Climate Basics

Climate Change and...

Re-Framing Forest and Resource Management Strategies for a Climate Change Context

Among the surprising developments during the 2007 year-of-climate-dawning was an abrupt change in the nature of dialog between scientists and natural-resource managers. In previous years the primary communication involved researchers talking with managers about climate change and its impacts on ecosystems. By early 2007 the significance of climate became widely embraced, and the conversation did an about-face. From national agency headquarters to local field offices, the collective voice of decision-makers echoed resoundingly back to science: "OK, we get that climate is important. Now, what do we do about it?"

That question initially silenced many in the research community, although serious efforts have been investigating resource management implications for some years (e,g., Dale et al. 2001, Spittlehouse and Stewart 2003, Willows and Connell 2003, Joyce et al. 2007). While field-proven conceptual frameworks and desktop manuals will be developed only through collaborative efforts of scientists and managers, we offer the following as an overarching framework of options for addressing climate change issues in resource contexts such as encountered in western mountain environments (Millar et al. 2007, Joyce et al., in press).

Defining Assumptions

  • Embrace and work with change. While this may seem obvious, many existing resource-management practices rest on assumptions that ecological backgrounds are stable over time even though they acknowledge short-term successional dynamics. Likewise, engrained institutional traditions commonly rest implicitly on assumptions of persistent and stable behavior. Make friends with change, while still working to mitigate it.
  • Accept uncertainty as a premise for decision-making. While opportunities for prediction and forecasting will be presented to managers, uncertainty will always lurk close at our shoulders -- at least at the scale relevant to most resource-management projects. Addressing uncertainty head-on will often be more effective than taking a course of action based on a narrowly defined future. For many situations, we will never have enough knowledge to predict future outcomes at scales that matter to managers. Evaluate the wisdom of "putting your eggs in one basket" (accepting a definite future) versus "hedging your bets" (accepting uncertainty) strategies.
  • Recognize that some existing management paradigms have limited value. This is because many traditional practices are based on assumptions that the future will be similar to the past – that ecosystems are not changing over time. Climate change puts that notion finally to bed. Many ecosystem-management philosophies will still make sense, especially when practiced creatively. This is a good time to experiment with old techniques in new ways and pioneer altogether novel approaches.
  • Manage for desired future processes rather than desired future conditions. Composition and structure relate to static rather than dynamic goals; a focus on ecosystem services and ecological and physical functions as management targets fixes the aim on dynamic process.
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