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Managing for climate change on federal lands of the western United States: perceived usefulness of climate science, effectiveness of adaptation strategies, and barriers to implementation

Kerry B Kemp, Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, University of Idaho
Jarod J Blades, College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Science, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
P. Zion Klos, Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, University of Idaho
Troy E. Hall, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University
Jo Ellen Force, Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, University of Idaho
Penelope Morgan, Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, University of Idaho
Wade T. Tinkham, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University


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Recent mandates in the United States require federal agencies to incorporate climate change science into land management planning efforts. These mandates target possible adaptation and mitigation strategies. However, the degree to which climate change is actively being considered in agency planning and management decisions is largely unknown. We explored the usefulness of climate change science for federal resource managers, focusing on the efficacy of potential adaptation strategies and barriers limiting the use of climate change science in adaptation efforts. Our study was conducted in the northern Rocky Mountains region of the western United States, where we interacted with 77 U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management personnel through surveys, semistructured interviews, and four collaborative workshops at locations across Idaho and Montana. We used a mixed-methods approach to evaluate managers’ perceptions about adapting to and mitigating for climate change. Although resource managers incorporate general language about climate change in regional and landscape-level planning documents, they are currently not planning on-the-ground adaptation or mitigation projects. However, managers felt that their organizations were most likely to adapt to climate change through use of existing management strategies that are already widely implemented for other non climate–related management goals. These existing strategies, (e.g., thinning and prescribed burning) are perceived as more feasible than new climate-specific methods (e.g., assisted migration) because they already have public and agency support, accomplish multiple goals, and require less anticipation of the future timing and probability of climate change impacts. Participants reported that the most common barriers to using climate change information included a lack of management-relevant climate change science, inconsistent agency guidance, and insufficient time and resources to access, interpret, and apply current climate science information to management plans.

Key words

adaptation; Bureau of Land Management; climate change; decision making; Forest Service; land management; public lands

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087