U.S. National Forests adapt to climate change through science–management partnerships

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Littell, Jeremy, Peterson, David, Millar, Constance, and O'Halloran, Kathy
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Developing appropriate management options for adapting to climate change is a new challenge for land managers, and integration of climate change concepts into operational management and planning on United States national forests is just starting. We established science–management partnerships on the Olympic National Forest (Washington) and Tahoe National Forest (California) in the first effort to develop adaptation options for specific national forests. We employed a focus group process in order to establish the scientific context necessary for understanding climate change and its anticipated effects, and to develop specific options for adapting to a warmer climate. Climate change scientists provided the scientific knowledge base on which adaptations could be based, and resource managers developed adaptation options based on their understanding of ecosystem structure, function, and management. General adaptation strategies developed by national forest managers include: (1) reduce vulnerability to anticipated climate-induced stress by increasing resilience at large spatial scales, (2) consider tradeoffs and conflicts that may affect adaptation success, (3) manage for realistic outcomes and prioritize treatments that facilitate adaptation to a warmer climate, (4) manage dynamically and experimentally, and (5) manage for structure and composition. Specific adaptation options include: (1) increase landscape diversity, (2) maintain biological diversity, (3) implement early detection/rapid response for exotic species and undesirable resource conditions, (4) treat large-scale disturbance as a management opportunity and integrate it in planning, (5) implement treatments that confer resilience at large spatial scales, (6) match engineering of infrastructure to expected future conditions, (7) promote education and awareness about climate change among resource staff and local publics, and (8) collaborate with a variety of partners on adaptation strategies and to promote ecoregional management. The process described here can quickly elicit a large amount of information relevant for adaptation to climate change, and can be emulated for other national forests, groups of national forests with similar resources, and other public lands. As adaptation options are iteratively generated for additional administrative units on public lands, management options can be compared, tested, and integrated into adaptive management. Science-based adaptation is imperative because increasing certainty about climate impacts and management outcomes may take decades.


Littell, J., D. Peterson, C. Millar, and K. O’Halloran. 2012. U.S. National Forests adapt to climate change through science–management partnerships. Climatic Change 110:269–296. doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0066-0.