The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest: Implementing a Comprehensive Approach to Climate Change Response
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Forests are a characteristic feature in many parts the country, and this is particularly true in northern Wisconsin where a mosaic of public and private forestlands define the regional landscape. This case study describes the activities undertaken by the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and other landowners in northern Wisconsin through the Climate Change Response Framework (CCRF). The CCRF is a collaborative effort among scientists, land owners, and forest managers to incorporate climate change considerations into natural management and foster adaptation in forest ecosystems.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest was a key partner in the development of the CCRF, where it served as a pilot in developing and testing the approach in northern Wisconsin. Since then, the CCRF approach has been applied across much of the Midwest and Northeast based upon the lessons learned on the Chequamegon-Nicolet. The Chequamegon-Nicolet remains a leader among National Forests in its approach to climate change, and has developed an extensive set of partnerships, assessments, and adaptation demonstration projects to increase the ability of ecosystems on the Forest and in the surrounding region to adapt to changing conditions.
In 2008, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest partnered with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) to consider how climate change could be better integrated into the natural resource management planning and activities occurring on the Forest. Although this effort began as a two-day workshop for Chequamegon-Nicolet staff in 2008, over time it grew into the CCRF and catalyzed a comprehensive set of partnerships, vulnerability assessments, adaptation resources, and demonstration projects across the Midwest and Northeast.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet has a long history of working with a diverse array of partners on research related to climate change and carbon. Following the initial workshop in 2008 with Forest staff, leaders within the US Forest Service Eastern Region and the Northern Research Station identified the Chequamegon-Nicolet as a “Climate Change Model Forest for Landscape Management.” As a model forest, the Chequamegon-Nicolet would work with partners from state and local agencies, tribes, conservation organizations, and private organizations to address management challenges associated with climate change across the entire landscape of northern Wisconsin. NIACS led the development of the CCRF among the Chequamegon-Nicolet and these other organizations to serve as a model both regionally and nationally. Since then, the Chequamegon-Nicolet and surrounding northern Wisconsin landscape have served as a pilot for this effort.
From the outset, the CCRF looked beyond the borders of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and considered the potential effects of climate change across the entire ecoregion of northern Wisconsin. While the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest covers 1.5 million acres, this represents only 13% of the northern Wisconsin's forest land. Recognizing that climate change is a global issue and will affect forests regardless of ownership boundaries, the information and tools designed to support climate change response were created for natural resource managers across all ownerships: federal, state, local, tribal, and private.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has been a critical partner in the development and implementations of the CCRF, and has been a test-bed of new resources and activities for responding to climate change in land management. The approach of the CCRF is grounded heavily in partnerships because climate change is inherently an issue that crosses land ownership boundaries: all lands will be affected in some way. Partnership efforts engage a diverse set of land managers, scientists, and others to learn from one another and find practical solutions for sustaining natural ecosystems and the people that depend on them. While partners may have different management goals for their forested lands, each has a stake in managing proactively to maintain these goals under future conditions.
The CCRF approach is unique. It provides a path for organizations to better understand the risks associated with a changing climate, and also works to help identify potential actions for adaptation across spatial scales ranging from individual stands and forests to large landscapes. Building a comprehensive approach to climate change takes time, and the Chequamegon-Nicolet has built its program over time.
Importantly, all of these activities have also helped the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest answer “yes” to 7 elements Performance Scorecard for implementing the Forest Service Climate Change Strategy.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Adaptation demonstration projects provide much-needed examples of what climate change adaptation activities look like in real-world conditions. Although information is increasingly available on how ecosystems may be affected by climate change, there are few examples of management activities that explicitly consider climate change impacts and adaptation opportunities. Adaptation demonstrations, which are one component of the CCRF approach, are designed to fill that gap while also testing out new ideas and actions.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has several adaptation demonstrations underway, with the goal of having one demonstration project on each of its five Districts. Each adaptation demonstration is unique, with the intent of providing examples across a variety of spatial scales, forest types, and management issues. Likewise, a variety of have also been established in northern Wisconsin across state, tribal, and private lands. Each adaptation demonstration uses the adaptation process outlined in Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers. This set of resources includes the menu of adaptation strategies and approaches, an adaptation workbook, and examples using case studies from the Chequamegon-Nicolet.
One adaptation demonstration evaluated the potential effects of a changing climate on two aspen stands on the National Forest. A team of natural resource managers and climate change specialists from the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science evaluated the potential impacts of climate change on the two stands and identified a variety of actions that could enhance forest resilience to climate change under a wide range of future conditions. As a result, small changes were made to the silvicultural prescriptions for these stands to reduce risks to these stands from climate change. The stands are now marked and under contract, with harvest anticipated in winter 2013-2014. Additionally, a set of monitoring metrics was identified that can help evaluate the effectiveness of adaptation actions.
Project challenges and lessons learned:
- The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has been a critical partner throughout the development and testing of the CCRF approach, and this has allowed the CCRF to grow substantially. The CCRF now includes more than 132 million acres of public and private land (including 11 National Forests) and more than 75 partners, and continues to grow.
- As a pilot for the CCRF, lessons learned on the Chequamegon-Nicolet since 2008 have been used to improve the CCRF approach, as well as other climate change response efforts across the region and nation.
- Although cross-ownership partnerships were identified as a critical component at the start of the effort, their importance became even more apparent over time. Staff from the Chequamegon-Nicolet were integral to all components of the project, but assistance from other partners from within and outside of the Forest Service was also essential. Additionally, partnerships and interactions between scientists and managers provided insights that helped propel projects forward during difficult stages. Clear communication among all partners was also important throughout the project.
- Several challenges were faced by the Chequamegon-Nicolet, NIACS, and their partners in launching the CCRF in northern Wisconsin. Uncertainty about the future effects of climate change was an initial concern, but the scientific information brought together through the vulnerability assessment provided information on the range of expected outcomes.
- Integrating information on vulnerability into actual management practices was initially elusive; the Forest Adaptation Resources were developed to help provide a structured, yet flexible approach. The process was streamlined over time with input from partners.
Janowiak M., C. Swanston, & L. Parker. (2013). The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest: Implementing a Comprehensive Approach to Climate Change Response. [Case study on a project of the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest from the U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center].