Achievable future conditions as a framework for guiding forest conservation and management
We contend that traditional approaches to forest conservation and management will be inadequate given the predicted scale of social-economic and biophysical changes in the 21st century. New approaches, focused on anticipating and guiding ecological responses to change, are urgently needed to ensure the full value of forest ecosystem services for future generations. These approaches acknowledge that change is inevitable and sometimes irreversible, and that maintenance of ecosystem services depends in part on novel ecosystems, i.e., species combinations with no analog in the past. We propose that ecological responses be evaluated at landscape or regional scales using risk-based approaches to incorporate uncertainty into forest management efforts with subsequent goals for management based on Achievable Future Conditions (AFC). AFCs defined at a landscape or regional scale incorporate advancements in ecosystem management, including adaptive approaches, resilience, and desired future conditions into the context of the Anthropocene. Inherently forward looking, ACFs encompass mitigation and adaptation options to respond to scenarios of projected future biophysical, social-economic, and policy conditions which distribute risk and provide diversity of response to uncertainty. The engagement of sciencemanagement- public partnerships is critical to our risk-based approach for defining AFCs. Robust monitoring programs of forest management actions are also crucial to address uncertainty regarding species distributions and ecosystem processes. Development of regional indicators of response will also be essential to evaluate outcomes of management strategies. Our conceptual framework provides a starting point to move toward AFCs for forest management, illustrated with examples from fire and water management in the Southeastern United States. Our model is adaptive, incorporating evaluation and modification as new information becomes available and as social–ecological dynamics change. It expands on established principles of ecosystem management and best management practices (BMPs) and incorporates scenarios of future conditions. It also highlights the potential limits of existing institutional structures for defining AFCs and achieving them. In an uncertain future of rapid change and abrupt, unforeseen transitions, adjustments in management approaches will be necessary and some actions will fail. However, it is increasingly evident that the greatest risk is posed by continuing to implement strategies inconsistent with current understanding of our novel future.