Adaptation Partners

Pick up a magazine or click on a link about climate change. Chances are the focus will be on climate change’s negative impacts: how snowpack declines, how wildfires increase, and how salmon stocks dwindle as temperatures rise. What you’re less likely to read about is the good work that’s being done right now to respond to these impacts. Well…here’s some good news.

In April of this year, the journal Climatic Change published a summary of exactly that: good news about climate adaptation work.

The study covers the Adaptation Partners project, a Pacific Northwest effort by the US Forest Service and designed to help our region’s forests adapt to climate change’s impacts.

In the interest of full disclosure, CIRC and OCCRI researchers and outreach specialists have worked on some of these projects. We’ll explain how later on in this post.

The study’s authors include Jessica Halofsky and David Peterson, who led the Adaptation Partners effort through the US Forest Service’s research branch at the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Seattle, Washington. Holly Prendeville, the study’s third author, works for Service’s Research Station in Corvallis, Oregon.

Being close to the adaptation work, the authors’ write-up in Climatic Change functions not only as a review of the Adaptation Partners effort and the methods used, but also as a discussion of lessons learned.

Let’s start with the background.

The Adaptation Partners effort was launched in 2008 with the goal of helping create climate adaptation strategies for forests across the Pacific Northwest. The project has since expanded to included other landscape types.

The first landscape to receive an adaptation plan was the Olympic forest in northern Washington. The project was named the Olympic Adaptation Partnership.

Since then, the Adaptation Partners project has completed seven other Adaptation Partnerships, including two efforts CIRC researchers participated in: the Blue Mountains Adaptation Partnership, covering forests in northeast Oregon and southeast Washington; and the Northern Rocky Mountain Adaptation Partnership, covering forests in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

As the words “Partners” and “Partnership” suggest, the Adaptation Partners project is primarily about collaboration. Which is why the team’s leads took pains to find and gather collaborators across jurisdictions and disciplines.

This pattern of partnership started with the Olympic forest of northern Washington. The forest ecosystem, knowing no human boundaries, covers both the Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park. So in order to create the best adaptation plan for the landscape, its ecology, and resources, Peterson and rest of their team at the US Forest Service sought out representations from both agencies.

This pattern of seeking out multiple and varied collaborators was extended to other Adaptation Partnerships as well. Participants in the Adaptation Partnerships included representatives from the National Parks, National Forests, designated Wilderness areas, state lands, and Indian reservations. Just as significantly, the partnership model included working with other climate researchers and outreach specialists, CIRC and OCCRI team members among them. The total head count included 70 scientists and nearly 700 resource managers.

In practice the participatory model used in the Adaptation Partnerships looked something like this: participants gathered for two-day, hands-on workshops during which managers and researchers got together to discuss concerns they had about present and future climate impacts and what steps they might take to help their lands’ various ecosystems adapt to these changes.

Halofsky and colleagues credit this cooperative model with contributing to the success of the Adaptation Partners project. This is one of the big lessons learned.

The cooperative model, the authors note, created a sense of ownership on the part of the participants. It also allowed for the creation of very specific adaptation solutions based on the needs of specific landscapes. This allowed the different Adaptation Partnerships to avoid, in the authors’ words, a “cookbook process.” However—and here is another big lesson learned—this process also resulted in “off the shelf” solutions for tackling climate impacts.

Basically, the Adaptation Partners project leads learned that while one size didn’t fit all when it came to adaptation, there were nonetheless common themes, common climate impacts, affecting the landscapes under review.

Our readers will recognize these impacts as the list of usual suspects that grace the digital pages of this publication: declining snowpack and droughts; the growing threat of wildfires; and the threat climate change poses for salmon, to name a few. Tallying these impacts and possible solutions to them is the Adaptation Partners’ Climate Change Adaptation Library for the Western United States.

Intended as a clearinghouse for climate impact and adaptation information covering ecosystems across the Western US, the Climate Adaptation Library functions as a kind of greatest hits for climate impacts affecting the region.

The Adaptation Library essentially takes information about these impacts gleaned from the Adaptation Partners project and other sources, compiling them together into a searchable resource.

At the same, the Adaptation Library also offers up adaptation solutions to these impacts as well. For instance, two-related climate impacts noted in multiple workshops were increased drought stress to trees and other plants and the threat of wildfire. Common adaptation strategies—again, coming out this collaborative process—included thinning trees, prescribed burns, and planting fire tolerant species.

While this sort of thing might seem obvious, listing impacts and their corresponding adaptation strategies in an official, living document like the Adaptation Library is a noted step forward as well as a valuable resource. It means, if nothing else, that other groups doing similar work will not have to reinvent the wheel with each new project.

Particularly noteworthy are the adaptation solutions that aim to mitigate multiple impacts. For instance, changing mountain hydrology—the pernicious trend where precipitation tends to fall as rain and not snow due to warming temperatures—can both raise stream temperatures, which impact fish, and increase flooding, which damages infrastructure. An adaptation solution that addresses both problems is reintroducing that great watershed builder, the American beaver, back onto the landscape. (Go, Beavs!)

This is another big lesson learned: multiple impacts can be dealt with using the same or related adaptation strategies.

However, the ultimate takeaway from Halofsky and colleagues’ paper and the Adaptation Partners effort in general seems to be this: working together works, especially when that means getting different kinds of people in a room together to hash things out.

And that’s some good news. (How’s that for an endorsement, Dave?)


Study: Climatic Change

Citation: Halofsky, Jessica E., David L. Peterson, and Holly R. Prendeville. “Assessing vulnerabilities and adapting to climate change in northwestern US forests.” Climatic Change (2017): 1-14. DOI 10.1007/s10584-017-1972-6

Resources: Adaptation Partners; Climate Change Adaptation Library for the Western United States ; CIRC’s Community Adaptation Projects

Related Stories: Featured Researcher Dave Peterson; Adapting to Climate Change in the Blue Mountains

Photo: Lake in the Blue Mountains. (Photo Credit: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.)


Nathan Gilles is the managing editor of The Climate Circulator, and oversees CIRC’s social media accounts and website. When he’s not writing for CIRC, Nathan works as a freelance science writer. 


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