Date of Award

Summer 8-14-2020

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forest Resources


Sandra De Urioste-Stone

Second Committee Member

Parinaz Rahimzadeh Bajgiran

Third Committee Member

Aaron Weiskittel

Additional Committee Members

Bridie McGreavy


As climate change continues to impact socio-ecological systems, those that rely on natural resources are highly sensitive to climatic changes. Maine’s forest industry provides for the economic and social well-being of many residents and is especially vulnerable to climate change impacts. Changes in growing season length and timing, forest health threats imposed by insects and pathogens, extreme weather events, shifting forest composition, and changes in natural disturbance severity and frequency have already begun, and are projected to continue, to impact forest systems in the Northeastern U.S. While climate change presents a threat to forest systems, opportunities also arise due to longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures. Socioeconomic pressures and biophysical impacts necessitate the implementation of adaptation strategies among forest managers to maintain and enhance healthy and resilient forest systems in Maine, as well as overcome threats and take advantage of opportunities. Identifying impacts, assessing vulnerabilities, and determining appropriate adaptation strategies are critical first steps in implementing effective adaptive management across the state. The goal of this study was to develop and implement an integrated framework to assess the vulnerability and enhance the resilience, via increased climate change adaptation, of Maine’s forest socio-ecological systems to climate change. The thesis uses a sequential mixed-methods approach to combine qualitative and quantitative data, to (1) understand stakeholder perceptions of climate change impacts and adaptation, and (2) to map biophysical and social vulnerability of Maine’s forest industry to climate change. Forest stakeholders in Maine generally have high perceptions of risk regarding climate change impacts, and identified and prioritized the following climate change impacts as having the greatest and most likely impact on the forest industry: forest health threats imposed by insects and pathogens, extreme precipitation events, shifts in forest composition, invasive species, and changes in forest productivity. The results of the vulnerability assessment also highlight the unique combinations of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity to climate change among Maine counties. Management strategies that address prioritized and experienced impacts are widely accepted among stakeholders; however, stakeholders are less willing to formally incorporate climate change into the forest management planning process given barriers and limited access to incentives. Integration of research results indicate the persistence of uncertainty and complexity involved in climate change adaptation and present a challenge to increasing implementation of adaptation strategies among forest stakeholders. However, promoting opportunities for learning and enhancing management flexibility via communications that appeal to stakeholders’ perceptions, social norms, experiences, and values can increase the ability of Maine’s forest socio-ecological system to respond to change. The framework presented in this thesis can have widespread application elsewhere, given its theoretical and methodological groundings and its novel multi-method approach to study forest industry vulnerability and the potential for adaptation.

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