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Climate Adaptation Actions for Urban Forests and Human Health

The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, American Forests, and the University of Washington have partnered to produce the Urban Forest Climate and Health Adaptation Menu, which describes diverse actions that address climate change in urban forest management while recognizing the fundamentally interconnected nature of human health and well-being. This flexible resource synthesizes a wide range of peer-reviewed research, evidence-based reports, and emerging best practices on climate change adaptation, urban forest management, and human health impacts. 

Funding for this product was generously provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of a broader investment to optimize urban forests for climate and public health outcomes.


Managing for the health of urban forests and residents

The Urban Forest Climate and Health Adaptation Menu provides options and resources for the interrelated problems facing municipal land managers as they consider how natural resource decisions impact the health of their cities’ residents. While urban forests face an unpredictable set of climate change threats, intensified and unique to the setting, they also provide some of the most vital opportunities to improve the lives and well-being of U.S. urban residents, who account for roughly 80% of the nation’s population. This Menu builds on the foundation of existing adaptation menus and the Adaptation Workbook to provide 9 general strategies, each with specific approaches and tactics that managers can review, select, and adjust for their particular circumstances. 

Further, urban forests provide a wide array of benefits that help mitigate the effects of climate change, improve human health, and reduce emissions, which include: 

  • Reducing safety hazards and risks from extreme events such as storms and flooding
  • Making cities more walkable/bikeable, reducing transit demands 
  • Reducing air temperatures and, commensurately, energy demands
  • Improving air quality and carbon storage provided by trees and ecosystems
  • Easing stress and mental fatigue as well as reducing related mental illness and physical ailments
  • Improving air and water quality

Download the complete menu

Download the abbreviated (one page) menu of strategies and approaches


Demonstration project: Providence, RI: Climate & Health Adaptation on a Neighborhood Scale

As public and private urban forest managers work in partnership to build a more equitable and robust urban forest, the Providence Parks Department and the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program aim to engage residents and neighborhood stakeholders in developing and implementing community-driven tree planting and stewardship solutions focused on climate adaptation and human health in Upper and Lower South Providence, two low-canopy and low-income neighborhoods disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change and environmental justice. Learn more about this project at the Climate Change Response Framework website (external link).


Additional Resources

  • Use the Climate & Health Action Guide, created by NIACS and American Forests for Vibrant Cities Lab, to help plan and organize urban forestry projects.
  • To explore and learn about how urban forest resources and municipal decisions play out on a human scale, check out American Forests’ Tree Equity Score.
  • Visit the Climate Change Response Network’s Urban Forests page to find resources about vulnerability and adaptation. 


Publication citation

Janowiak, Maria K.; Brandt, Leslie A.; Wolf, Kathleen L.; Brady, Mattison; Darling, Lindsay; Lewis, Abigail Derby; Fahey, Robert T.; Giesting, Kristen; Hall, Eboni; Henry, Molly; Hughes, Maise; Miesbauer, Jason W.; Marcinkowski, Kailey; Ontl, Todd; Rutledge, Annamarie; Scott, Lydia; Swanston, Christopher W. 2021. Climate adaptation actions for urban forests and human health. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-203. Madison, WI: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 115 p.