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Responding to Climate Change in National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options

Responding to Climate Change in National Forests


This resource was submitted by the Climate Risk Institute for use by the CanAdapt Climate Change Adaptation Community of Practice.

This article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

National forests are required to take significant steps to incorporate climate change in management and planning, including the development of options that facilitate adaptation of natural resources to potentially deleterious effects of an altered climate. Despite uncertainties about the timing and magnitude of climate change effects, sufficient information exists to begin the adaptation process, a form of risk management. The following steps, based on a science-management partnership, can be used to facilitate adaptation on national forests: (1) become aware of basic climate change science and integrate that understanding with knowledge of local resource conditions and issues (review), (2) evaluate sensitivity of natural resources to climate change (rank), (3) develop and implement options for adapting resources to climate change (resolve), and (4) monitor the effectiveness of on-the-ground management (observe) and adjust as needed.

The “resolve” step is used to develop solutions that ensure sustainable resource management in meeting conservation goals, and encompasses four management strategies—resistance, resilience, response, and realignment—that encourage thinking about a range of possible options. The resistance strategy includes actions that enhance the ability of species, ecosystems, or environments (including social) to resist forces of climate change and maintain values and ecosystem services in their present or desired states and conditions. The resilience strategy enhances the capacity of ecosystems to withstand or absorb increasing effects without irreversible changes in important processes and functionality. The response strategy works directly with climate-induced changes to assist transitions to future states by mitigating and minimizing undesired and disruptive outcomes. The realignment strategy uses restoration techniques to enable ecosystem processes and functions (including conditions that may or may not have existed in the past) to persist through a changing climate.

Processes and tools used to accomplish adaptation differ, depending on local resource conditions, management objectives, and organizational preferences. Therefore, several processes and tools are presented here, all of which have been used and evaluated on federal lands. This guidebook provides the documentation of science-based principles, processes, and tools necessary for a credible and practical approach for adapting to climate change. This credibility is critical whether adaptation options are focused on general strategies (e.g., increasing resilience of dry forests to fire) or tactical actions (e.g., reducing stem densities and fuels to specific levels). Sharing of experiences from adaptation projects on national forests and other federal lands will enable others to implement adaptation more effectively and efficiently, and collaboration among different agencies, landowners, and stakeholders will ensure that diverse perspectives are included in climate-change adaptation. Integration of adaptation in operational management and administration of national forests, including established planning processes, will be challenging but necessary to ensure long-term sustainability of natural resources in a changing climate.

Citation: Peterson, David L.; Millar, Connie I.; Joyce, Linda A.; Furniss, Michael J.; Halofsky, Jessica E.; Neilson, Ronald P.; Morelli, Toni Lyn. 2011. Responding to climate change in national forests: a guidebook for developing adaptation options. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-855. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 109 p.

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