The Forest Service’s Climate Adaptation Publication is a Worthy Resource for All Landowners

By Chris Schnepf

Foresters were among the first to start thinking about the possible effects of climate change, in part because of the long-term nature of forests—foresters commonly reflect on management issues on 50 or even 150-year time scales. Because forests are also highly valued for other benefits in addition to commodity production (i.e., wood), those managing forests are also particularly aware of the long-term effects of their management on water, wildlife, soil, and other ecosystem benefits.

One of the best examples of that broad, long, view is a recent new publication titled “Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation in the Northern Rocky Mountains,” a two-part, 495-page document produced by the USDA Forest Service). The publication is the result of a process that had extensive involvement from Forest Service personnel, non-governmental partners, and universities in a series of 2- and 3-day workshops throughout the Northern Region of the Forest Service (including one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho).

This is a very meaty document, presented with ample maps and model outputs about climate change and its anticipated effects on northern region forests and associated landscapes. In addition to background material on the biogeographic, cultural, climatic, and natural history of the region, this publication documents expected climate changes and its effects, and a variety of strategies to adapt to changing climate’s effects on forests and rangelands, including:

  • Responding to higher peak stream flows by fortifying stream crossings, culverts, and bridges and by reducing road systems and disconnecting roads from streams;
  • Supporting fisheries in the face of lower summer flows and higher water temperatures by helping streams and floodplains retain cool water and connecting steam habitats so organisms can better reach cold-water refugia;
  • Helping forests respond to lower soil moisture by reducing stand density;
  • Increasing rangeland resilience by preventing and reducing nonnative species;
  • Reducing the negative impacts of fires that are expected to increase in size, frequency, and intensity;
  • Preparing for modified forest insect and disease cycles. Likely insect and fungi responses to climate change are complicated to assess, as some climate effects could increase populations, while others could decrease them. These changes will have to be monitored closely, locally.
  • Increasing connectivity of wildlife habitats and conducting more research on wildlife responses to changing climate;
  • Preparing for recreational use earlier and later in the year and at different locations from where it has traditionally occurred; and
  • Taking extra care to protect cultural resources that may be impacted by larger climate-driven hydrological effects.
Blister rust sporulating on a western white pine branch.
Various forest insects and diseases may increase or decrease in response to changing climate. Photo: Chris Schnepf.

This is a large tome. But if you are interested in thinking about the broad scope of climate change impacts across a whole variety of forest values, it is well worth digging into. Each section includes extensive citations, which are helpful if you want to bore down a little deeper into some of the research underlying the writing.  Much of the focus is on National Forest and National Park lands in northern Idaho and Montana. But to the extent family forest owners and rangeland owners are interested in a whole host of values for their property, the document can be very informative.

References:

Halofsky, Jessica E.; Peterson, David L.; Dante-Wood, S. Karen; Hoang, Linh; Ho, Joanne J.; Joyce, Linda A., eds. 2018. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation in the Northern Rocky Mountains (Parts 1 and 2). Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-374. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.