Understanding the Role of Forest Resources in Reducing Community Vulnerability to Heat Effects of Climate Change
Walton, Z. L., N. C. Poudyal, J. H. Cymerman, and C. J. Gaither.  2014.  Southeastern Natural Resources Grad Symposium, March 5-7, 2014, Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS.

Extreme heat events, as natural disaster phenomena, are responsible for more deaths annually than any other natural disaster in the United States (Centers for Disease Control an Prevention, 2009). The IPCC has recorded increases in heat waves in recent decades and predicts that heat waves will increase in frequency, intensity and duration placing communities at risk. Vulnerability literature has focused on the socio-economic, demographic, and built environment characteristics of communities to determine resilience (Reid et al., 2012; Uejio et al., 2011; Wilhelmi & Hayden, 2010). However, the influence of forest characteristics (amount, composition, and distribution) on community vulnerability is still unclear. This study developed multiple county level indices to evaluate whether, and to what extent, forest resources influence vulnerability to heat using multivariate statistical analysis. The principle component analysis included county level social, economic, and heat exposure data in the presence and absence of forest characteristics to develop indices to estimate vulnerability. The study also investigated the role of forest resources in reducing vulnerability to heat effect, represented by heat related mortality, using regression analysis of the indices created by the PCA. The study area included all counties for the Contiguous United States. The exploration of the role of forest characteristics in mitigating heat effects could produce methods of urban forest management to efficiently aid communities in coping with heat effects. The information will be influential in future efforts to counteract the heat effects of climate change in cities, and increase the resilience of communities that are vulnerable to heat.