Breath of Clarity

Managing “Multiple Stressors” in a Dynamic and Integrated Forest Management Era

The traditional USFS model of managing for “multiple-use sustained-yield” management is challenged by “multiple stressors” because success in the model cannot be achieved without confronting multiple stressors.

By bringing hotter and drier conditions, human-caused climate change is exasperating the impacts of multiple stressors (Funk et al. 2014). For example, forests of the Rocky Mountains are facing tree-killing insects, wildfires, heat, and drought (Funk et al. 2014). The threats of multiple stressors are already significantly impacting iconic tree species of the Rocky Mountains including Whitebark Pines, Aspens, and Piñon Pines (Funk et al. 2014). Whitebark Pines have faced both blister rust and epidemic-level infestations of mountain pine beetles (Funk et al. 2014). Earlier outbreaks of mountain pine beetles at high elevations were shorter and less intense, because winter temperatures were cold enough to kill the beetles (Funk et al. 2014). However, the continued higher temperatures of recent winters have enabled the beetles to overwinter and thrive (Funk et al. 2014). Additionally, due to global warming, large and more frequent fires will occur in western forests (Funk et al. 2014). Moreover, earlier snowmelt and reduced spring snow cover, driven by higher temperatures, will create new water stresses and lead to a substantial decline in forest vitality (Funk et al. 2014). The severe impacts Rocky Mountain forests already endure show that unchecked heat-trapping emissions will bring more abrupt, damaging, and potentially irreversible effects in the future (Funk et al. 2014).

Unfortunately, interactions between forest, water and energy are inadequately nourished by national decision-making on climate change adaptation, mitigation, land use and water management (Ellison et al. 2017). These interactions provide the foundations for carbon storage, for cooling terrestrial surfaces and for distributing water resources (Ellison et al. 2017). That said, the hydrologic and climate-cooling effects of trees and forests need to be the first order of priority (Ellison et al. 2017). Because the effects of climate change on Rocky Mountain forests are so complex, engaging partners in seeking solutions is critical to managing these impacts (Funk et al. 2014). Some effects, such as the growing risks of wildfire in the wildland-urban interface, will require federal, state, and local cooperation to reduce the exposure of people, property, and resources and to prepare for and respond to the remaining risks (Funk et al. 2014). However, perhaps, stakeholder inclusion would challenge forest management efforts because organizing collaboration would take a massive amount of resources to bring to fruition. Congress has not even provided the relatively limited funds that federal agencies have requested to combat the severe threats to Rocky Mountain forests and other national resources from climate change (Funk et al. 2014). Specifically, Congress did not approve a modest funding request from the National Park Service to address climate change, despite the agency’s declaration that climate change represents the greatest threat ever to the parks (Funk et al. 2014). Also, I imagine gaining cooperation from stakeholders such as private landowners and mining corporations whose interests are not being as strongly valued compared to the multiple-use sustained-yield framework, may be difficult in the context of prioritizing multiple stressors. Finally, U.S. studies show that most common people living in high-fire-risk areas understand their exposure, but there is a tenuous link between understanding risk and taking action to mitigate it (Moritz et al. 2014). Further, trust is a key factor shaping public support for agencies in terms of whether the public provides information or engages in fire-management activities (Moritz et al. 2014). Until true unison is achieved in stakeholder inclusion, the appearance of it hinders forest management efforts because climate change actions are perceived to be happening even though they are actually not.


Funk, Jason et al. 2014. “Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk: Confronting Climate-driven Impacts from Insects, Wildfires, Heat, and Drought.” Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists.

Moritz, Max, et al. 2014. “Learning to coexist with wildfires.” Nature 515: 58-66.

Ellison, David et al., 2017. “Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world.” Global Environmental Change 43: 51-61.

Comment by John Glover:
Hi Mary!

You did a great job of succinctly describing the threats to Western forests in your post! I also appreciate that you brought up how housing management in the wilderness-urban interface (WUI) will require cooperation between federal, state, and local governments. The effects of fires can be very region specific depending on geography, topography, vegetation cover, aspect of the land, annual precipitation, and temperature (Moritz et. al, 2020). The Federal government can make strong guidelines that states and local governments then adhere to in their building codes. For example, Federal law could mandate that houses plant fire-resistant vegetation near their properties and fire breaks between their houses and the forest. Then states and local governments could create rules to adhere to specific jurisdictions. This flexibility means that the Federal government will not over-regulate land-owners, or create unnecessary burdens on its citizens. Additionally, these Federal policies could be backed by tax breaks on property taxes for individuals who comply with housing regulations, or go the extra step to improve the quality of their land.

Reference List:

Moritz, Max, et al. 2014. “Learning to coexist with wildfires.” Nature 515: 58-66.

Comment by Meagan Manadie:

Your last sentence is so critical for wildlife managers and environmental leaders to focus on when it comes to future management plans with various stakeholders. It’s not just attempting collaboration that matters, but it’s truly gaining these stakeholder’s trust where effective decisions and goals will be achieved. One example of the importance of trust that hits close to home for me stems from the impacts of climate change causing stronger hurricanes in Florida. In 2017, hurricane Irma devastated marginalized communities. One city in Fort Myers became inundated with floodwaters and lost power for weeks. Residents went to their community center which functions as a basecamp for emergency services only to find it locked (Cagle 2020). To say the city had a lack of trust in their local government is an understatement. Hurricane Irma was a turning point for many Floridians who hadn’t previously thought about climate change affecting their lives. Being on the frontlines of climate change, these leaders need to understand the value of garnering trust from the public and stakeholders.


Cagle, Alison. 2020. Florida’s Water are Rising, but so are its People. EarthJustice. Accessed on February 28, 2021. Florida’s Waters Are Rising, But So Are Its People | Earthjustice