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Forest Adaptation

Image of forests trailWhat is Adaptation?

Adaptation, in the context of forest management, is action intended to enhance the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change and its effects. Adaptation includes a wide variety of actions that complement the sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of forests and helps to maintain ecosystem integrity and environmental benefits.

Adaptation actions can be used to reduce or avoid loss of forest cover, declines in forest productivity, alterations to ecosystem processes, reductions in the environmental benefits that forests provide to people (such as wildlife, recreation, and wood products), and many other potential impacts on forests.

There are three broad options for responding to climate change:

  • Resistance actions improve the defenses of the forest against anticipated changes or directly defend the forest against disturbance in order to maintain relatively unchanged conditions.
  • Resilience actions accommodate some degree of change, but encourages a return to prior conditions after a disturbance, either naturally or through management.
  • Transition, or response, actions intentionally accommodate change and enable ecosystems to adaptively respond to changing and new conditions. The intention is to adapt ecosystems future conditions, rather than be caught off-guard by rapid and catastrophic changes.

Learn more about options for land management in a changing climate through the Climate Change Resource Center.


Adaptation in Action

These broad adaptation options are incredibly useful when conceptualizing a management trajectory to respond to climate change risks. At the same time, it may be unclear how to implement these broad ideas into concrete management actions. Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers (FAR) provides multiple resources to help managers integrate climate change information into forest management planning and decision-making. The FAR document contains a menu of nearly 50 climate change adaptation approaches applicable to forests in the Midwest and Northeast; and an adaptation workbook to integrate climate change into management. The workbook provides a platform for managers to step through the process of considering climate change at the scale of their management, and to ultimately identify adaptation actions for making forests better able to cope with climate change impacts. 

Numerous adaptation demonstration projects have been developed on public, private, and tribal lands through the Climate Change Response Framework using the Forest Adaptation Resources. These demonstrations provide real-world examples of how climate change information can be used to identify actions to help adapt forests while meeting diverse management objectives.

See a comprehensive list of adaptation options proposed in the literature, complied by Natural Resources Canada.