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Adapting outdoor recreation to climate change

Outdoor recreation is an essential way that people engage with their natural and cultural heritage. In the United States, federal lands are host to over 938 million recreational visits per year and are an important contributor to the economy. Climate change will alter the dynamics of outdoor recreation and the infrastructure that supports it in a number of ways, and these effects will vary greatly by season, geographic location, and population demographic.

Effects from climate change

Climate change will alter opportunities and demand for outdoor recreation through altered winter weather conditions and season length, climate-driven changes in user preferences, and damage to recreational infrastructure, among other factors. To ensure that outdoor recreation remains sustainable in the face of these challenges, natural resource managers may need to adapt their recreation management. The use of climate vulnerability assessments for natural communities can help managers characterize and assess site risks.

Adaptation in Action

There is no single answer on how to best adapt to climate change. Specific adaptation actions will vary by location and in consideration of the magnitude of climate impacts, the capacity of the ecosystem to cope with changes, and the values and resources of local communities.

To help managers thoughtfully consider how to respond to the effects of climate change on outdoor recreation, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science’s Climate Change Response Framework have designed a “menu” of climate adaptation strategies and approaches relevant to the conservation and management of natural resources for outdoor recreation.  The recreation menu is broad yet specific enough to be applied to recreation-focused projects with different objectives and climate change impacts. These strategies and approaches serve as stepping stones to enable natural resource and recreation managers to translate broad concepts into targeted and prescriptive actions for implementing adaptation.

Download the Climate Adaptation Strategies for Outdoor recreation (external link)

Featured Resources

Learn more about how climate change can affect recreation at the USDA Forest Service's Climate Change Resource Center