initial vulnerability assessment, community of practice workshop. And what came out of that was a series of conversations.
[00:51:28] One of our partners in the process, Pam Benjamin took this up and developed a Park Service tribal engagement and climate change community of practice to focus on exchanging information and enhancing tribal engagement and addressing these kinds of cultural resource management issues that are associated with climate change.
[00:51:56] And as a result of all these conversations, this group, this tribal engagement and climate change community of practice meets every other month. And they also have a webinar series and they've created some working groups to tackle various issues. And it seems to me from the outside, like it's a really thriving working group.
[00:52:23] Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks Gregg. During these conversations, we usually ask climate professionals what gives them hope related to their work and climate change. So Lauren, what gives you hope?
[00:52:35] Lauren Meyer: Well, we're moving forward. We're taking steps to understand and address critical needs as they relate to climate change and the potential and actual impacts on cultural heritage.
[00:52:45] The co-creating and collaborating, the breaking down of silos and working across disciplines, communities, and geographies. There's been a great interest in and support for this type of research. The communities and work groups that Gregg mentioned that have been created and that continue and flourish towards furthering this work the relationships that have resulted from this project, the attention on Western issues and impact to heritage, the engagement with tribes and discussions on how we share knowledge.
[00:53:13] All of this gives me a lot of hope. Hard decisions are gonna have to be made. We won't be able to save everything, obviously, but we hope that in engaging with tribes, with communities, with discipline specialists, with our partners in the public will find ways to act and be proactive.
[00:53:28] Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks Lauren. Gregg, the same question to you. What gives you hope?
[00:53:33] Gregg Garfin: So, I derive hope from these thousands and thousands of individual and collective actions that peoples and and groups and states and countries take to make progress on this climate challenge. You know, climate change affects us on a lot of different scales.
[00:53:53] Those kinds of positive actions, regardless of the scale, inspire me to keep working with partners on this issue. And, you know, partnerships and communities of practice are really inspiring and partners like Lauren and you, Emile, people who have vision and bring people together to work creatively in a real practical manner, that really gives me hope.
[00:54:17] Emile Elias: Aw, thanks Gregg. That helps me keep going. All right, so to close our conversation today, what's one thing that you want people to remember from this podcast, from our conversation. Lauren, we'll start with you.
[00:54:33] Lauren Meyer: I think maybe the one thing that I would love for people to take away is the strength of partnership and what you can do when you start working across boundaries.
[00:54:42] You know that working across disciplines can bring to light information and result in conversations that can elevate and really again, result in better outcomes. So much has come of the direct work of this project. The tangential things though as well. Again, the community of practice that stretches beyond our agencies and disciplines.
[00:55:00] The tribal engagement working group, and the national attention. I mean, this all goes back to the strength of the partnership and the numerous people who have been involved, who've contributed to the work that we've been doing together. There have been so many universities and so many non, you know, NGOs and nonprofits, so many individuals who we've been engaged with over the last several years in working through this project and I think, you know, we could not have done it without each individual who contributed to it.
[00:55:30] Emile Elias: Thanks Lauren. Gregg, what's the one thing you want people to remember from our conversation?
[00:55:36] Gregg Garfin: Great minds think alike. So, you know, I was thinking that, you know, collectively we created this kind of hive mind and you know, that sort of collaborative process is really powerful. And I think maybe to springboard off of some of your remarks, Lauren, the openness of our respective groups to bring on other partners and perspectives and try different approaches allowed us to tap into a really huge, hive and then we could refine it to meet the needs of the Park Service.
[00:56:13] So, you know, together we took this journey towards a satisfying solution and that's what I'd like people to take away. Hive of mind.
[00:56:24] Emile Elias: Gregg Garfin, Lauren Meyer, thank you so much for speaking with us today about the Cultural Resources Vulnerability Assessment and your collaborative work.
[00:56:34] Gregg Garfin: Thank you, Emile. What a pleasure.
[00:56:35] Lauren Meyer: Thank you.
[00:56:42] Emile Elias: Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub
[00:56:47] Sarah LeRoy: and the USGS Southwest CASC. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to rate or review it and subscribe for more great episodes. A special thanks to our production crew, Skye Aney and Reanna Burnett. If you want more information, have any questions for the speaker, or would like to offer feedback, please reach out to us via our websites.