Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Lisa Dilling

Second Advisor

Sharon Collinge

Third Advisor

Fred Pampel

Fourth Advisor

William Travis

Fifth Advisor

Carol Wessman


Climate change and its associated consequences pose an increasing risk to public lands and communities in the western United States. High-level mandates currently require federal agencies to begin planning for adaptation, but the extent to which these mandates have resulted in policies being implemented that affect on the ground practices is unclear. Previous work has suggested that the localized effects of climate change necessitate local scale adaptation activities and municipalities have been increasingly recognized as playing a critical role in overall adaptation schemes. Geographic factors make mountain communities especially vulnerable to the direct effects of changes in climate such as flooding, increased risks of fire and loss of biodiversity. Reliance on recreation and tourism increases vulnerability in these areas to the secondary economic effects of climate change such as decreases in tourism from lack of snow for winter recreation, and changes in management practices on nearby public lands.

To examine the status of adaptation efforts in these areas, I surveyed federal public land managers from the four major federal land management agencies (BLM, USFS, NPS, FWS) in the U.S. states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and municipal employees from Colorado mountain communities. I also conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample of the federal public lands managers. The surveys and interviews were designed to examine: current planning for adaptation and how it differs from prior planning; the major challenges facing land managers and community officials in this region; the major barriers preventing respondents from planning for adaptation; and the major hurdles associated with implementing adaptation plans. The surveys and interviews also address information demands related to adaptation planning for federal land managers and community officials. Reported barriers to adaptation planning and implementation by both samples are discussed in context of a recent framework for diagnosing barriers to climate change adaptation.