An Assessment of Social Vulnerability to Climate Change on the Shoshone National Forest: An Ecosystem Services and Stakeholder-Based Approach

The Shoshone National Forest (SNF) located in northwest, Wyoming contains all or part of 5 wildernesses, totaling well over half of its 2.5 million acres. There are over 500 lakes on this Forest, over 2,500 miles of streams and rivers, more glaciers than on any other National Forest in the continental United States, and it protects the headwaters of several regionally important rivers, including the Bighorn and Shoshone. With a history of presence of American Indian people for over 8000 years and a pioneer history connected to cattle and agriculture, this landscape provides many traditional values to both modern agricultural, remote communities and native cultures.  Additionally, the pristine watersheds within the Forest support diverse aquatic habitats, which are important for a tourist industry and the regional economy.  The SNF and the Basin are rich in oil and natural gas deposits, which make it an attractive area for industrial development.  In other words, the water resources within, and flowing from, the Forest provide for a diverse range of benefits, or water-based ecosystem services, to an equally diverse set of stakeholders throughout the expansive Wind/Bighorn Basin. 

In the face of a changing climate, there is uncertainty regarding the continued flow of water-based ecosystem services to stakeholders.  The Rocky Mountain Research Station recently completed a climate change biophysical vulnerability assessment on the SNF, which focused on observed climate change impacts and potential future impacts to various ecosystem components, many of which were water related.  To complement the assessment of biophysical and ecological impacts of climate change on the SNF, this project aims to assess the vulnerability of social systems, which are reliant on water-based ecosystem services derived from the SNF, to climate change.  This project is comprised of three integral phases, the first of which has been completed:  (1) Understand the importance of water-based ecosystem services derived from the SNF to a broad range of stakeholders, and the perceptions regarding the threat of climate change to those ecosystem services indicated as the most important; (2) using the results from phase 1, select several ecosystem services to be valued using a choice modeling non-market valuation technique; (3) utilize existing climate models to build a decision-support tool where costs and benefits of alternative climate scenarios, including predicted changes in ecosystem services, can be evaluated.

The above project will facilitate: (1) greater understanding of the vulnerability of water-based ecosystem services to climate change (and contribute to understanding risks associated with other disturbance threats such as land use change and invasives), which are affecting water sources flowing out of the SNF; (2) improvement in identification of expected socio-economic, biological and biophysical impacts over space and time; and (3) development of watershed management strategies that could assist in adapting these systems to, or mitigating the effects of, climate change.

Project PIs:

Alan Watson, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, USDA Forest Services, Rocky Mountain Research Station

Tyron Venn, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana

Chris Armatas, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana

Project Supporters: 

Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

The College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana