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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Climate Adaptive Management in the Northeastern United States: Common Strategies and Motivations of Rural and Urban Foresters

Sunday, February 19, 2023
Hemlock Forest

A commonly used framework in discussions about adapting forests to climate change classifies adaptation practices according to whether they help the forest resist climate changes, enhance the forest’s resilience in the face of climate changes, or help the forest transition to expected future changes. In this study recently published in the Journal of Forestry, a team of researchers including NE CASC Principal Investigator Anthony D’Amato looked for ways to both deepen and expand foresters’ use of all three types of practices across the northeastern US. Their guiding assumption was that implementing a diversity of responses to climate change will increase the chances of managing a thriving, functional forest into the uncertain future.

To determine the main factors that may be motivating or limiting the use of climate adaptive resistance, resilience, and transition practices, the team conducted in-depth interviews with 32 urban and rural foresters across New England and New York. Team members interviewed foresters working for private, public, and Tribal landowners, in large cities and remote wilderness to capture manager perspectives across the highly variable forested landscape of the Northeast.

Based on the interviews, the authors found (1) important environmental drivers of adaptation across the region, (2) commonly employed adaptive strategies, (3) significant barriers to adaptation, and (4) approaches to working through named barriers. By analyzing the connections between these categories, they concluded that both urban and rural foresters are commonly utilizing resistance and resilience practices, but less frequently implement transition-oriented practices. It appeared that managers generally avoid transition practices in order to mitigate the risk they associate with investing money into practices that are often novel and unfamiliar, especially when they perceive future environmental conditions to be highly uncertain. Accordingly, attempts to shift these risk perceptions may increase the use of transition practices. Such efforts may include more practical guidance for unfamiliar practices like planting future-adapted tree species, or outreach that compares the risks of not using transition practices (i.e., wait-and-see approach) with the financial risks of a preemptive approach. Financial assistance and public outreach may also increase the use of all three adaptation options, as limited financial resources and social capital presented important barriers to all kinds of adaptation in the region.