A Look Back: The 2nd Annual Northeast Climate Science Center Fellows Retreat

 Sep 9, 2015    by NE CSC Fellows

This post is a collaborative effort drawing from the attendees of the 2nd Annual Northeast Climate Science Center Fellows Retreat that took place in the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri in 2014. The Early Career Climate Forum developed a module that charged the fellows to consider outreach and communication with a wide range of audiences and, in particular, to generate a blog post reflecting on their interactions with natural resource managers during retreat activities. Below, is a summary of their collective work.

In October 2014, we had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Northeast Climate Science Center Fellows Retreat at the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri.  While on the retreat, we increased collaborations among fellows, and had many valuable experiences engaging with resource managers within the area.  As scientists, we are often focused on our research questions and our publication goals, and sometimes forget the important applications of our research and those who are intending to use it. Our goal on this trip was to remember the important resource managers who are navigating decisions daily while confronting the impacts of climate change. We learned how to identify stakeholders and develop research projects that meet their needs. We also learned how to develop research products that inform stakeholder needs and decision-making. 

One of our experiences at the Fellows Retreat was going to several (rainy) locations in the Mark Twain Experimental Forest, where we were able to experience firsthand the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems and engage with different stakeholders involved with this area.  The first location we visited was the Floyd Project Area, where we learned about forest savanna woodland restoration and management in the context of climate adaptation. The Forest Service staff spoke about how they must make decisions that affect many diverse stakeholders, including timber industry, wildlife, and recreational users. This illustrated for us how important it is to talk to stakeholders early on, before writing a project proposal, in order to address user needs upfront. Learning about these different interests helped us understand how land managers must weigh our research on climate change against additional needs. Awareness of the practical realities that land managers face will help us develop more useful research products.

We also visited Sinkin Experimental Forest, where we met with scientists and resource managers to discuss the important role experimental forests play in forestry research, see examples of traditional forest management in practice, and learn about approaches managers are taking to forest management research for a variety of stakeholder objectives. We learned about the long term research projects that help inform forest management that must balance research, forest products, forest restoration, and climate adaptation. For example, research shows that southern pine species will be better adapted to conditions under climate change, but the treatments required for this goal will conflict with stakeholders interested in promoting oak trees for wildlife and timber products. During our discussions we learned about how to bridge communication gaps between scientists and managers. For example, managers are often not interested in the details of our research methods, instead preferring practical actions or options they can use to address their priorities in the present. By providing a few alternative options with predicted consequences for mangers to evaluate and choose from, we can combine our results with the extensive knowledge and experience of local land managers.

Our guide for the Sinkin Experimental Forest was Steve Shifley, a Research Forester with the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, who provided us with some insight from his perspective as a forest manager. The biggest lesson we learned from Steve was that even though planning for environmental systems such as forests is done in the long-term, managers have to make decisions with short-term budgets and political demands. As young scientists who are interested in pursing stakeholder-based science, this perspective is important because we often study climate change impacts and offer advice for long-term solutions; but as our conversation with Steve showed, this information is not always applicable to the realities that practitioners have to work with. If our work is going to be translated into action by practitioners, we learned it is important to understand their needs in terms of time-frame, and seek to address the short-term issues they’re dealing with, while also helping them put the long-term puzzle together.

At both soggy forest field locations, we interacted with USDA Forest Service managers, saw the challenges managers face, and the complexity of decision-making in regards to forest management as well as forest resilience, resistance, and response to climate change. We learned that these concepts can be applied to research outside of the forestry field and how interconnected all of our specific fields of research really are in the realm of climate science. It quickly became clear this was very relevant to work we are currently involved in. For instance, it is particularly relevant to one fellow’s research where they will be incorporating these management practices into LANDIS (a forest landscape model) model scenarios along with climate projections to determine how birds may be impacted in the future. 

Lessons learned

As scientists, we try to provide objective information that managers can apply to conservation problems. It is important to have discussions early and often in the scientific process if we want to have our science inform and help solve real world problems. Involving managers early in the process is critical, as it’s impossible to study interesting questions without gaining the necessary information for management decisions upfront. Managers have to use the best available science but prioritize actions based on social, economic, and ecological values and concerns.  Furthermore, without involving managers we could identify important drivers of a system that managers do not have the ability to manipulate and miss information on the drivers that managers do have the ability to effect.  Finally, it is important for managers to understand the value of their particular expertise when it comes to adapting to unforeseen developments, which will inevitably develop as a result of our imperfect knowledge of ecological systems and the likely outcomes of management activities. 

One the big benefits of stakeholder-based science is that stakeholders are an invaluable resource to partner with to produce better scientific information. For example, forest managers are currently using practices that have worked for them for years that are essentially what we would call “resilience.” These practices can be built upon as a short-term step toward achieving long-term adaptation. As scientists, it is important to approach stakeholders as partners and not act as if we have all the answers. In many cases small, or even minimal, changes to managers’ current practices will often fit into our long-term adaptation planning.

NE CSC Fellows: Science and Stakeholders from Addie on Vimeo.

Some key takeaways:

  1. In the Central hardwood forests, climate change may not be the priority in the short-term but it will be in the long-term.  Managers have many objectives for their management decisions.  They are also facing many problems from threats other than climate change; many need to consider multiple stakeholders. On the upside, in these forests, the best way to adapt to climate change may be fixing the problems we currently have. Restoring the ecological diversity and processes of these forests that once was could be the best way to increase their resilience.
  2. The number of tools that forest managers have to reach their goals is often limited, so addressing climate change is going to require creative thinking ‘outside the box.’ 
  3. To be able to adapt to climate change requires us to be honest about our uncertainty regarding how the system works and how that complicates our ability to project the future.  Can we expect managers to believe us about our recommendations given scientific uncertainty? Adaptive management approaches are one way to work through the uncertainties that exist without getting bogged down along the way.  In addition, we can work with managers to help us reduce certain uncertainties, in essence bringing them into the knowledge-creation process with us; in turn, this will increase transparency and help build mutual support and trust. 

2014 NE CSC Fellows Retreaters:

Tom Bonnot (University of Missouri), Matt Clement (USGS), Ethan Coffel (Columbia University), Grant  Connette (University of Missouri), Paul Damkot (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Bill DeLuca (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Tim Duclos (Univesity of Massachusetts Amherst), Jane Foster (University of Minnesota), Jacob Fraser (University of Missouri), Kyle Gill (University of Minnesota) Nick Hayden (University of Wisconsin), Dan Hocking (USGS, University of Massachusetts Amherst), Jaymi LeBrun (University of Missouri), Pearl May (University of Wisconsin), Dan Miller (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Liang Ning (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Marie Schaefer (College of Menominee Nation), Zach Schuster (University of Wisconsin), Wen Wang (University of Missouri),

The 3rd Annual NE CSC retreat will be held in Suring, WI in September 2015, and will provide training for fellows on related topics.



NOTE: Comments will be visible to the public. Before commenting for the first time, please review the ECCF's Editorial Policy.

Add comment

Log in to post comments

Photo: Addie Rose Holland, NE CSC