Public lands managers are being asked to plan for ecosystem change due to climate shifts. They must decide among untested approaches such as resisting change, boosting resilience, or encouraging transformation. A new study, supported in part by CPO’s Western Water Assessment Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) team, explored managers’ views on the subject. Employing interviews, scenarios, and focus groups in the Gunnison Basin, Colorado, the project team discovered a variety of management approaches at play. Managers identified primary challenges including the scale required for effective adaptation and the institutional constraints for such action. For example, large-scale climate information provided does not match the temporal or geographic scale needed for common smaller-scale institutional decisions. Some managers sought to creatively solve this problem by nesting goals and approaches across scale, pursuing small interventions greater than the sum of their parts. For example, the “managed islands” approach would have managers focus aggressive intervention efforts in smaller pockets of space, building critical habitat for key species. Areas outside of the “islands” would be managed in a softer, hands-off fashion.
The authors also note that climate-induced ecological change requires social transformation that enable institutions to become more nimble, support risk-taking, and experimentation (while also ensuring accountability to the public), navigate uncertainty and trade-offs, and work across varied temporal and spatial scales. This description just as well describes how the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program operates. When RISA teams and CASCs interact with partners, as they did in this project, they model and enable this future-oriented, flexible approach in society.