Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks set out to identify climate change adaptation strategies for fire management for the parks and surrounding environments. Engaging researchers and managers from parks, US Forest Service, US Geological Survey and Universities, the team engaged in setting objectives, defining scenarios, assessing ecosystem vulnerabilities, assessing spatial priorities, and using a management gaming scenario to identify more or less effective park strategies for maintaining highly valued ecosystem attributes in the face of changing climates. Ecosystem vulnerability was assessed using simple bioclimatic envelope models based on existing plant community coverage. Spatial priorities were assessed using MARXAN on plant communities, cultural resources (e.g., named sequoia trees) and critical ecosystem features (e.g., karst/cave geology).
Scenario planning identified four potential future states based on dry season water stress and fire ignition attributes. An additional four scenarios were identified focusing on social context in which these future climate may occur. Vulnerability models suggest high vulnerability of lower to midslope vegetation types with a large magnitude of change predicted. Different future climate scenarios were sufficiently divergent in climate, but lacked divergence in apparent outcomes, rendering it difficult to determine any ‘best steps’ that would optimize outcomes under the divergent potential future conditions. Spatial planning tools, however, identified clear hotspots of concern for helping maintain existing ecosystems. Spatial planning tools were less effective at identifying potential areas for ecosystem realignment. Fire management gaming clearly demonstrated that prescribed fire and stand thinning are unlikely to achieve desired future states as a consequence of constraints on the amount of each management action that can be taken. The exercise was effective in team building and developing a deep understanding of the potential future management challenges. Primary outcomes of the process included the capacity to effectively develop further research needs for highly valued and vulnerable resources (ie, sequoia groves) and to prepare the research staff to capitalize on the recent drought to further investigate climatic stressors to existing vegetation.