Tell us about your big idea!
My big idea is to build an inclusive and active grassroots network of scientists, land managers, and policymakers to test cutting-edge climate adaptation and post-fire recovery approaches, and to collaboratively produce actionable best practices for adaptive management that will address the urgency of building resilience in our ecosystems in the face of a changing climate.
Why is co-production of science important when it comes to addressing climate change?
Climate change disproportionately affects certain people and groups, and I firmly believe that any adaptations and solutions should center their experience and on-the-ground expertise if we want those solutions to be effective and long-lasting.
Historically, climate adaptation research has been largely top-down, with scientists deciding which questions need to be answered and then sharing their findings with stakeholders in hopes that it helps to improve their practices. This model often falls short of addressing the urgency and priorities of land managers on the ground, and there is undeniable mutual benefit in collaboratively shaping the questions that should be asked in the first place. One-way science delivery needs to turn into a two-way relationship with people on the frontlines of climate adaptation if we want to build resilient forests and ecosystems that will survive an uncertain future.
Big IdeaBringing people together and providing meaningful opportunities to build trust and make everyone feel respected in decision-making processes goes such a long way to find solutions to complex environmental and social issues.Laura González Mantecón
You work with the U.S. Forest Service’s Experimental Network for Assisted Migration and Establishment Silviculture (ENAMES). Can you tell us more about that — what is assisted migration of forests, and how does it work?
In general, assisted forest migration is the human-assisted movement of trees (as seedlings) to a new habitat. Tree species naturally shift their ranges in response to changing climates, but the speed of human-caused climate change often outpaces their ability to migrate naturally through seed dispersal. Forests that can’t adapt fast enough are much more likely to succumb to drought, wildfire, and disease, putting ecosystems and communities at risk and releasing vast stores of carbon to the atmosphere.
Our approach is called assisted population migration, which consists of planting seedlings from locations south of the planting site and/or from lower elevations, in hopes that the heat and drought resistance genetic traits they bring will help the forest adapt to changing climatic conditions fast enough. Together with our partners, we set up co-managed experimental sites where we test different seed sources that match the predicted climate of the planting location at different times in the future, to determine how far ahead in the future we need to plan for forests to be able to adapt while minimizing the distances that seed sources are moved to mimic natural processes as much as possible.
From a bird’s-eye view, my work with ENAMES is building the basis for this groundbreaking grassroots, partnership-based approach to developing climate adaptation strategies, starting with climate-informed reforestation in the western U.S. I am building relationships with a broad spectrum of land managers—federal, state, private industry, and tribal—many of whom are used to top-down guidelines that don't always speak to their on-the-ground reality. Our network of sites will address their priority questions for how to adapt reforestation practices to a changing climate and where to include cutting-edge approaches such as assisted migration.
I believe that leading this effort from a federal agency, while challenging, is crucial to rebuild trust at all levels and involve all stakeholders in co-creating the policy and adaptive management approaches that directly affect them. Once fully established, this network can serve as a template to gradually expand the framework of collaborative science development to all climate adaptation approaches beyond reforestation, and to all of North America and beyond.
Big IdeaOne-way science delivery needs to turn into a two-way relationship with people on the frontlines of climate adaptation if we want to build resilient forests and ecosystems that will survive an uncertain future.Laura González Mantecón
How did you come to study forests, and why are they so important?
Since starting my environmental career, I have worked on building strategic partnerships and developing collaborative and community-centered solutions for environmental issues, and while that’s taken many forms — landscape conservation, sustainability strategy, conservation finance and carbon credits, climate communications, etc., — it always ties into forests because of their immense value, the no less immense challenges they face, and the exciting opportunities to address those challenges at many levels.
Forests are key providers of renewable natural resources that can sustain and power our economy, but only if we build the resilience they need to produce those resources sustainably and withstand growing threats. And as new research in the fields of public health and environmental science keeps reminding us, our forests provide us with so much more than natural resources — they are directly tied to our wellbeing, and they nurture a sense of awe and connection to our environment that many of us find spiritual and purpose-inducing. The value that we get from forests — and their intrinsic value as incredibly diverse ecosystems — makes trying to address the threats they face so important, and so rewarding for me personally.
What have you learned from working with all these different groups?
This may sound like a cliché, but my biggest learning is that bringing people together and providing meaningful opportunities to build trust and make everyone feel respected in decision-making processes goes such a long way to find solutions to complex environmental and social issues. The legwork to set up those collaborative and inclusive frameworks, while sometimes frustrating to start, is always so worth it.
Another thing I have learned, in these times of strong divisiveness, is that what better way to find common ground than the literal common ground we stand on? The land base that makes the United States is an unequivocal, unifying tie for all Americans, and empowering different groups to come together to care for the future of this land offers a clear path to bringing those unifying beliefs to the surface and putting divisions aside to address common challenges.
The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.