Applying Climate Adaptation Concepts to the Landscape Scale: Examples from the Sierra and Stanislaus National Forest

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Authors: Greg Aplet, PhD and John Gallo, PhD

This manuscript uses the landscape of the Sierra and Stanislaus National Forests to illustrate concepts of climate change adaptation that can be applied to national forest planning. The paper begins by making the case that climate change requires a fundamental shift in the purpose of forest planning from the scheduling of outputs to the management of risk. The national forests must be managed to reduce the probability of loss of ecosystem elements and thereby sustain the potential for future ecosystems to provide the many values of the national forests, collectively known as ecosystem services. The main body of the paper breaks risk down to its component parts of vulnerability, exposure, and uncertainty and suggests that risk can be managed by identifying and reducing any or all of these components. Last and most important, the paper argues that the uncertainty that attends climate change demands that risk be spread among a “portfolio” of management approaches that include accepting change, resisting change, and guiding change. We recommend allocating national forest lands to three zones dedicated to observation, restoration, and innovation corresponding to the three strategies. These zones are intended as a loose overlay of the national forests that help guide how forest-wide objectives are to be met.  For example, old-growth forest conservation may be accomplished merely by leaving the forest to develop on its own in the observation zone, by actively managing to sustain historical pattern and process in the restoration zone, and by anticipating climate change and managing for resilient, if novel, conditions in the innovation zone.