Situating adaptation: how governance challenges and perceptions of uncertainty influence adaptation in the Rocky Mountains

Carina Wyborn, Laurie Yung, Daniel Murphy, Daniel R. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Adaptation is situated within multiple, interacting social, political, and economic forces. Adaptation pathways envision adaptation as a continual pathway of change and response embedded within this broader sociopolitical context. Pathways emphasize that current decisions are both informed by past actions and shape the landscape of future options. This research examines how adaptation actors in Grand County, Colorado perceive adaptation in the context of environmental change and uncertainty. Grand County residents drew on experiences of past change to suggest they had a high capacity to respond to future change, in particular a significant outbreak of mountain pine beetle. While residents and land managers characterized adaptation as gradual and incremental, they also recognized the ways that powerful cross-scale processes related to federal land management and water diversions challenged local adaptation. Further, Grand County residents identified multiple uncertainties in addition to those associated with climate projections, suggesting that addressing uncertainty extends beyond developing strategies robust across different climate scenarios. The challenges of uncertainty and cross-scale governance require more than increased adaptive capacity; they demand that we understand how local and extra-local structures shape the adaptation envelope that enables and constrains local decisions and implementation. Within this envelope, local actors pursue particular adaptation pathways and exercise agency to influence the structures shaping their options. Drawing on empirical insights, we argue that the concepts of pathways and envelopes together provide theoretical space for understanding the dynamic interplay between structure and agency in the context of adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-682
Number of pages14
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2015


  • Adaptation
  • Adaptation pathways
  • Governance
  • Scale
  • USA
  • Uncertainty


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