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Climate Change


Adaptation Examples: Forests


Adaptation Examples in Forests

Key Points
  • Land managers, including those in National Parks and Forests, are taking steps to minimize the impacts of existing ecosystem stressors, such as habitat fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, insect infestations, and wildfire, to increase the resilience of forests to climate change.
  • The U.S. Forest Service has developed a National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change that outlines how to apply adaptive management principles to forest and grassland management.
  • Two Countries One Forest, a collaborative Canadian-U.S. effort, is taking a regional approach to improve habitat corridors, which allow species to migrate as climate change shifts the geographic location of feasible habitats.

Changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, temperature, and precipitation can affect how forests grow. Climate change will also likely alter the frequency and intensity of many forest disturbances, such as insect outbreaks, wildfires, droughts, and storms. Climate change may also worsen some existing stressors, such as habitat fragmentation, the abundance of invasive species, and pollution. To learn more about how climate change will likely impact forests, visit the Forests Impacts section.

Forests that are healthy tend to be more resilient to climate change. Forest adaptation measures related to climate change are often aimed to reduce the impacts of current ecosystem stressors. These measures include a wide variety of activities that are tailored to impacts occurring or anticipated to occur within a specific forest. Specific approaches include:

  • Removing invasive species
  • Promoting biodiversity and landscape diversity
  • Collaborating across borders to create habitat linkages
  • Managing wildfire risk through controlled burns and thinning

The following case studies, examples, and related links are illustrative and not intended to be comprehensive.

Park managers reduce existing stressors in Rocky Mountain National Park

Photograph of a lake surrounded by evergreen trees and mountains.

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park. Source: National Park Service (2010)

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) reduces existing stressors and enhances the Park's ability to adapt to climate change through effective management strategies. Park managers are proactive in removing or preventing the spread of invasive species. They also manage wildfire risk through adaptive fire management (e.g., removal of excessive vegetation and dead fuels through thinning, prescribed fire, and other methods) and reduce regional air pollution through partnerships with regulatory agencies. RMNP is conducting a study of its forest species to determine which will be most impacted by climate change. These efforts will help guide management to protect the park's forests and other ecosystems. [1] For more information about how managers are helping ecosystems adapt to climate change, visit the Ecosystem Impacts & Adaptation page.

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Managers maintain diversity in the Olympic National Forest

Photograph of forested mountains.

Olympic National Forest. Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program (2008)

Managers at the Olympic National Forest (ONF) are improving forest resilience by promoting biodiversity. ONF is a restoration forest, which means that managers focus on reintroducing landscape complexity and moving away from the dominance of a single species that results from timber production. For example, ONF is applying targeted thinning (where some trees are removed to improve the growth of others) to increase the diversity of tree species in an area, decrease stress from overcrowding, and reduce sensitivity to disturbances. Given uncertainty about how any one specific species or system will respond to climate change, promoting biodiversity and landscape diversity will lead to increased resilience to climate change. [1]

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Land managers reduce the impacts of forest disturbances in Alaska

In recent years, the Kenai Peninsula experienced a beetle infestation that affected more than a million acres of forest. Beetle infestations that kill or weaken trees make forests more susceptible to large wildfires. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the predicted increases in temperature may contribute to continued spread of beetle infestations. Land managers in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska are already taking action to adapt to increased spruce bark beetle infestations and the related fire risk. [2]

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The U.S. Forest Service develops a roadmap for climate change adaptation

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is responsible for maintaining the integrity of ecosystems on national forests and grasslands. In the past 20 years, USFS has observed an increased range of challenges caused by wildfires, changes in the water cycle, and expanding insect infestations. [3] In order to create management practices that evolve with the changing climate, USDA Forest Service released the National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change (PDF). The Roadmap encourages taking a landscape-scale, or all-lands, approach that considers ecosystem boundaries rather than property boundaries. The plan outlines three key adaptive management strategies: [3]

  • Build resistance to short-term threats.
  • Increase ecosystem resilience for long-term maintenance.
  • Facilitate large-scale ecological transitions for permanent changes.

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The U.S. and Canada work to protect forest species

The Two Countries One Forest Exit EPA Disclaimer project is working to conserve and restore 80 million acres of forests in the Northern Appalachian Acadian ecoregion (or bioregion), an area defined by geography and ecology, not political boundaries. The area of interest includes forests in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Québec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia—spanning several states and provinces and crossing an international border. The project protects forest ecosystems threatened by climate change and human activity. Forests in the region are young and fragmented. Biological corridors that allow species migration between areas of habitat are cut off by roads and development. This makes it difficult for plants and animals to maintain healthy populations and genetic diversity. By taking a regional approach that crosses political boundaries, Two Countries One Forest is working to improve the health of the forest and make it less sensitive to climate change.

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1. CCSP (2008). Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources . A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. [Julius, S.H., J.M. West (eds.), J.S. Baron, B. Griffith, L.A. Joyce, P. Kareiva, B.D. Keller, M.A. Palmer, C.H. Peterson, and J.M. Scott (authors)]. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.

2. FWS (2011). Alaska: Across the Wildest State, Climate Change Threatens Many Species and Habitats . U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Accessed March 26, 2012.

3. USDA Forest Service (2010). National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change . USDA Forest Service.

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