Managing Lands Under Climate Change

Management Options Tabs


Broad Climate Change Strategies

In the broadest terms, natural resource management strategies for addressing climate change can be classified under adaptation and mitigation.

Adaptation refers to all approaches taken to adjust, prepare for, and accommodate new conditions that are created by changing climates. Adaptations may be cultural and societal, for example families deciding to purchase flood, fire, or windstorm insurance. For natural-resource managers, adaptation strategies also include actions taken to assist natural resources (species, habitats, forest plantations, watersheds) in accommodating new conditions imposed by climate.

Mitigation in the context of climate change is an intervention designed to reduce the human influence on the climate system, primarily through increased removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the reduction of feedbacks that might enhance warming. In natural-resources, this may include managing forests in a way that sequesters and stores more carbon dioxide.

Adaptation and mitigation are often parallel strategies that can be simultaneously integrated into natural resource management. Ecosystems that are better adapted to future climates will be better able to hold on to their stores of carbon and avoid releasing them into the atmosphere. Fortunately actions taken for adaptation and mitigation are often complementary; in situations where they conflict, pros and cons must be weighed.

“To be effective in mitigation, forests will have to adapt to climate change”  - Innes et al. 2009*

Adaptation Strategies

A range of adaptation options exist for managing forests to be better able to cope with the negative effects of climate change. These can be broadly grouped into three, or sometimes four categories:


This set of options promotes resistance to the effects of climate change and focuses on improving the defenses of the forest against anticipated changes. A resistance strategy may be appropriate for defending a high-risk or high-value resource in the short term, for example creating an in-situ refuge for a critically vulnerable endangered species, or constructing fire breaks where a resource is threatened by near-term fire risk. It may also make sense to pursue resistance where microclimates may buffer anticipated climate changes. Resistance options are often expensive and take a considerable amount of time and resources, since they are focused on keeping changes at bay.  In addition, they can be risky; in some situations, conditions will eventually become so different that a resource passes a threshold and resistance becomes futile. Thus, choosing to resist change and maintain a system in its present condition will not be appropriate in all situations, and may become less appropriate over time as external pressures mount.


Resilience options accommodate gradual change, usually returning to a prior condition after disturbance or seeking to maintain status quo even in the face of forces of change. Climate change may lead to new intensities of stressors and extreme events. Management options that improve the ability of a resource to return to or maintain a desired condition after encountering stressors fall under the category of resilience. Healthy species, forests and ecosystems are considered more resilient to change, and so many resilience strategies are aimed at creating healthy forests. For example, using a combination of mechanical thinning and prescribed burning in a dense forest threatened by risk of wildfire could reduce the intensity of future fires, allowing the forest to more easily withstand and regenerate after burning. In the case of endangered or threatened species, reducing harvesting or other non-climate stresses on the species could make the population more resilient to climate change influences. As with resistance options, strategies to promote resilience may only be successful in the relatively short-term in many areas; eventually, climate changes may be too drastic to allow a return to a prior condition.  

Transition (also known as Response and Realignment)

Transition options intentionally accommodate change and enable ecosystems to adaptively respond to future conditions. In certain locations or over longer time scales, it may be difficult for a system to either resist change or return to a prior condition after disturbance. Where this is the case, managers can adopt strategies to help these systems transition smoothly to a future state that maintains ecosystem processes and functions that are considered beneficial. An example would be intentionally increasing tree species diversity on a forested landscape following a disturbance event. A diverse pool of tree species would increase the candidates available for selection under new climate conditions and would reduce opportunities for mass die-offs, such as from pest outbreaks. Promoting connected landscapes to allow species to more easily colonize new environments would be another example of a transition approach. In each of these situations, it is recognized that future landscapes may not be the same as they were historically, but that they will ideally maintain certain desired features (e.g., forested habitat and watershed protection).

Transition: Enable ecosystems to respond to future conditions by increasing the diversity of species on the landscape, particularly those expected to do well under projected climates.Transition: Enable ecosystems to respond to future conditions by increasing the diversity of species on the landscape, particularly those expected to do well under projected climates.


Mitigation Strategies

The forestry sector has many opportunities to reduce human influences on the climate system. In forest management, examples of mitigation actions can generally be placed into three categories: emissions avoidance, sequestration, and substitution.

Emissions avoidance focuses on maintaining existing carbon storage in trees by avoiding deforestation and reducing potential impacts from catastrophic disturbances, such as wildfire. Enhancing sequestration encompasses actions such as afforestation (planting trees) and managing forests to increase the amount of carbon stored relative to 'business as usual.' Substitution describes actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using forest products in the place of fossil fuel intensive products. This would include using renewable forest-derived biofuels for energy instead of fossil fuels, and using wood that will store carbon long-term (e.g., lumber for wood houses) in place of materials that may be more energy-intensive to produce.

Enhancing sequestration: Forests can be managed in a number of ways to increase the amount of carbon stored relative to 'business as usual.'Enhancing sequestration: Forests can be managed in a number of ways to increase the amount of carbon stored relative to 'business as usual.'

See the References and Reading section for more examples and comprehensive reading on these strategies.


*Innes, J.; Joyce, L. A.; Kellomaki, S.; Louman, B.; Ogden, A.; Parrotta, J.; Thompson, I.; Ayres, M.; Ong Chin; Santoso, H.; Sohngen, B.; Wreford, A. 2009. Management for adaptation. In: Seppala, R.; Buck, A.; Katila, P.[eds]. Adaptation of forests and people to climate change - a global assessment report. IUFRO World Series Vol. 22 pp. 135-185.

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