As natural resource management agencies and conservation organizations seek guidance on responding to climate change, myriad potential actions and strategies have been proposed for increasing the long-term viability of some attributes of natural systems. Managers need practical tools for selecting among these actions and strategies to develop a tailored management approach for specific targets at a given location. We developed and present one such tool, the participatory Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) framework, which considers the effects of climate change in the development of management actions for particular species, ecosystems and ecological functions. Our framework is based on the premise that effective adaptation of management to climate change can rely on local knowledge of an ecosystem and does not necessarily require detailed projections of climate change or its effects. We illustrate the ACT framework by applying it to an ecological function in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, USA)—water flows in the upper Yellowstone River. We suggest that the ACT framework is a practical tool for initiating adaptation planning, and for generating and communicating specific management interventions given an increasingly altered, yet uncertain, climate.