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Toward a Shared Understanding of Climate-Smart Restoration on America’s National Forests

  • Patty Glick (National Wildlife Federation), Bruce A. Stein (National Wildlife Federation), Kimberly R. Hall (The Nature Conservancy)
  • Jun 30, 2021
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Toward a Shared Understanding of Climate-Smart Restoration reviews and summarizes recent scientific insights into how climate change is affecting America’s national forests and how climate-smart forest restoration can help sustain these cherished public lands.

A rapidly changing climate—including rising temperatures, more severe drought, changing precipitation patterns, and increasingly extreme storms—is having profound consequences for America’s national forests. Climate-related impacts on forest systems include larger and more severe disturbances (e.g., wildfires, drought, and insect outbreaks), shifts in tree species ranges and forest composition, and changes in forest dynamics and regeneration capacity. These changes have significant implications for the effectiveness of traditional forest restoration efforts, which generally rely on historical conditions as benchmarks for success.

Over the past decade, the U.S. Forest Service has made considerable progress in understanding the effects of a changing climate on forest ecosystems and working to incorporate climate considerations into its planning and management. Nonetheless, varying perspectives on what climate change means for ecological restoration in practice pose challenges to integrating climate adaptation and mitigation in national forest planning and management. Addressing this challenge would benefit from a shared understanding among agency staff and stakeholders of what constitutes a forward-looking and climate-smart approach to restoration on America’s national forests. To help advance the development of such a shared understanding, the report identifies and explores the following proposed principles for climate-smart forest restoration:

• Look to the future while learning from the past
• Embrace functional restoration of ecological integrity
• Restore and manage forests in the context of larger landscapes and longer time frames
• Adopt agile planning and management approaches that accommodate and address uncertainty
• Address climate risks by linking adaptation strategies to key climate-related impacts
• Manage for change, not just persistence
• Optimize, rather than maximize, carbon sequestration opportunities
• Enhance collaboration to identify shared values, navigate trade-offs, and maximize synergies in the context of changing conditions

Sustaining our national forests in the face of climate change increasingly will require use of climate-smart and ecologically appropriate approaches to restoration and management. This report is intended to advance development of a shared understanding of climate-smart forest restoration and to promote dialogue among national forest managers and their partners about how to ensure a sustainable and resilient future for America’s national forests.


Toward a Shared Understanding of Climate-Smart Restoration was developed as a collaboration among the National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and American Forests with financial support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Toward a Shared Understanding of Climate-Smart Restoration on America’s National Forests

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