What is Adaptation?

Adaptation, in the context of forest management, is action intended to enhance the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change and its effects. Adaptation includes a wide variety of actions that complement the sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of forests and help to maintain ecosystem integrity and environmental benefits.

Adaptation actions can be used to reduce or avoid loss of forest cover, declines in forest productivity, alterations to ecosystem processes, reductions in the environmental benefits that forests provide to people (such as wildlife, recreation, and wood products), and many other potential impacts on forests. There are three broad options for responding to climate change:

  • Resistance actions improve the defenses of the forest against anticipated changes or directly defend the forest against disturbance in order to maintain relatively unchanged conditions.
  • Resilience actions accommodate some degree of change, but encourage a return to prior conditions after a disturbance, either naturally or through management.
  • Transition, or response, actions intentionally accommodate change and enable ecosystems to adaptively respond to changing and new conditions. The intention is to adapt ecosystems future conditions, rather than be caught off-guard by rapid and catastrophic changes.


Adaptation in Action

These options are incredibly useful for helping natural resource managers identify a trajectory for responding to climate change. At the same time, it may be unclear how to implement these broad ideas into concrete management actions. Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers provides multiple resources to help managers integrate climate change information into forest management planning and decision-making. In contains a menu of nearly 50 climate change adaptation approaches applicable to forests in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, an adaptation workbook to step managers through the process of considering climate change and identifying adaptation actions for implementation, and examples of how to use the adaptation workbook.

Additionally, numerous adaptation demonstration projects have been developed on public, private, and tribal lands using the Forest Adaptation Resources. These demonstrations provide real-world examples of how climate change information can be used to identify actions that adapt forests and meet diverse management objectives.