Letter from the Director


Chris Swanston headshot “What does success look like?” I was first asked this question about 10 years ago by Al Lucier, who was senior vice president of NCASI. I’d just begun leading NIACS and the question caught me flat-footed. I’m certain my answer was incoherent. Al was a patient man, though, and asked me the question each time we spoke in the ensuing years. I eventually understood that he wasn’t looking for a specific answer, but instead teaching me to continually ask the question for myself. After all, the answer may change as circumstances change, creating the need and opportunity to adapt. The definition of success wasn’t left entirely up to me, of course, which is the value of a Steering Group. Michael Rains (former NRS Director) expressed very early in my tenure that NIACS is an experiment and should exist only so long as it remains useful and provides genuine public service. Kent Connaughton (former R9 Regional Forester) later expanded on this idea in stating that climate change does not limit itself to Forest Service lands, and that the Forest Service is one of the few agencies truly capable of working with all lands. He then stated bluntly, “If NIACS only works within the green line, you’ll have failed.” These ideas became guiding principles to our views of success.


I’m biased, of course, but it’s hard to argue that NIACS wasn’t impressively successful in FY18 as we:

  • completed our ninth ecoregional vulnerability assessment
  • helped our partners create dozens more adaptation demonstrations and maintain the largest collection of explicit adaptation projects of any organization in the country
  • operated three of the most extensive, trafficked, and searched forest effects and adaptation websites on the internet
  • published and presented extensively
  • further integrated our carbon and climate teams to produce high-profile science publications and management tools
  • won the National Adaptation Leadership award for the second time in three years, with Maria Janowiak’s individual award in 2018

That said, our stakeholders and our working environment continue to change, driving a continuing evolution in our description of success. We continue to expand our adaptation work as more organizations request our assistance and offer collaboration, but the reality is that we don’t have the capacity or expertise to meet all these demands on our own. This means that success has grown into NIACS sometimes “leading from behind” in supporting other federal, state, tribal, and private organizations as they re-tool our menus, trainings, and processes to better meet their needs. We also continue to expand the science services we provide related to carbon and climate. We are thrilled that the world-renowned NRS Landscape Change Research Group successfully petitioned NRS to join NIACS. We’ve enjoyed working with them for years, but this closer organizational relationship will amplify the response loop between science and application, benefiting all of us. 

The experience, stature, and productivity of the NIACS staff continues to grow. I enjoy discussing what success looks like at multiple strategic and operational levels. But if you really want to see what NIACS success looks like, just look at the pictures of our people and partners throughout this report.

With kind regards,

director signature

Chris Swanston, NIACS Director