Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 669–682 | Cite as

Situating adaptation: how governance challenges and perceptions of uncertainty influence adaptation in the Rocky Mountains

  • Carina WybornEmail author
  • Laurie Yung
  • Daniel Murphy
  • Daniel R. Williams
Original Article


Adaptation is situated within multiple, interacting social, political, and economic forces. Adaptation pathways envision adaptation as a continual pathway of change and response embedded within this broader sociopolitical context. Pathways emphasize that current decisions are both informed by past actions and shape the landscape of future options. This research examines how adaptation actors in Grand County, Colorado perceive adaptation in the context of environmental change and uncertainty. Grand County residents drew on experiences of past change to suggest they had a high capacity to respond to future change, in particular a significant outbreak of mountain pine beetle. While residents and land managers characterized adaptation as gradual and incremental, they also recognized the ways that powerful cross-scale processes related to federal land management and water diversions challenged local adaptation. Further, Grand County residents identified multiple uncertainties in addition to those associated with climate projections, suggesting that addressing uncertainty extends beyond developing strategies robust across different climate scenarios. The challenges of uncertainty and cross-scale governance require more than increased adaptive capacity; they demand that we understand how local and extra-local structures shape the adaptation envelope that enables and constrains local decisions and implementation. Within this envelope, local actors pursue particular adaptation pathways and exercise agency to influence the structures shaping their options. Drawing on empirical insights, we argue that the concepts of pathways and envelopes together provide theoretical space for understanding the dynamic interplay between structure and agency in the context of adaptation.


Adaptation Adaptation pathways Governance Scale Uncertainty USA 



We wish to thank Grand County residents who participated in interviews and focus groups. We are grateful to the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station for financial support and for the contributions of Cory Cleveland, Solomon Dobrowski, Lisa Eby, Shannon McNeeley, and Erin Towler.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carina Wyborn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laurie Yung
    • 1
  • Daniel Murphy
    • 2
  • Daniel R. Williams
    • 3
  1. 1.College of Forestry and ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA
  3. 3.Rocky Mountain Research StationUnited States Forest ServiceWashingtonUSA

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