Vulnerability Assessment of Austin’s Urban Forest and Natural Areas

Cover of Austin Urban Forest Climate Vulnerability Assessment report

The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub and the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science have partnered with the Southern Plains Climate Hub and the City of Austin, Texas to assess the vulnerability of Austin’s urban forests and natural areas to climate change.

How are urban forests vulnerable to climate change?

More than 8 in 10 people in the United States live in urban areas, and these areas continue to grow. Urban forests provide benefits to the people who reside in cities, including energy conservation, aesthetics, recreation opportunities, stormwater control, and property value. We have assessed the vulnerability of urban forests to climate change and developed adaptation strategies that help maintain and improve the benefits of urban forests to people.

The trees, developed green spaces, and natural areas within the City of Austin’s 400,882 acres will face direct and indirect impacts from a changing climate over the 21st century. This assessment evaluates the vulnerability of urban trees and natural and developed landscapes within the City Austin to a range of future climates.

Major Vulnerability Assessment findings

  • Austin has been warming at a rate of about 0.4°F per decade since measurements began in 1938 and is expected to warm by 5 to 10 degrees by the end of this century compared to the most recent 30- year average.
  • Austin has been getting slightly wetter on average, but precipitation can vary widely within and between years, and future projections of precipitation are uncertain.
  • Overall, the balance of precipitation and temperature may shift Austin’s climate to be more similar to the arid Southwest.
  • Changes in temperature and precipitation may also exacerbate current stressors such as non-native invasive plants, insect pests, and pathogens.
  • An analysis of tree species vulnerability that combines model projections, shifts in hardiness and heat zones, and adaptive capacity showed that only 3% of the trees estimated to be present in Austin based on the most recent Urban FIA estimate were considered to have low vulnerability in developed areas.
  • The urban core and other highly developed areas will experience stress not only from changes in climate but also from compounding effects of drought, heat, and local flooding from restricted soil conditions and impervious surfaces.
Download the Austin Urban Forest Climate Vulnerability Assessment Report

Download a short summary (4pgs) of the assessment.

Summary and Highlights of the Assessment

More on the assessment

  • Uses scientific projections of future changes in climate, such as differences in seasonal temperature and precipitation
  • Combines results from the latest research on how urban forests and natural areas in the area around Austin, TX, may respond to changes in climate, disturbance, and management
  • Relies on local expertise from scientists and forest managers to synthesize the results and identify key vulnerabilities within developed urban forests and natural ecosystems
  • Describes the implications that future changes will have on a wide variety of ecological, social, and economic factors

Demonstration project: City of Austin Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) is a system of preserves of over 30,000 acres that provides habitat for endangered and rare songbirds, karst invertebrates, plants, and aquatic salamanders. Managers at the BCP used information from the Austin Vulnerability Assessment and the Adaptation Workbook to develop adaptation tactics for their vireo preserve. Learn more about this project at the Climate Change Response Framework website (external link).