NWF - Natural Defenses in Action: Harnessing Nature to Protect Our Communities

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report, Natural Defenses in Action, discusses the role that nature-based approaches can play in reducing the impacts of weather and other climate-related hazards. The report contains 12 detailed case studies demonstrating how communities across the country are already successfully using nature-based infrastructure to protect against flooding, coastal storms, erosion, and wildfire. The report concludes that these nature-based approaches can be more cost-effective than traditional, man-made hazard-mitigation structures and measures, while offering additional environmental benefits.   

The case studies address:

- barrier-island preservation in Alabama

- marsh restoration in San Francisco and coastal Louisiana

- floodplain restoration and development relocation along the Mississippi River and in California’s Central Valley

- living shorelines and native vegetation in coastal Cape May, New Jersey, and along the Great Lakes

- hybrid approaches mixing natural and man-made structural interventions to protect Jamaica Bay in New York City

- forest management to reduce fire and flood damages in Flagstaff, Arizona

The report discusses rapid climate change and how it is exacerbating impacts such as warming temperatures, increased extreme precipitation, increasing risks of localized and regional flooding, sea level rise, storm surge, wildfires, habitat loss, and more. 

The report suggests that the best way to reduce these risks, is to avoid hazard-prone areas altogether. In order to manage existing properties already occupying such sites, NWF recommends reducing risk through: protecting intact ecosystems; restoring natural systems; creating nature-based features; and combining natural and manmade features.

NWF ultimately recommends three strategies to expand the use of natural defenses:

  • Reform key policies to promote and incentivize the use of natural defenses
  • Target research to improve effectiveness and advance appropriate applications
  • Promote best practices to accelerate on-the-ground implementation

Specific suggestions are offered in each of these categories for what will be needed to expand the use of, and receive the greatest benefit from, natural defenses.

Natural Defenses in Action is a collaboration among the National Wildlife Federation, Allied World Assurance Company, and Association of State Floodplain Managers.


Publication Date: June 21, 2016

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study

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