Journal of Forestry: Piloting a Climate-Change Adaptation Index on US National Forest Lands

The November 2021 edition of the Journal of Forestry just arrived in my mailbox. One open-access paper may be of interest to Smokey Wire folks:

Piloting a Climate-Change Adaptation Index on US National Forest Lands

It’s open to SAF members only.


Climate change presents a novel and significant threat to the sustainability of forest ecosystems worldwide. The United States Forest Service (USFS) has conducted climate change vulnerability assessments for much of the 193 million acres of national forest lands it manages, yet little to no research exists on the degree to which management units have adopted considerations of climate change into planning or project implementation. In response to this knowledge gap, we piloted a survey instrument in USFS Region 1 (Northern region) and Region 6 (Pacific Northwest region) to determine criteria for assessing the degree to which national forests integrate climate-change considerations into their management planning and activities. Our resulting climate-change adaptation index provides an efficient quantitative approach for identifying where, how, and, potentially, why some national forests are making more progress toward incorporating climate-change adaptations into forest planning and management.

Study Implications

We used a self-assessment survey of planners and managers on US National Forests in Forest Service Regions 1 and 6 to design a climate change adaptation index for measuring the degree to which national forests units have integrated considerations of climate change into their planning and management activities. Our resulting index can potentially be used to help understand how and why the USFS’s decentralized climate-change adaptation strategy has led some national forests to make comparatively significant progress towards adapting to climate change while others have lagged behind.

Excerpt from the authors’ conclusion:

The national forests with the most robust responses were using vulnerability assessments to drive management priorities on their forests and were integrating climate change activities into their work with outside partners. Additional research is need to better understand the factors that drive national forest management units to adopt more robust considerations of climate change into their management and planning activities.

8 thoughts on “Journal of Forestry: Piloting a Climate-Change Adaptation Index on US National Forest Lands”

  1. I find it highly disappointing (though a systemic problem and no one’s fault) that a paper that is supposed to be useful to, and talks about the importance of partners… isn’t actually available except to SAF members, and folks who have a subscription to the Oxford Press (universities and the FS). It makes science into a kind of “insider baseball.”

    Here’s a Vox article about some of the weirdness

    Anyway, here are the questions:

    Table 1.
    Climate-change adaptation activities instrument and responses. Right-hand column displays the CFA factor loadings values for each question.

    Question Percent Agree Percent Neither Percent Disagree Factor Loadings
    1. Key personnel on my forest attend climate change workshops or meetings 60.3 15.5 24.1 0.615
    2. I keep up with climate change science as a routine part of my job 77.6 5.2 17.2 0.666
    3. Our forest uses information about climate change vulnerabilities to prioritize actions 77.6 5.2 17.2 0.831
    4. Our forest has taken active steps to participate in climate change vulnerability assessments 60.3 20.7 19.0 0.471
    5. Climate change considerations are integrated into NEPA documents produced on my national forest 81.0 10.3 8.6 0.616
    6. My forest regularly engages with experts in climate change science who are employed outside of the Forest Service 65.5 10.3 24.1 0.663
    7. Our leadership team discusses climate change impacts when we are engaging in strategic decisions about where to invest resources 27.6 34.5 37.9 0.721
    8. My forest proactively discusses climate change impacts with our interested publics 48.3 13.8 37.9 0.755
    9. My forest is actively engaged in monitoring indicators of climate change impacts to resources 46.6 12.1 41.4 0.741
    10. At least one employee on my forest is assigned to coordinate climate change activities 69.0 6.9 24.1 0.322
    11. Climate change related considerations and activities have been incorporated into the work we are doing through partnerships with my forest 63.8 13.8 22.4 0.883
    12. My forest conducts management actions to reduce the vulnerability of resources to climate change 72.4 13.8 13.8 0.766
    13. My forest uses formal guidance for progressively integrating climate change considerations into unit-level operations 55.2 15.5 29.3 0.689
    14. My forest has an assessment of the potential influence of natural disturbance on carbon stocks 26.3 29.8 43.9 NA
    15. My forest has an assessment of the potential influence of management activities on carbon stocks 36.2 25.9 37.9 NA
    16. My forest considers carbon sequestration in our NEPA analysis 31.0 22.4 46.6 NA
    Average agreement on CCAA questions 56.2 16.0 27.8

    I don’t think many of these are particularly meaningful.. how can you, for example, “monitor indicators of climate change impacts to resources”? If you think there’s a problem caused by climate change maybe you should deal with it as best you can instead of monitoring it. That’s if you can tell it’s entirely due to climate change. What if they’re wildfires? We are never going to be able to partition out how much is due to climate change.
    “our forest uses information about climate change vulnerabilities to prioritize actions” so suppose you prioritize fuel treatments by PODs.. is that prioritizing by vulnerabilities or prioritizing by potential impacts to communities? Again, I’d rather go with prioritizing by risk to communities?
    Should each forest have “an assessment of the potential influence of management activities on carbon stocks”? What about the potential influence of wildfire on carbon stocks? Or invasive species, or …??? It all seems like overthinking/overanalyzing to me.

    It seems to me that it’s perfectly acceptable for the climate change specialists to keep up with climate change science (77.6%) and why would it be good to “engage with experts in climate change science who are employed outside the FS” (including FS R&D?). Why would you need to “engage” if you can read their papers? 81% of responders say that the forest incorporated them into NEPA documents. (I am not sure that climate change persons on forests had time to review each NEPA doc and check, (I’m not sure Forest NEPA people do, but whatever).

    I guess I should say here that I was the Regional Climate Person before I retired and worked with forests on their climate change action plans.. 2010 ish I think. I liked vulnerability assessments because they were an opportunity to engage with the public on climate issues.

    I think it would be much more useful to actually look at docs like the recent spate of forest plans, and project docs to see how climate change is incorporated into NEPA.

    Jon, if you have any more questions about the paper, let me know.

    • Thanks for the Vox article link, Sharon. FWIW, Oxford requires authors to “pay an open access charge to publish under an open access license.” For the Journal of Forestry, that’s ~$3,500 to ~$3,900, according to Oxford. Some open-access fees are much higher — topping out at just under $6,000.

      So researchers pay Oxford to publish open-access papers, and readers (or their institutions) pay Oxford to access the papers.

      • Some researchers (and all FS researchers) are able to post pdfs.. don’t really understand the legal reasons. I usually have good luck asking authors for e-reprints, but it’s still kludgy and disadvantages citizens (who pay for at least part of state universities).

        • Most journal articles (and other publications) with a Forest Service co-author can be found on TreeSearch ( Some universities also make all journal articles (and other publications) co-authored by their employees available. One example is the Scholars Archive at the Oregon State University online library.

  2. Thanks for laying that out (right before I took a break). I guess a “self-assessment” of “what we think we do” is different from “how well we do,” and it has its place (but not as a substitute for an independent evaluation of their products). I am still curious about the actual “indices” for the national forests in R1 and R6 of how they think they are doing.

    At the aggregate scale, if you ignore the carbon issue (which they seem to do), the only thing they really admit they don’t do (significantly different from the rest of their responses) is #7, which is the only question directed more their supervisors than at them. So maybe they feel they are doing as well as they can without leadership support. This reminds me of the employee surveys the Forest Service did for a number of years that showed a high level of dissatisfaction with agency leadership.

    • That’s precisely the question.. who judges what is important to do and what is not important to do?
      The climate change person, the relevant resource person, the line officer…??

      So let’s look at a real-world decision every leadership team has to make.. annual budgets (within the framework that they are given budget $ and targets).

      “Our leadership team discusses climate change impacts when we are engaging in strategic decisions about where to invest resources 27.6 34.5 37.9 0.721”

      Based on the many tedious and difficult regional budget meetings I participated in (thank you Mary Peterson for the analogy “there’s not enough blanket to cover everyone.”) I’d think that where the climate change impacts get considered are on the project level..
      And probably in some more than others… like water/fish decisions impacted by future drying but not so much fuel treatment projects. It is an interesting question, though. Where and when “should” they in these folks’ opinion? Where and when do FS folks consider it? How much does that differ from place to place?

      That’s the study I would have done…and would do if someone has a spare $70K or so..

      • Unless what they mean by “strategic decisions about where to invest resources” includes forest plans (which this should include, but probably doesn’t). The Planning Rule invokes climate change as a forest planning consideration seven times.


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