Olympic National Forest (ONF) is comprised of approximately 600,000 acres on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington. The ONF Land Management Plan (OLMP), which is focused on maintaining biodiversity and restoring important habitats, acts as the guide for natural resource management activities in ONF. By promoting landscape diversity and biodiversity, the OLMP facilitates resilience and increases adaptive capacity. In addition to the OLMP, the U.S. Forest Service educated ONF managers on climate change science and impacts and conducted a vulnerability assessment to facilitate development of adaptation strategies.


ONF is located on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington State. The forest comprises approximately 635,000 acres, including five wilderness areas, and surrounds Olympic National Park (ONP). Ecosystem services from ONF include municipal water supply, nearly pristine air quality, fish and wildlife, key habitat for threatened species, recreation, and timber. Climate change impacts on the Olympic Peninsula (e.g., increased mean air temperature, changes in precipitation, and increased storm severity) are likely to influence the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species, thus affecting vital ecosystem services in the region.

Current natural resource management in ONF has been shaped by historical land use and forest fragmentation. ONF consists of large areas of second-growth forest and is considered a “restoration forest” where natural resource management activities are focused on restoring important habitats, rehabilitating or restoring impacts from unmaintained logging roads, invasive species control, and monitoring.

The OLMP, which guides management activities at ONF, was initially created in 1990 and is revised every 10 years. Adaptation to climate change is not fully addressed in the OLMP and is not included in most management planning actions. However, ONF management objectives do promote landscape diversity and biodiversity, ultimately facilitating resilience.

In addition to the OLMP, the U.S. Forest Service began an Olympic Climate Change Case Study as part of a larger effort called the WestWide Climate Initiative. This initiative provides climate change information and adaptation tools to land managers in the western United States. The Olympic Climate Change Case Study had two phases: (1) educate ONF managers on climate change science and potential impacts, and (2) conduct a vulnerability assessment to facilitate the development of adaptation strategies for ONF. These projects were a collaborative effort by the U.S. Forest Service, Olympic National Forest, and Olympic National Park.


The vulnerability assessment process consisted of three steps: (1) review available climate model projections to establish susceptibility to climate change on the Olympic Peninsula; (2) review literature and available models to discover likely climate change vulnerabilities for hydrology and roads, fish, vegetation, and wildlife; and (3) review current management practices at ONF and evaluate institutional capacity to implement adaptation actions. Following the assessment, science-management workshops were held during which time managers identified general priority actions for adaptation, as well as priorities for species and habitat protection and monitoring.

Particular strategies that were identified as potential sources of resilience in ONF included increasing landscape diversity, maintaining biological diversity, and employing early detection/rapid response for invasive species. Multiple actions were recommended for each strategy. Several barriers were also identified that limit the adaptive capacity of ONF. They were: (1) failure to incorporate climate change into policy, regulations, and guidelines; (2) limited resources; (3) lack of a long-term, management-science partnership with decision-specific information; (4) a lengthy planning process for management actions; and (5) adopting unclear priorities and guidelines. Recommendations to overcome these barriers were also identified: (1) develop a manager’s guide to climate impacts and adaptation; (2) develop science-management partnership focused on climate change; (3) incorporate climate change into policies; (4) re-evaluate the appropriateness of laws and policies in dealing with climate change; (5) create clear and consistent priorities that provide guidance but are flexible; (6) allocate resources for adaptation; and (7) increase education and outreach efforts to promote awareness.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The effects of climate change on forest ecosystems are already detectable and are likely to exacerbate current ecosystem stressors at ONF. These impacts will threaten the natural and cultural resources of ONF, thus adaptation is necessary to ensure the sustainability of ecosystem services. To facilitate effective adaptation, several components are required: (1) a clear vision of what is needed, (2) removal of any barriers, (3) increased collaboration among stakeholders, and (4) enabling proven strategies (e.g., early detection/rapid response). While ONF management priorities (e.g., restoration) are consistent with promoting resilience and adaptation, they are constrained by available resources and scientific uncertainty.

Information was collected through interviews and online research. Updated 12/17/10

Kershner, J. (2010). Adapting to Climate Change in Olympic National Forest [Case study on a project of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, Olympic National Forest, and Olympic National Park]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated April 2011)

Project Contact(s)

Pacific Northwest Research Station (USFS)

The Pacific Northwest Research Station provides scientific information to land managers, policymakers, and citizens. The Station has 11 locations in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington and about 500 employees.

Olympic National Park

From tiny unique flowers on icy peaks to sea stars patrolling foaming tide pools, myriad species find refuge in the sanctuary of Olympic National Park. Geology, climate, isolation, history and sheer size mean this nearly one million-acre park protects relatively intact ecosystems, making it a priceless living laboratory and a home for plants and animals large and small.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Habitat extent
Invasive / non-native species, pests
Species of concern
Storms or extreme weather events
Water quality
Water supply
Climate Type
1-3 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Increase organizational capacity
Coordinate planning and management
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage
In progress