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Building resilience in function of Terrestrial Systems - Flathead National Forest

Project background and scope

Flathead National Forest contains a diversity of terrestrial systems that will be affected in adverse ways by a warmer climate. Climate change effects include the effects of higher air temperature on (1) increased frequency and extent of wildfire, (2) increased insect outbreaks, and (3) altered quality and connectivity of wildlife habitat. These climate-related effects may alter the structure and function of forests and other vegetation types. Land management planning on the forest is considering how the climate change may affect specific species and communities and is identifying adaptation options that will improve resilience of several vegetation types and ecosystems.

Project Process and Implementation

The project was led by Flathead National Forest staff with assistance from Northern Region staff. Scientific information was provided by the USFS Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations in collaboration with the University of Washington. Public and stakeholder input was elicited at various meetings. The NEPA process was used to administer development of the revised forest land management plan. Public and stakeholder input was elicited at meetings in communities adjacent to the forest, as well as through written comments. All feedback was considered by forest staff in revising the plan, including for resilience building issues. The completed forest plan now guides all planning and management activities on Flathead National Forest, ensuring that climate change issues are institutionalized in strategic and on-the-ground management.

Management Objectives

Although restoration activities have been underway for many years, the long-term success of restoration depends on inclusion of climate change information—both assessment of effects and implementation of adaptation options. This is especially true for dry forest ecosystems that are adversely affected by increased disturbances. Climate-informed restoration and other management activities will ensure that investments on restoration are optimized as part of a broader risk assessment process.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand critical sensitivities to climate change in terrestrial systems.
  • Identify adaptation options that will improve resilience to climate change.
  • Determine how to implement climate change adaptation in land management planning.

Project Outcomes

Flathead National Forest used recent scientific information to develop a robust approach for evaluating climate change effects on natural resources and to identify adaptation options that will increase resilience of terrestrial systems. Summaries and justification for action are included in the Environmental Impact Statement for the forest land management plan. Climate-informed management strategies and on-the-ground actions are focused on landscapes where effects on vegetation and other terrestrial resources may be particularly sensitive to higher temperature and higher frequency of wildfire and insect outbreaks. As a result, management is prepared to reduce the vulnerability of resources, while helping to ease the transition of terrestrial systems to a warmer climate.

Project challenges and lessons learned

There is considerable uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of climate change effects on natural resources. Significant effects on vegetation will mostly be caused by extreme weather events, although some effects may become chronic later in the 21st century.


Halofsky, J.E.; Peterson, D.L.; Dante, S.K.; Ho, J.J.; Hoang, L.; Joyce, L.A., eds. 2018. Vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Project Info

Project Status:



National Forest


  • Flathead National Forest ecologists, silviculturists, and fire specialists
  • USFS Northern Region
  • USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station
  • University of Washington


Jessica Halofsky, David Peterson, and Linh Hoang