Climate adaptation for wildlands
Impacts of rapid, directional climate changes are now apparent in many wildland and protected areas, stimulating considerable interest in and demand for climate adaptation by managers. A key issue for many wildland managers and agencies is simply knowing how to approach and get started with climate adaptation. The extent and magnitude of changes, uncertainty, need for new data and expertise, and novelty pose challenges to traditional planning processes. We used a guiding conceptual framework to specifically ask how we could (1) best link and apply science and science-based evaluations to meet management needs for climate adaptation, and (2) identify and prototype a repeatable and effective process for climate adaptation planning by wildland mangers. We report results from a multi-year collaborative study of US National parks and surrounding areas (especially National Forests and BLM lands) in the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains.
With Park staff and existing multi-agency partnerships we identified a small set of key resources that were used to focus detailed vulnerability assessments at scales of species, ecological systems, and landscapes. Managers consistently prioritized dominant forest species, important habitats, key ecological processes (e.g. water dynamics), and resources previously identified to be under threat from climate and non-climate stressors. These were frequently the focus of existing management plans (e.g. whitebark pine), and we found that contributing to solutions to existing needs was much more effective than attempting to create new priorities. Our vulnerability assessments addressed climate exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity, and we identified relative risk and the sources of threats to resources that included dominant tree species, habitats, and ecological processes. Assessments used analyses of historical observations and trends, and projections of climate, species distributions, and ecosystem processes. In collaboration with wildland managers, we are working to integrate results of our multi-scale analyses with practical and legal considerations to identify a range of management options, and to evaluate actionable options that are robust to uncertainties and that address Park priorities.