Forest Service adopts climate-change ‘scorecard’

Climate change - coming to a forest near you.

USFS chief Tidwell explains agency’s climate change plan during a Senate budget hearing

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Recognizing that climate change calls for a coordinated response, the U.S. Forest Service is implementing a climate change road map to guide the agency’s efforts in the face of potentially staggering impacts to the landscapes and watersheds it manages across the country.

The hope is that the plan will set the tone for how the Forest Service will respond to climate change, culturally and institutionally as an agency, to tackle a global issue with global solutions. Click here to read a New York Times blog post on the climate change policy.

Some first steps include completing  and compiling various vulnerability assessments to determine what the greatest threats are. Input will include reports from state wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy.

Using a “scorecard” approach will provide a framework for individual national forests to understand what their role is in addressing climate change, regional planners said.

The scorecard approach will help field-level rangers plan actions that fit into a broader scope of landscape-level action aimed at addressing climate change, rather than relying on “random acts of conservation,” said regional agency planners familiar with the effort.

“It makes the efforts more coordinated and aligned, so people know what’s expected for them to do,” said Sharon Friedman, director of strategic planning for the Rocky Mountain region. The scorecard will clarify what everyone is doing and what everyone is expected to, she said.

Here is the section on the agency’s response to climate change from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell’s testimony to Congress during a budget hearing:

Responding to Climate Change
Climate change jeopardizes the benefits that the public receives from America’s forests and grasslands, including clean air and water, forest products, and recreational opportunities.

Many of the management challenges that we have faced over the past decades have been exacerbated by climate change, including catastrophic wildfires, changing water regimes, insect infestations, and disease.

In FY 2012, the Forest Service will continue to focus on incorporating climate change adaptation into multiple program areas, which includes making ecosystems more resistant to climate-related stressors, increasing ecosystem resilience to disturbance driven by climate change, and facilitating landscape-scale ecological transitions in response to changing environmental conditions.

This priority is again tightly tied to restoration and our integrated resource restoration budget line item. Restoring key functions and processes characteristic of healthy, resilient ecosystems allows them to withstand future stressors and uncertainties.

Examples of IRR projects include decommissioning roads to reduce the risk of erosion from severe storms, reducing fuels outside the (wildland-urban interface) to reduce the risk that severe wildfire will damage resources near important watersheds or critical habitat, and reforestation to stabilize critical watersheds and soils impacted by natural events and to increase long-term carbon sequestration capacity.

The Forest Service has developed a Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change in order to guide the agency in achieving its climate change goals. The Roadmap focuses on three kinds of activities:

1) assessing current risks, vulnerabilities, policies, and gaps in knowledge;
2) engaging internal and external partners in seeking solutions; and
3) managing for resilience, in ecosystems as well as in human communities.

The agency has implemented a scorecard to measure progress made by each national forest and grassland. The scorecard assesses agency capacity, partnerships and education, adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable consumption.

Our commitment to responding to climate change is underscored in the proposed Planning Rule, published for comment in the Federal Register on February 14, 2011. The Forest Service will begin to operate under the proposed Planning Rule in FY 2012 after it is finalized, emphasizing citizen collaboration and an all-lands approach to management planning, ecosystem restoration, and climate change mitigation.

A new budget line item, Land Management Planning, Assessment and Monitoring, has been proposed for FY 2012. Combining the previous line items Land Management Planning and Inventory & Monitoring highlights the clear tie between gathering information through monitoring and making management planning decisions.

This combination better aligns program funding with the objectives of the proposed Planning Rule,  ensuring that planning, monitoring, and conducting assessments are coordinated across the landscape.  Our climate change research program will continue to help clarify how climate change is expected to affect our ecosystems and the services they provide and to inform decision-makers as they evaluate policy options. With two decades of climate change research, the USFS is the authority on how forest and range management can be modified to address the challenges of global change.

Here’s the road map:


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