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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Integrating Climate Adaptation Strategies into Local Collaborative Forest Management in Northern Colorado

Mountain with blue sky and yellowing trees and grass in front of it in Colorado.

Group Members: Olivia (Liv) Hemond, Steven Mitchell, Maxwell Pepperdine, Nicole Rosen, Izzy Sofio

Faculty Advisors: Joan Dudney

Client: The Nature Conservancy




Healthy forests are the backbone of life in Colorado, providing clean water, recreation, and economic opportunities, as well as clean air. Colorado’s forests face many stressors amplified by climate change, including intensifying and persistent drought, severe wildfires, pest and disease outbreaks, earlier snowmelt, and invasive species, all of which threaten forests and the communities who rely on them. Our study area, the Upper South Platte Watershed (the Watershed), exemplifies the services provided by forests, the threats forests experience under climate change, and the relationship between forests and local communities.

Many scientists and researchers are working to understand how climate change affects forests by studying its impacts and developing resources to guide climate adaptation. These resources include everything from datasets and technical models to decision-making frameworks. They aim to provide forest managers with critical information to use when making management decisions and developing long-term climate adaptation strategies. The trouble, however, is the sheer number of resources and the lack of clear guidance surrounding what to use in which situations. There’s an abundance of tools, models, frameworks, and other resources that provide recommendations surrounding climate adaptation, but it can be difficult to evaluate the quality and applicability of all this information. Furthermore, there is often a disconnect between the research questions posed by scientists and the needs of land managers, which can make it challenging to integrate the latest science into projects on the ground. And finally, there is a need to not only consider climate adaptation from an ecological perspective but also for how it impacts nearby and downstream communities. Management decisions need to better consider the distribution of benefits and burdens associated with forest climate adaptation solutions.

In response to these challenges, this project will analyze existing forest adaptation climate tools to identify which are most suitable for dry forests and other relevant ecosystem types (e.g., riparian and wetland areas) in the Watershed. Additionally, this project will investigate mechanisms for how the distribution of the benefits and burdens associated with management actions impacts communities nearby and downstream. To complement our analysis, we will develop recommendations for local managers who are members of the Upper South Platte Partnership (USPP), a local forest management group, to provide an example of how climate adaptation resources and environmental justice can be implemented in a local setting. These recommendations will identify the most relevant climate adaptation resources and frameworks, model how management actions and climate change may shape the future of the forest, and support the integration of climate adaptation resources that also consider nearby and downstream communities.

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