Forest Service, Climate Change and Adaptation


Organizers: Dixie Porter, Brian Logan, Anne Marsh, Patty Klein, Tracy Grazia, Brice Hanberry, and Mary Rowland

Supported by: USDA Forest Service,

In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) implemented the first “Climate Change Performance Scorecard” (Scorecard) for all national forests and grasslands across the nation encompassing 193 million acres and the Scorecard was expanded in 2020. Climate change, including increased temperatures, variable precipitation, and extreme events, is expected to disrupt the composition of plant and animal communities and destabilize existing ecosystems. Climate change will affect resources, such as water, food, cover, and breeding habitat, resulting in reduced survival, growth, and reproduction of wildlife. Over longer time periods, vegetation shifts may disorder current assemblages as species respond uniquely in distribution and abundance. Species may respond to habitat changes by adapting within their current range, shifting to new distributions, or by decreasing population sizes in isolated and increasingly contracting refugia. Wildlife will face climate-related challenges through habitat loss or degradation, fragmentation and connectivity issues, phenological changes, extreme weather and related disturbance events, physiological stress and increased vulnerability to disease, and disordered interspecific relationships. Interactions will likely result in a cascade of stressors because poorly nourished animals are less resistant to drought, temperature fluctuations, fire, land use pressure, insecticides, and disease. Climate change may favor generalist and non-native species, possibly resulting in lower biodiversity. Consideration of the myriad of climate change effects on wildlife, resources, and ecosystems when developing wildlife management plans will benefit wildlife and the ecosystems that support wildlife. These four sessions will highlight national and regional approaches using the Climate Scorecard and collaborations with the USDA Climate Hubs and provide examples of work the Forest Service is doing to identify climate change vulnerabilities, develop adaptive management strategies, and address challenges in aquatic systems. We will provide information on how the Forest Service is tracking progress on climate change using its Scorecard and supporting land managers through the USDA Climate Hubs.

A Menu of Climate Adaptation Actions for Terrestrial Wildlife Management
Stephen Handler, Olivia LeDee, Benjamin Zuckerberg, Christopher Hoving, Christopher Swanston
The real-world application of climate change adaptation practices in terrestrial wildlife conservation has been slowed by a lack of practical guidance for wildlife managers. Although there is a rapidly growing body of literature on the topic of climate change adaptation and wildlife management, the literature is weighted towards a narrow range of adaptation actions and administrative or policy recommendations that are typically beyond the decision space and influence of wildlife professionals. We developed a menu of tiered adaptation actions for terrestrial wildlife management to translate broad concepts into actionable approaches to help managers respond to climate change risks and meet desired management goals. The menu includes actions related to managing wildlife populations as well as managing wildlife habitat. We designed this resource to be used with the Adaptation Workbook, a structured decision-support tool for climate adaptation. We describe real-world examples in which managers have used the Wildlife Adaptation Menu to integrate climate adaptation considerations into wildlife management and conservation projects. These examples illustrate how a comprehensive and structured menu of adaptation approaches can help managers brainstorm specific actions and more easily and clearly communicate the intent of their climate adaptation efforts.
Incorporating Climate Change Science in Decision Making and Wildlife Management in the Intermountain Region
Rema Sadak
The 2012 Planning Rule requires that Forests address climate change and other stressors through an adaptive framework of assessments, planning and monitoring, and with provisions intended to improve ecosystem resiliency on each unit. Policies around the Sustainability Scorecard lead to the creation of the USFS Region 4 Adaptation Partnership with its goals to increase awareness, assess vulnerability, and develop adaptations. I will discuss and give examples of how Region 4 incorporated climate change science developed during the Adaptation Partnership in the Forest Plan Revision process and project work, and in identifying Species of Conservation Concern.
Drought Effects on Wildlife: A Literature Review and Considerations for Connectivity
Leslie Hay
In considering varied effects of climate change, the short and long-term impacts of drought on wildlife have been challenging to study. To understand the depth of our knowledge on this critical issue, we evaluate drought on wildlife through a review of the literature nationally and globally. In 2021, the US drought monitor is predicting persistent severe drought throughout most of the western states. Nonetheless, other arid regions in the world have experienced drought with wildlife impacts for decades. Some effects of drought have been documented on distribution and numbers of wildlife, such as koala bears in Australia and ungulates in Africa. Other studies highlight the importance of riparian areas as a refuge for wildlife during drought, thereby focusing on riparian management for wildlife refugia. Some authors suggest that climate change-induced drought could particularly affect wildlife populations on marginal habitat edges or population range limits. In turn, marginality may interface with habitat loss and fragmentation with less connectivity, thereby cumulatively increasing extinction risk. Another significant impact from drought on wildlife discussed by scientists is enhanced negative effects where landscape connectivity is disrupted and wildlife movements are impeded during drought, resulting in die-offs such as observed in South Africa. Researchers highlight the importance of monitoring wildlife populations to adequately understand the complexity of variable drought responses, particularly as drought increases in severity. Overall, the emphasis to garner an in-depth understanding of wildlife impacts from drought for effective wildlife management and conservation is a common thread in the literature. Likewise, coupled with wildlife monitoring, researchers emphasize that large scale and long-term impacts of droughts are undocumented. Finally, authors indicate we need to focus on understanding the links between vegetation change, wildlife species responses, and how connectivity can increase likelihood of wildlife populations recovery.
Interaction of Multiple Stressors on Bats in a Changing Climate: Tolerate, Adapt, Or Move
Sybill Amelon, Sarah Hooper
Animal demographics, conservation, and stress assessment are all critical components of species survival. As organisms experience stressors, they accumulate physiologic dysregulation, known as allostatic load. Dysregulation of physiologic parameters often leads to multiple adverse health outcomes. Allostatic indices consider thermal, neuroendocrine, metabolic, immune, and other biomarkers. The past two decades have seen remarkable technological advances in human and wildlife research; in humans, indices now estimate allostatic load towards modifying the damaging effects of stress. Stress responses are conserved among mammals; however, allostatic indices for animals are rare. Understanding the cumulative impact of these stressors is challenging because of the complexity of ecosystems, the variability of stressors, changing temperature and moisture regimes, and species response to individual or multiple stressors. Our objective was to validate measurement of biomarkers in bats in response to habitat and diet changes, hormone levels, temperature, and exposure to environmental chemicals. We discuss hypothetical stress components in an allostatic model. We describe an empirical species-stressor modeling approach to estimate individual and population-level health status. We apply this approach to temperate forest bats experiencing declines from infection with Psuedogymnoascus destructans (the causative agent of White-nose Syndrome) in regions of differing landscape context. Our results suggest evidence of many potential sources of stress. Using allostatic load as a predictive tool may offer managers information on individuals or locations of individuals at greatest risk for health declines. Allostatic load may allow comparisons of health between and across populations, informing habitat and population protection efforts.
Adapting to a Changing Climate: Decision-Support Tools for the Co-Management of Wildlife and Domestic Livestock on Federal Rangelands in the Northwest
Anna Maher, Mary M. Rowland
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Climate Hubs make science accessible to natural resource and agricultural land managers. This presentation focuses on decision-support tools that help rangeland managers make climate-informed decisions, thus supporting the adaptation category of the US Forest Service Climate Scorecard. Pacific Northwest rangelands systems are experiencing diminished forage resources in summer, which can lead to increased competition for those resources amongst large herbivores, including domestic livestock, and between these herbivores and other wildlife species. While public land managers have long sought to balance these interactions, compressed grazing seasons, increased frequency and severity of droughts and wildfire, increased population pressure (e.g., land development), and shifting wildlife migration patterns are bringing these issues to the forefront. For example, large herbivores are overlapping in time and space in new ways and with more intensity, such that timing of competitive or complementary relationships among these species and related sustainable use levels may also shift. Livestock are managed (e.g., through stocking rates, season of grazing) on public lands by permits issued by the USDA Forest Service, and big game populations are managed, albeit more indirectly, by state wildlife agencies through hunting season designs. Better site- and time-specific data could improve management decisions. The USDA has developed or has access to a growing number of remotely sensed data sources and online tools that can support adaptive wildlife and livestock management through climate-smart practices and decision-making. These include tools to assess and monitor wildfire risk, stream conditions, and historical, current, and predicted annual aboveground net primary productivity, some of which are applicable to Pacific Northwest rangelands. Creating new tools or refining existing ones may help meet management needs moving forward. Such tools can support managers in identifying management priorities and opportunities for promoting ecological resilience in a changing climate while meeting multi-use objectives.
Using Habitat Suitability Models to Inform Monitoring Needs for Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo in Arizona Under Climate Change
Megan Friggens, Tessia Robbins, Jonathan Horst
In April 2021, U.S. Fish and Wildlife designated critical habitat for the western population of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus occidentalis) under the Endangered Species Act. This decision was influenced, in part, by observed declines in cuckoo populations across the Western U.S.  Western Yellow-billed cuckoos (wYBC) breed in riparian habitats found at low to mid-elevations and are thought to prefer areas with large (>20 ha) contiguous patches of riparian forests. Declines in wYBCW populations are attributed to declines in their preferred riparian forest habitat due to water diversions, dams, and climate change. Continued climate change threatens remaining riparian ecosystems and the populations that depend upon them. This study is focused in Arizona and estimates current and future habitat for wYBC in an effort to inform future survey efforts. We developed breeding habitat suitability models for the western yellow-billed cuckoo using MaxEnt and based on known locations and contemporary environmental data for Arizona. We project the resulting suitability model to future climates derived from downscaled and bias corrected projections from three CMIP5 global climate models (GCMs) CNRM-CM5, CCSM4, and HADGEM2-CC under the representative concentration pathways (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5. We calculated mean conditions for 30-year time periods surrounding years 2050 and 2070. Model statistics demonstrated good model fit and discriminatory power and confidence. Suitable habitat under contemporary climate was primarily found along drainages. Model projections for future climates note shifts and changes in expected suitable habitat across the state that can inform future survey efforts.
Can Climate Change Mitigation Through Forest Management Save the Moose in Minnesota?”
Deahn Wright, Eric Margenau, John Hak
Moose are an economically and culturally important species in Minnesota. Like many boreal species in the mixed temperate-boreal forest ecotone, however, moose are experiencing receding distributions and reduced abundances across their southern range extent because of changing climates and habitat conditions. Moose populations have declined by 60% since 2006, in part, because of thermal heat stress in warming summers and increased frequency of contact with white-tailed deer that transmit fatal parasites. Forest managers are looking for actionable adaptive strategies to improve moose habitat in the near-term while also planning for warming climates. To address this need, we are examining how climate adaptive forest management strategies can mitigate negative impacts of climate change on moose while also reducing contact with deer. We are coupling a forest landscape model LANDIS (LANdscape DIsturbance and Succession) with moose and deer habitat models to conduct a factorial simulation experiment assessing the effect of alternative adaptive strategies on moose habitat quality under multiple climate change scenarios. Prior to modeling, we held a workshop including moose experts, scientists, managers, and stakeholders to 1) develop a conceptual Bayesian network model that would identify the interactions among the main factors impacting moose health such as parasite loads, loss of foraging and thermal cover habitat, and predators, and 2) define actionable climate adaptive silvicultural strategies identified by stakeholders that would be used to develop experimental design scenarios. Here we present our Bayesian network models from the workshop and describe preliminary forest change differences among defined adaptation strategies and climate conditions. Results can be integrated into regional forest planning by managers to spatially identify areas across multiple land ownerships most suitable for improving regional moose habitat while also minimizing moose-deer interactions to lower the risk of parasites under current and future forest conditions, ensuring the long-term persistence of moose in Minnesota.
Restoration or Climate Adaptation: The Return of Pine Woodlands and Brown-Headed Nuthatches to Missouri
Frank Thompson, Sarah Kendrick, Thomas W Bonnot, Kristen Heath-Acre, Jacob Fraser, Brian Davidson
Shortleaf pine woodlands once occurred across millions of hectares in the Ozark Highlands but were reduced to a small fraction of their original extent by logging, farming, and fire suppression.  Thousands of acres of pine woodlands are now being restored with prescribed fire and mechanical harvest because of their important contribution to biological diversity in this landscape. The success of pine woodland restoration to date enabled us to restore a population of brown-headed nuthatches in Missouri by translocating birds from Arkansas.  The brown-headed nuthatch is a pine woodland obligate that has been extirpated from Missouri likely since the early 1900s.  Climate projections suggest the Ozark Highlands will become warmer and drier during the growing season over the next 100 years. Additionally, forest landscape modeling suggests that in 100 years pine woodlands, with their lower stocking, will be better adapted on many land types that are currently dominated by oak and oak-pine forest.  Therefore, restoration of pine woodlands and the establishment of a population of brown-headed nuthatches north of their current range in Arkansas represent holistic approaches to ecosystem restoration and climate adaptation.

Location: Virtual Date: November 4, 2021 Time: 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm