Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Forest and Conservation Science

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Keith Bosak

Commitee Members

Jill Belsky, Sarah Halvorson, Kimber Haddix-McKay, Dane Scott


Adaptation, Climate change, Community response, Mountain ecoystems, Risk management, Vulnerability


University of Montana


Climate change is increasingly redefining the dialectic exchange between human systems and ecological processes. While the rhetoric of climate change is articulated within broad arenas of governance and policy, the realities of climate change are experienced at the local scale. Effective adaptation measures must therefore be commensurate with local resources, needs and objectives while remaining aligned with larger decision-making efforts. The impacts of climate change are heterogeneous and vary with geographic context. Biophysical parameters interface with socioeconomic and political forces to greatly influence the outcome of climate-related risks at the local level. In the high mountains of the western Himalayas for example, climate change is tangibly influencing precipitation patterns, glacial movement and the occurrence of extreme weather events. Rather than work in isolation, these adverse effects exacerbate ongoing stresses related to chronic development and demographic issues. Assessing the nature of biophysical and social vulnerability to climate change, and the initial conditions that differently expose some groups of people over others to climate change impacts, can correspondingly aid in the identification of entry points for adaptation and response planning. This research draws from theoretical traditions couched within geography, political ecology, natural hazards and risk management and climate ethics to assess the multi-scalar factors that aggregate at the local level to shape climate change outcomes. This unique conceptual background directly informs a mixed-methodological design that integrates surveys, climate trend modeling and geospatial mapping to evaluate how climate change is unfolding on-the-ground to influence local engagement around climate change response. In doing so, the key climatic and non-climatic drivers propelling initial conditions of vulnerability are identified as are the determinants facilitating opportunities for adaptation. Research findings suggest access and availability of future water resources will work in tandem with transformations in the wider political economy to significantly determine the long-term ability for many impacted mountain communities to live and thrive. Traditional assumptions of vulnerability are challenged and the need to consider cultural frameworks of social resilience, sense of place and community cohesion are advanced.



© Copyright 2014 Kimiko Nygaard Barrett