Why People Disagree About (How Forest Plans) Deal With Climate Change. I. Introduction and How Broad are the Scenarios?

This is the first of a series of posts that lay out a framework for thinking about how forest plans address climate change.  Some people are curious as to what we might think are the forest plans that have handled climate change the best, and so we’ll have a post later that will ask that question.

But I think we need to be upfront on where we stand on different approaches or philosophies for how AGW-CC (I’ll just call it CC for the rest of these posts) should be handled.  It seems to me that there are two components to this question: first, do you agree with the approach of how they handled it, and second, given their approach, how well do you think they handled it?

I hope by consciously thinking about how diverse approaches might work, we might be able to contemplate the true diversity of approaches in addition to what is in current forest plans.

One of the things I did around 2010-ish was help forests in Region 2 develop their “climate action plans”, I think they were called.   I was the climate change coordinator for the Region, so I was on some of the conference calls. The interesting thing about this effort was that it was not tied to NFMA planning, but more about “are there things we are doing we would do differently if we considered climate change?”.  In many cases, they already were considering CC and the plan simply documented how they were thinking about it.

Our Regional view was to use generic scenarios based on down-scaled models (I mean really generalized, like “hotter and drier” generalized) and to use a “no regrets” strategy.
Just now I tried to find a definition for “no regrets’ strategies and discovered a plethora of literature with not-exactly-identical definitions.
But I liked this one from Law Insider (!)

no regrets means taking climate-related decisions or actions and/or investments that can be justified from economic, social, and environmental perspectives whether or not a specific climate threat materializes in the future, and this is achieved by building resilience to different hazards/risks (Heltberg, Siegel, Jorgensen, 2009; Siegel, 2011).

Well, Region 2, if I can generalize, has always been a relatively poor Region and employees are pretty pragmatic and don’t tend to overthink things.

So we ran through some of this stuff with one forest (may have been the Nebraska) and the conversation went something like this:

“So we need to protect our riparian areas because it might get hotter and drier?” a Forest employee asked.

“Right,” we said.

“And we need to monitor what we do to be sure it works as the climate is changing?”

“Yes,” we agreed.

“In other words, for climate we should be doing the things we were already supposed to be doing?”

“Well, there are some differences, but.. pretty much.”


That was perhaps too minimalist for some. Today I’d add consciously managing for resilience.

But why not manage for resilience under a variety of future climate (and other) scenarios?  When we visited Denver Water and looked at their scenario planning, climate wasn’t the only unknown.  At the time, they also considered different plausible scenarios about populations and their uses of water. If you look at their website, they are not even sure about hotter and drier, but also include hotter and wetter.

Denver Water is adapting to, and addressing, climate change through what it calls “scenario planning.” That means building flexibility into its operations and decisions to prepare for a range of plausible futures climate change could bring. Simply put, those scenarios range from warmer and wetter to hotter and drier.

“Uncertainty is the name of the game going forward,” said Laurna Kaatz, Denver Water’s climate program manager. “We don’t know exactly how it will unfold on the ground, but we do know it’s going to keep warming. Climate change is here and now.”

Then there’s resilience of communities to climate hazards (or things now defined to be “climate” hazards such as drought, wildfire, and flooding). For example, in this Western Watersheds Assessment study plan,

but could take the form of collaborative scenario planning processes that engage diverse stakeholders to explore climate projections, sources of vulnerability, and strategies for increasing resilience.

Which sounds like what the FS may have done a while back (at least some forests did this with the aid of FS R&D) . And of course, community resilience is related to economics, so that ties back to a topic that fits forest planning.

Next time: Some Categories for Climate Approaches in Forest Plans

2 thoughts on “Why People Disagree About (How Forest Plans) Deal With Climate Change. I. Introduction and How Broad are the Scenarios?”

  1. I think the “minimalist” example that you provide is pretty common. And a few years ago I would have thought that would be enough. But now we’re seeing more extremes and I think we need to factor that in as well – particularly if big swings in storm intensity, annual precipitation, seasonal precipitation, seasonal temperature, flash drought, heat domes, etc. are part of the climate change.

  2. “The interesting thing about this effort was that it was not tied to NFMA planning,”

    Well, that’s not especially interesting to me, since I have observed that the Forest Service rarely asks the question, “how could forest planning help with this issue” – despite the fact that NFMA requires that everything they do be consistent with the forest plan. (But also in 2010, the planning process was in flux and not much planning was being done.)


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