Office of the Climate Change Advisor

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Performance Scorecard National Roadmap
Performance Scorecard
Starting this year, each national forest and grassland will be tracking progress using a new 10-point scorecard. The Forest Service's research branch along with regional and national programs will provide support for this agency-wide effort.

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National Roadmap
The Roadmap will help to guide the Forest Service as it works to ensure that national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change.

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Performance Scorecard: 6- Assessing Vulnerability

Scorecard Question

Has the Unit engaged in developing relevant information about the vulnerability of key resources, such as human communities and ecosystem elements, to the impacts of climate change?

What are other forests doing?

Scientists and managers share information at a workshop in Wenatchee, WA (February 2011)

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (R9) and partners worked to develop the Ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the Climate Change Response Framework Project in northern Wisconsin. This assessment focuses on impacts and vulnerabilities of tree species and forest types in northern Wisconsin to climate change.

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests

Several National Forests in Western Washington (R6) developed Climate Change and Forest Biodiversity: A Vulnerability Assessment and Action Plan for National Forests in Western Washington. This assessment focuses on the vulnerability of forest tree species and non-forested habitats to climate change and proposes practical management actions that will work under a variety of future climate scenarios in western Washington.


Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (R3) developed a tool for assessing wildlife vulnerability that was applied to the Coronado National Forest: Applying a Decision-Support Tool for Assessing
Vulnerability of Wildlife to Climate Change: a Case Study on the Coronado National Forest, Arizona
. This assessment provides managers on the Coronado National Forest with information about which of the 30 species assessed are potentially most vulnerable to future changes in climate.

Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center

Several National Forests (all regions) throughout the country are working to develop watershed vulnerability assessments. Each Forest identifies the water resources important in their area and assesses watershed sensitivity and climate change exposure to evaluate the relative vulnerabilities of forest watersheds to hydrologic change. A briefing paper on this effort can be found here.




Assessing the vulnerability of watersheds to climate change: results of national forest watershed vulnerability pilot assessments
(Furniss; Roby; Cenderelli; Chatel; Clifton; Clingenpeel; Hays; Higgins; Hodges; Howe; Jungst; Louie; Mai; Martinez; Overton; Staab; Steinke; Weinhold; 2013) Eleven national forests from throughout the United States, representing each of the nine Forest Service regions, conducted assessments of potential hydrologic change resulting from ongoing and expected climate warming.

Vulnerability Assessments
(Joyce; Janowiak; 2011)
CCRC topic page on vulnerability assessments. Includes a synthesis on vulnerability assessments, recommended reading, related research, and tools.

Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A guide to climate change vulnerability assessment
(Glick; Stein; Edelson; 2011)
Guidebook developed by the conservation community (including Forest Service researchers) that outlines  the process of conducting a vulnerability assessment. Includes case studies.

Responding to Climate Change on National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options
(Peterson; Millar; Joyce; Furniss; Halofsky; Neilson; Morelli; Swanston; McNulty;Janowiak; 2011)
Guidebook developed by Forest Service scientists for adaptation. Includes guidance on vulnerability assessments.


SAVS: A System for Assessing Vulnerability of Species
The System for Assessing Vulnerability of Species (SAVS) identifies the relative vulnerability or resilience of vertebrate species to climate change. Designed for managers, the SAVS is an easily applied tool that uses a questionnaire of 22 predictive criteria to create vulnerability scores.

NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index
The NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index can help identify plant and animal species that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Forest tree genetic risk assessment system: a tool for conservation decision-making in changing times
The Forest Tree Genetic Risk Assessment System gives each species a rating for risk factors relating to (1) its intrinsic attributes, such as population structure, fecundity and seed dispersal mechanism, that may increase its vulnerability in the face of change, and (2) the external threats to its genetic integrity, including changing climate and insect and disease threats.

Enables technical and non-technical audiences alike to access leading climate change information and visualize the impacts anywhere on Earth.

Climate Change Atlases
The Climate Change Atlases can help to answer a range of questions concerning current and projected suitable habitat (year 2100) for 134 tree species and 147 bird species in the eastern U.S.

TACCIMO sorts through a pre-selected set of information and quotations from primary literature, and filters this information according to user selections.


Assessing the Vulnerability of Water and Watersheds to Climate
Recorded webinars of scientists from twelve national forests,  presenting results from a pilot project developed to assess the relative vulnerability of water resources to climate-based hydrologic change.

The Importance of Scale in Vulnerability Assessment
Ron Neilson, USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, Corvallis, OR

Vulnerability Assessment for Hydrologic and Aquatic Systems
Michael Furniss, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station

Scorecard questions, concerns or suggestions for
additional resources?

Karen Dante-Wood 850-294-2897

All Scorecard Elements

  1. Employee Education
  2. Climate Change Coordinators
  3. Program Guidance
  4. Science-Management Partnerships
  5. Other Partnerships
  6. Assessing Vulnerability
  7. Adaptation Actions
  8. Monitoring
  9. Carbon Assessment and Stewardship
  10. Sustainable Operations

Getting to YES

To answer "yes," vulnerability of key resources to climate change should be assessed for a geographic area that includes your Unit and be used in Unit-level management decisions. Vulnerability assessments can vary in approach, scope, level of detail, and geographic scale. We recommend that they include the following components (described in more detail in Appendix C):

a. Key resources: Identify the key resources on the Unit.
b. Review and synthesis of existing information: Review and synthesize relevant scientific, social, and economic information to identify the sensitivity of key resources to climate change.
c. Current stressors: Determine the influences and stressors on the existing landscape, and identify current stressors which may interact with climate change and social and economic factors.
d. Local climate change and impacts: Look at historical climate data and available climate model projections for your area to determine the potential exposure of key resources to climate change.
e. Professional judgment: Consult with scientists, regional program managers, tribes or other partners who have place-based experience to help interpret the information you've collected and to review the results of your vulnerability assessment.

The narrative for this element asks you to answer the following questions:

a) What key resources have you identified on your Unit?
b) What scientific, social, and economic information about the exposure and sensitivity of those resources to climate change have you reviewed and considered?
c) What current stressors are you observing on your Unit? How do (or will) these stressors interact with a changing climate?
d) What historical climate data and climate projections have you examined? How might your key resources and their stressors be impacted by these climate changes?
e) Who have you consulted to help interpret the information you've collected?
f) How have you used this vulnerability information to prioritize possible management actions?



The degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of stressors, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability to climate change is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

Key Resources

Economic, ecological, and social resources of particular importance to Unit-level decisions and actions. They can also include resources of regional or national importance, interest, or concern, if the Unit contributes to or affects these.


Any physical, chemical, or biological entity that can induce an adverse response. Stressors can arise from physical and biological alterations of natural disturbances, increased demand for ecosystem services (such as recreation), alterations of the surrounding landscape, chemical alterations in regional air quality, or from past management actions.)

Geographic Scale

Vulnerability can be assessed at a Unit, state, multi-unit, or Regional scale, but must be at a spatial resolution relevant to management actions at the Unit level and include the geographic area of the Unit. Units are encouraged to take advantage of and be actively engaged in state and regional assessments that are being conducted by Forest Service Research Stations and Regional Offices, state or other federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, or other research groups. Units should seek assistance from Regions and partners when evaluating whether published assessments are appropriate for their needs and geographic location. If no vulnerability assessments are available or in development in the Unit's geographic area, Units should consult their regional climate change coordinator or partners for assistance in assessing vulnerability of their key resources to climate change.


Full Guidance Document
PDF, 2.2 MB, 104 pp

Download Appendix C: Vulnerability Assessment
PDF, 366 K, 3 pp