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Climate Change Attitudes of Southern Forestry Professionals: Outreach Implications

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Greater climate variability may profoundly impact southern forests, requiring climate-resilient management strategies to sustain them into the future. Foresters design and implement these strategies, and their perspectives on climate change may influence their receptivity to outreach on climate science and adaptation. To effectively engage this audience, communicators such as Extension agents must understand their views. We surveyed southern forestry professionals to address that need, identifying opportunities and obstacles for education about climate-resilient forestry. Demographic characteristics, particularly political ideology, correlated highly with acceptance of climate change. We also found significant relationships between climate change attitudes, experiences, perceptions, and management responses. Foresters who accept climate change are more likely to observe it in the environment, feel concerned about its impacts on forestry, and agree that it will require different management strategies. We explored multiple outreach options and ultimately recommend connecting climate change to forestry by emphasizing forest health and productivity concerns.

Management and Policy Implications The scientific literature generally recommends that foresters facilitate climate change adaptation by managing for (1) resistance to the forces of climate change, (2) resilience to climate change to absorb impacts without losing function, (3) responding to climatic transitions to minimize negative impacts, and (4) realigning altered forests to current climatic conditions through restoration (Vose et al. 2012). Specific management actions recommended to help southern forests adapt to climate change, such as thinning to reduce water stress, vary, depending on each site's unique management objectives, stand characteristics, and climate change impacts. This study is not designed to refine the climate-resilient management toolkit, but rather to enhance educators' understanding of foresters' climate change attitudes. The results indicate that demographic characteristics shape climate change attitudes in ways comparable to those for the general public. Further, foresters' climate change attitudes, personal observations, concerns about impacts to forestry, and management actions are closely intertwined. This observation suggests that outreach aimed to implement climate-resilient adaptive management strategies will require a nuanced approach to effectively reach all foresters. We conclude that communicators should avoid emphasizing climate change to doubting foresters and instead lead with potential impacts to forest health and productivity (such as drought and pests), continuing to outline and encourage appropriate management solutions.
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Keywords: adaptive management; climate change; education; outreach; resilience

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2016

This article was made available online on February 25, 2016 as a Fast Track article with title: "Climate Change Attitudes of Southern Forestry Professionals: Outreach Implications".

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