Recent research shows that ecosystem processes and management objectives in fire-prone ecosystems in the North Cascadia region are vulnerable to climate change. Ecosystem processes, including disturbance regimes, hydrologic regimes, and carbon storage, will likely be altered in a changing climate. Climate change will also challenge management objectives for federal lands, such as maintaining the ecological function of fire while simultaneously maintaining access for recreation and management and meeting smoke emission guidelines. National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service managers are mandated by agency policies to assess the vulnerability of resources and take management actions to reduce these vulnerabilities and increase ecosystem resilience to climate change. Land managers need information to facilitate the implementation of science-based adaptation options. The North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership (NCAP) is a science-management collaboration in the North Cascadia ecosystem of Washington. The NCAP core includes two national parks, two national forests, and scientists from the U.S. Forest Service PNW Research Station and the University of Washington. NCAP’s three primary objectives are 1) to assess the vulnerability of resources to climate change, 2) to develop adaptation options to increase ecosystem resilience, and 3) to use an “all-lands” approach to adaptation planning.
NCAP held a two-day workshop in November 2011 focusing on climate change, vegetation, and ecological disturbances. A team of scientists and managers worked collaboratively to identify key vulnerabilities, adaptation actions, and barriers, opportunities, and information needs for implementing adaptation. The team identified vulnerabilities associated with increases in disturbances and changes in the timing and severity of disturbances, including limits to agency capacity to manage for and respond to larger or more frequent disturbance events. The team developed potential adaptation actions that focused on reducing tree and forest vulnerability to disturbances, increasing fire use in wilderness areas, protecting the urban interface, and greater monitoring and planning for post-disturbance response. Opportunities for implementation include greater inter-agency collaboration and the potential to use disturbance events as opportunities to increase ecological resilience. Barriers to implementation include differences in agency mandates and a general lack of management in wilderness areas. More research on where changes in disturbance regimes are likely to occur at a scale relevant to management of national park or forest units would aid vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning . NCAP is a significant step forward in effective adaptation planning on public lands and a model for other land management units to follow.