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Adaptive silviculture for climate change: Preparing dry mixed conifer forests for climate change

August, 2014

A typical untreated dry mixed conifer forest consisting of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, and Gambel oak on the San Juan National Forest.
A typical untreated dry mixed conifer forest consisting of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, and Gambel oak on the San Juan National Forest.
Forest managers need robust examples of how to integrate climate change adaptation into silvicultural planning and on-the-ground actions. “Business as usual” forest management may not be adequate at creating resilient forests into the future. There is an urgent need to develop adaptive management strategies that foster ecosystem resilience to the impact of climate change and enable forests to adapt to uncertain future conditions.

This project utilizes a scientist-land manager partnership to develop, implement, and measure ecological responses in a large-scale replicated study of three adaptive management treatments strategies in the dry mixed conifer forest type. Dry mixed conifer forests are inherently diverse with various tree species, each with specific strategies and tolerances to cope with drought, fire, insects, and disease, and provide an excellent opportunity to test various management treatment strategies to inform future management of these forests.

A team of scientists and managers will use an adaptive management approach to continually monitor and modify management decisions and techniques to ensure objectives are being met. This project allows natural resource managers to assess the effectiveness of a spectrum of adaptive management treatments designed to accommodate the effects of climate change.

This project is part of a multi-region network of replicated operational-scale research sites testing ecosystem-specific climate change adaptation treatments across a gradient of adaptive approaches. Other sites include: 1) red pine on the Cutfoot Experimental Forest, Minnesota; 2) longleaf pine/hardwood on the Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia; and 3) Western Larch on the Coram Experimental Forest, Montana.


Three adaptation treatments were developed with stakeholder input to demonstrate a gradient of accommodating change: resistance, resilience, and transition.

  • The resistance treatment focuses on improving forest defenses against predicted changes or disturbances to maintain relatively unchanged conditions.

  • The resilience treatment accommodates some change, but encourages a return to a desired condition following a disturbance.

  • The transition treatment facilitates change and encourages the ecosystem to adaptively respond to new or changing conditions.

Each of these treatments are currently being applied and replicated 3 times across a 400 acre landscape on the San Juan National Forest. Treatments are currently marked, and harvest of the treatment units is anticipated for 2017. 

Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Linda Nagel - Colorado State University

Jeff Cannon - Colorado State University
Tony Cheng - Colorado State University
Matt Tuten - USFS San Juan National Forest
Gretchen Fitzgerald - USFS San Juan National Forest

Research Staff:
Molly Roske - Colorado State University

Funding Contributors:
United States Forest Service
Colorado Forest Restoration Institute