Date of Award:

Spring 2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Environment and Society

Advisor/Chair:

Zhao Ma

Abstract

The Forest Service faces significant climate change-related management challenges. Understanding employee perspectives on climate change will inform potential strategies to address these challenges. By analyzing data from key informant interviews and an internet survey of Forest Service employees in the Intermountain West, this study examined how Forest Service employees view and approach climate change, assessed how they perceive barriers to and opportunities for climate change adaptation within the National Forest System, and compared their perspectives across the organizational hierarchy, from district level to national policy making. The results show that although forest managers consider climate change a concern for the agency in general, they do not necessarily see how it affects the work they do personally. Although they tend to agree that climate change should be a high priority for the agency, their own ability to incorporate adaptive practices into managing a National Forest is limited by various constraints, including a lack of time, funding, and personnel, a lack of direction for on-the-ground management, and a communication gap, which has inhibited climate change-related knowledge transfer within the agency. Thus, more effective communication is needed to help forest managers see how climate change affects various aspects of forest ecosystem health in their own National Forests or districts, how climate change poses challenges to forest resilience, and what can be done to incorporate climate change considerations into their own work. The agency needs to focus on building trust, especially across its hierarchical structure, and on encouraging both vertical and horizontal information flow among employees to facilitate scientific knowledge sharing and to enhance formal and informal social networking for increased collaboration. The agency also needs to create more opportunities for district-level employees to provide feedback and get involved in climate change-related policy making, as they are a crucial source of local knowledge and experience and can be invaluable in problem-solving within the National Forest System. The insights from this study not only contribute to the Forest Service’s continuous efforts to adapt to climate change but also shed light on strategies that can be tailored by other natural resource agencies to address various management challenges within the context of global environmental change.