Navigating Climate Adaptation on Public Lands: How Views on Ecosystem Change and Scale Interact with Management Approaches

Katherine R. Clifford, Laurie Yung, William R. Travis, Renee Rondeau, Betsy Neely, Imtiaz Rangwala, Nina Burkardt, Carina Wyborn

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Managers are increasingly being asked to integrate climate change adaptation into public land management. The literature discusses a range of adaptation approaches, including managing for resistance, resilience, and transformation; but many strategies have not yet been widely tested. This study employed in-depth interviews and scenario-based focus groups in the Upper Gunnison Basin in Colorado to learn how public land managers envision future ecosystem change, and how they plan to utilize different management approaches in the context of climate adaptation. While many managers evoked the past in thinking about projected climate impacts and potential responses, most managers in this study acknowledged and even embraced (if reluctantly) that many ecosystems will experience regime shifts in the face of climate change. However, accepting that future ecosystems will be different from past ecosystems led managers in different directions regarding how to respond and the appropriate role of management intervention. Some felt management actions should assist and even guide ecosystems toward future conditions. Others were less confident in projections and argued against transformation. Finally, some suggested that resilience could provide a middle path, allowing managers to help ecosystems adapt to change without predicting future ecosystem states. Scalar challenges and institutional constraints also influenced how managers thought about adaptation. Lack of institutional capacity was believed to constrain adaptation at larger scales. Resistance, in particular, was considered impractical at almost any scale due to institutional constraints. Managers negotiated scalar challenges and institutional constraints by nesting different approaches both spatially and temporally.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)614-628
    Number of pages15
    JournalEnvironmental Management
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


    • Environmental change
    • Land management
    • Regime shift
    • Resilience and active intervention
    • Transformation


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