The Forest Service has issued a national road map for responding to climate change, along with a performance scorecard to measure how well each individual forest implements the strategy.
The new blueprint outlines a series of short-term initiatives and longer-term projects for field units to address climate impacts on the country's forests and grasslands.
"A changing global climate brings increased uncertainties to the conservation of our natural resources," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "The new roadmap and scorecard system will help the Forest Service play a leadership role in responding to a changing climate and ensure that our national forests and grasslands continue to provide a wide range of benefits to all Americans."
The national road map focuses on three types of actions Forest Service managers must take. They include assessing risks, vulnerabilities, policies and knowledge gaps; engaging employees and external partners; and management actions, including adaptation and mitigation.
Climate change impacts likely will vary greatly in different places, the strategy notes. "There will never be enough financial or other resources to address all of these risks," it says. "The first step in addressing climate change is to carefully assess the associated risks and vulnerabilities for natural and human communities alike."
Immediate assessment actions include providing basic and applied science to help managers respond to climate change, conducting workshops, utilizing national monitoring networks, furnishing more predictive information, developing vulnerability assessments, tailoring monitoring and aligning service policy and direction.
Longer-term assessment will focus on expanding the agency's capacity for assessing the social impacts of climate change, implementing a genetic resources conservation strategy and fortifying internal climate change partnerships.
The plan's second component aims to help the Forest Service develop partnerships with other organizations to avoid duplication and build on complementary assets. It calls for public education and outreach and coordination with other agencies, communities and interested groups.
And the roadmap calls for on-the-ground management responses including adaptation to climate change effects, mitigation to reduce the sources or enhance sinks of greenhouse gases, and sustainable consumption.
Restoring healthy forests includes treating overgrown forests to make them less vulnerable to wildfire, pathogens and insect attack as well as controlling insects and invasive species and quickly restoring ecosystems after fires, hurricanes or other disturbances, the strategy says.
The Forest Service also should manage carbon stocks by reforesting lands damaged by disturbances, conserving forests, encouraging cities to retain green space and plant trees, and providing technical assistance.
Ongoing management actions include protecting infrastructure that may be threatened by floods or other impacts, facilitating demonstration projects, promoting the use of woody biomass, reducing the agency's own environmental footprint and protecting rare species.
Additional goals include setting priorities, developing an Internet-based system to integrate existing databases, connecting habitats and developing longer-term restoration capacity and transition strategies.
The national roadmap stems from the Forest Service's 2010-2015 strategic plan, which includes a goal of ensuring forests are restored and made more resilient to climate change, and from a 2008 strategic framework for responding to climate change.
The performance scorecard contains 10 goals that each national forest and grassland must rate itself on annually. They include employee training, external partnerships, carbon assessments, adaptation activities, monitoring and others.
Mike Anderson, senior resource analyst for the Wilderness Society, welcomed the initiatives. He said some U.S. forests store more carbon per acre than the average tropical rain forest and that they provide migration corridors for wildlife to adapt to climate change.
"Land-use decisions and policies regarding deforestation will either support or undermine efforts to curb harmful carbon pollution emissions," he said. "Today's initiatives help ensure that the Forest Service will support this effort, make consideration of climate change operational in the agency and help transform land management decisions by the government so that they reduce, not increase, greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere that threaten forests and communities alike."
Click here to read the national roadmap.
Click here to read the performance scorecard.