Expanding vulnerability assessment for public lands: The social complement to ecological approachesPublished: January 25, 2017
In recent years, federal land management agencies in the United States have been tasked to consider climate change vulnerability and adaptation in their planning. Ecological vulnerability approaches have been the dominant framework, but these approaches have significant limitations for fully understanding vulnerability in complex social-ecological systems in and around multiple-use public lands. In this paper, we describe the context of United States federal public lands management with an emphasis on the Bureau of Land Management to highlight this unique decision-making context. We then assess the strengths and weaknesses of an ecological vulnerability approach for informing decisionmaking. Next, we review social vulnerability methods in the context of public lands to demonstrate what these approaches can contribute to our understanding of vulnerability, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, we suggest some key design principles for integrated social-ecological vulnerability assessments considering the context of public lands management, the limits of ecological vulnerability assessment, and existing approaches to social vulnerability assessment. We argue for the necessity of including social vulnerability in a more integrated social-ecological approach in order to better inform climate change adaptation.