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Institutional Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation in U.S. National Parks and Forests

Lesley C Jantarasami, University of Washington
Joshua J Lawler, University of Washington
Craig W Thomas, University of Washington


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Climate change will increasingly challenge ecosystem managers' ability to protect species diversity and maintain ecosystem function. In response, the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service have promoted climate change adaptation as a management strategy to increase ecosystem resilience to changing climatic conditions. However, very few examples of completed adaptation plans or projects exist. Here, we examine managers' perceptions of internal and external institutional barriers to implementing adaptation strategies. We conducted semi-structured interviews (n=32) with regional managers and agency staff in six park and forest units in Washington State. We found that internal barriers, including unclear mandates from superiors and bureaucratic rules and procedures, are perceived as greater constraints than external barriers related to existing federal environmental laws. Respondents perceived process-oriented environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, as enablers of adaptation strategies, and prescriptive laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, as barriers. Our results suggest that climate change adaptation is more often discussed than pursued, and that institutional barriers within agencies limit what can be accomplished.

Key words

adaptation; climate change; ecosystem management; institutional barriers

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087