Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation in the North Cascades Region, Washington

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Fast facts
Project Status 
Project Dates :  

External Source

Adapted from: Raymond, C.L.; Peterson, D.L.; Rochefort, R.M. eds. 2014. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation in the North Cascades region, Washington. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-892. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 279 p.

Project Summary

The North Cascades region of Washington is a large and ecologically diverse area that includes federal, state, private, and tribal stakeholders. This project describes a collaborative effort coordinated by the North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership (NCAP) to assess climate change vulnerability and adaptation options across agency borders on federally owned lands in the region. For the purposes of NCAP, the North Cascades region was defined as the Cascade Range and foothills extending from the Canadian border to the southern border of Mount Rainier National Park.

The NCAP began as a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Park Service (NPS). It was developed as a science-management partnership to engage the expertise of both scientists and managers in 1) increasing climate change awareness among the NPS and USFS staff and partners, (2) assessing vulnerability of natural and cultural resources and infrastructure, and (3) developing science-based adaptation options to reduce adverse effects of climate change and ease the transition to new climate states and conditions.

The NCAP process enabled the participating national forests and national parks to accomplish several components of their individual agency climate change response strategies. The adaptation options developed in the NCAP will provide a base for agencies to build from and implement, and these options are broadly applicable in the Pacific Northwest and other regions.

As a continuation to the NCAP, agencies involved are holding additional workshops on resource areas of particular interest and introducing new stakeholders into adaptation conversations. The NCAP also increased awareness of the need for international transboundary collaboration and inspired creation of an international natural resource forum. The NCAP facilitators are continuing to engage with national forest and national park leaders for guidance on implementing next steps.


Geographic area of project

Pacific Northwest Region (R6)
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest

Scale of Project



Mount-Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
North Cascades National Park Complex
Mount Rainier National Park
Pacific Northwest Research Station
University of Washington
University of Washington Climate Impacts Group
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Washington Fish and Wildlife Office and Mid-Columbia River Fishery Resource Center)
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Kailey Marcinkowski

Project background and scope

The North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership (NCAP) began in 2010 as a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Park Service (NPS). 

The main areas of focus for the climate change assessments were the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, North Cascades National Park Complex, and Mount Rainier National Park.  Ownership in the North Cascades region goes beyond the USFS and NPS, and other federal, state, local, and tribal land management agencies and stakeholders participated in the NCAP process. 

The NCAP used previous examples of successful science-management partnerships to inform the final vulnerability and adaptation process.  The WestWide Climate Initiative (WWCI), which was created by USFS scientists to share climate change information and work with land managers to develop adaptation options, established science-management partnership case studies on the Olympic National Forest [pdf], Inyo and Tahoe National Forests [pdf], and Shoshone National Forest.  Similarly, the Climate Change Response Framework conducted vulnerability assessments [pdf] and developed forest adaptation options [pdf], beginning on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and expanding to other forests in the Midwest and Northeast.  

Peterson et al. (2011) used aspects of these techniques to compile a guidebook for developing adaptation options on national forests.  The NCAP used recommendations from this guide, implementing the methods over a large geographically and ecologically complex area and building partnerships to include a broad range of stakeholders.

Project Process and Implementation

The NCAP process began with one-day climate change education workshops for employees at each of the four national forests and national parks. The workshops featured presentations by USFS, NPS, other agency, and academic scientists, with a focus on relevant local and regional climate science, impacts, and effects. These initial workshops allowed resource managers to interact with climate change scientists and discuss local effects on natural resources and management challenges.

Next, the NCAP hosted a series of two-day workshops to assess vulnerability and develop adaptation options in the context of regional projected changes in climate. Four workshops were held to focus on four resource sectors: (1) hydrology and access, (2) vegetation and ecological disturbances, (3) wildlife and wildlife habitat, and (4) fish and fish habitat. The sectors were selected based on discussions with USFS and NPS leadership, regional importance, and current management challenges.

The first day of each two-day workshop focused on assessing vulnerability for the specific resource sector. The first half of the day consisted of presentations, discussions, and panels with scientists and resource managers on climate change effects and management practices, and the second half of the day featured facilitated discussions to identify key resource vulnerabilities. NCAP facilitators followed up on this initial vulnerability assessment by gathering local expert knowledge and reviewing scientific literature.

The focus of the second workshop day was on developing adaptation options for the key vulnerabilities identified the previous day. During the facilitated discussion, workshop participants identified general approaches and on-the-ground tactics for adapting management practices. Three adaptation strategies, (1) resistance, (2) resilience, and (3) response, were defined and discussed as relevant for management practices depending on the time scale, ecosystem, and social, political, and economic value of the resource.

Project Outcomes

The adaptation strategies and tactics identified in NCAP provide a platform to build climate change into management plans and projects, for which the most important and challenging next step is implementation.

The NCAP process has experienced the greatest interest surrounding the issue of how changes in hydrologic regimes will affect access. Participating national forests and parks are continuing to hold workshops on this subject and are partnering with new stakeholders, such as the Federal Highway Administration and state and local departments of transportation, on near-term applications of the NCAP study.

The need for international and transboundary collaboration was recognized during the NCAP process. As a result, the Cascadia Partner Forum, a network of Washington and British Columbia natural resource practitioners working with the Great Northern and North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), was formed.

Scroll through the images below for a sampling of the identified impacts and vulnerabilities, adaptation strategies, and adaptation tactics for each resource area. For a more complete listing, see the above publications and additional resources.

The NCAP process also supplemented the ability of the involved national forest units to respond with a “yes” to several elements of the Performance Scorecard [pdf] for Implementing the Forest Service Climate Change Strategy questions in three out of four dimensions: organizational capacity, engagement, and adaptation. The NCAP also assisted the participating national parks' progress towards three goals, communication, science, and adaptation, of the National Park Service Climate Change Response Strategy [pdf].

The project is summarized in a General Technical Report (GTR) for the U.S. Forest Service (PNW-GTR-892). The report explains the science-management partnership process, the geographical, ecological, and cultural setting of the North Cascades region, current and projected climate for the region, and discusses identified vulnerabilities and adaptation options for the four resource sectors.

Additionally, a brief summary of the science-management partnership process of NCAP, lessons learned, and the identified adaptation strategies and tactics can be found in:

  • Raymond, C.L., Peterson, D.L., and Rochefort, R.M., 2013: The North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership: a science-management collaboration for responding to climate change. Sustainability, 5: 136-159.

Project challenges and lessons learned

The NCAP encompassed a large land area with many different stakeholders in an effort to achieve an “all lands” approach to climate change vulnerability and adaptation.  Different agency missions, mandates, and directives enriched discussions and allowed for the sharing of experiences and ideas, but they also made it challenging to develop collaborative adaptation plans.  Many adaptation options identified were applicable for more than one resource sector, suggesting the need to collaborate across disciplines, not just across boundaries and agencies. 

Learning Objectives

  • See examples of science-management partnerships that extended across land boundaries and agencies.
  • Understand workshop processes that led to the vulnerability assessments and adaptation options in the final report (education workshops that led to vulnerability and adaptation workshops with presentations and facilitated discussions with scientists and managers).
  • See examples of adaptation strategies and tactics that were developed in response to projected regional and local climate changes.


Photos and Video


Landslide: Changing precipitation patterns may have consequences for forest roads, as with this example of a storm-triggered landslide covering Stevens Canyon road in Mount Rainier National Park, November 2006. Credit: Mt. Ranier National Park

Additional Resources


Selected References.  See PNW-GTR-892 for complete list of references.

Halofsky, J.E.; Peterson, D.L.; O'Halloran, K.A.; Hoffman, C.H. Adapting to Climate Change at Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-844; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station: Portland, OR, USA, 2011; p. 130.

Littell, J.S.; Peterson, D.L.; Millar, C.I.; O'Halloran, K.A. U.S. National forests adapt to climate change through science-management partnerships. Climatic Change 2011, 110, 269-296.

Morelli, T.L.; Yeh, S.; Smith, N.M.; Hennessy, M.B.; Millar, C.I. Climate Project ScreeningTool: An Aid for Climate Change Adaptation. Res. Pap. PSW-RP-263; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station: Albany, CA, USA, 2012; p. 29.

Peterson, D.L.; Millar, C.I.; Joyce, L.A.; Furniss, M.J.; Halofsky, J.E.; Neilsom, R.P.; Morelli, T.L. Responding to Climate Change in National Forests: A Guidebook for Developing Adaptation Options. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-855; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station: Portland, OR, USA, 2011; p. 109.

Rice, Janine; Tredennick, Andrew; Joyce, Linda A.  2012.  Climate change on the Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming: a synthesis of past climate, climate projections, and ecosystem implications.   Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-264. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 60 p.

Swanston, C.W.; Janowiak, M.; Iverson, L. Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis: A Report from the Climate Change Response Framework Project in Northern Wisconsin. General Technical Report NRS-82; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: Newtown Square, PA, USA, 2011; p. 142.

Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers. Gen.Tech. Rep. NRS-GTR-87; Swanston, C.W., Janowiak, M.K., Eds.; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: Newtown Square, PA, USA, 2012; p. 108.