Climate Adaptation Integration Tool (CAIT) Incorporates Climate Information into Local Decision-Making Processes

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In a multi-agency effort supported by the Northwest CASC, scientists from the USGS, U.S. Forest Service, and various NGO’s recently released the Climate Adaptation Integration Tool (CAIT) to help resource managers incorporate downscaled climate data into local climate adaptation decision-making processes.

As climate change continues to alter ecosystems across the country, resource managers are tasked with developing strategies to help species adapt to changing conditions. Identifying appropriate climate adaptation actions requires careful considerations of the resources involved. Yet many climate change vulnerability assessments are produced at large regional scales, making it difficult for managers to access climate information specific to the unique topographies and landscapes in their areas. 

A new USGS report supported by the Northwest CASC presents a novel decision making framework to help resource managers use climate science and local knowledge to identify adaptation strategies appropriate for their specific situations. This Climate Adaptation Integration Tool (CAIT) consists of four steps:

  1. Define a focal resource and assess its vulnerability to climate change.
  2. Answer Critical Questions about the future climactic suitability, value, and current condition of these resources.
  3. Select appropriate management approaches based on the answers to these questions.
  4. Select adaptation strategies and actions most likely to address the management approaches identified.

Within the tool, managers can find resources to make decisions at each step, such as information on finding and choosing appropriate downscaled climate models and decision-making matrices to help link decisions across steps.

To test the efficacy of CAIT, the authors partnered with staff at regional USFS offices and National Forests in Montana and Idaho to create climate adaptation plans to preserve recreational activities and rangeland grazing in the region. These case studies emphasized the importance of incorporating downscaled climate models into decision-making processes, as the climate change effects identified varied based on spatial heterogony in the region (e.g., different ecosystem types within rangelands). They also highlighted the important role that value judgements play in the CAIT framework, as resource managers had to prioritize the different effects of climate change on different resources (e.g., cold versus warm weather recreational activities, such as skiing versus swimming). Overall, the authors hope CAIT will be a useful and effective tool for resource managers across the country.

This work is part of the “Moving from Awareness to Action: Informing Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments and Adaptation Planning for Idaho and Montana National Forests” project funded by the Northwest CASC.

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