Thursday, December 03, 2009

Forest Service Stepping Up Integration of Climate Change, Water Ecosystem Services Into Management Planning

The Forest Service, under it's new Obama Administration leadership, announced that it is radically reshaping its plans to maintain resilience to climate change and to protect water-related ecosystem services.

The NY Times reports:

"Responding to the challenges of climate change in providing water and water-related ecosystem services is one of the most urgent tasks facing us as an agency," (Forest Service Chief, Tim) Tidwell wrote. "History will judge us by how well we respond to these challenges."

He directed regional foresters and station directors to work together to prepare "aggressive and well-coordinated" area-specific action plans for landscape conservation.

"The plans should seize opportunities to integrate activities and be innovative," Tidwell wrote. "They should become blueprints for integrating climate change and watershed management. They should use climate change as a theme under which to integrate and streamline existing national and regional strategies for ecological restoration, fire and fuels, forest health, biomass utilization, and others."

The plans also should address priority landscapes and consider the use of "model" watersheds or landscapes to create showcases for experimentation, collaboration and demonstration, Tidwell said. They should address how the partners work with other agencies and groups and articulate how "science and management will interact to adapt to changing conditions and apply newly created knowledge in the future."

This is is honestly the most exciting and interesting-sounding description of Forest Service plans that I've read in a major media announcement in a long, long time -- perhaps ever.

It is, without question, the first major announcement I've seen that protection of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and water protection, are now national management priorities.  Tidwell's encouragement of innovation reflects the reality that efforts to translate ecosystem services theory into on-the-ground practices are emerging, cutting-edge management paradigms.  They will absolutely require out-of-the-box creative thinking on the part of agency personnel.

The only thing that could get me more excited is an announcement of a national multi-agency ecosystem service protection network that reflects the conservation dreams embodied in The Wildlands Project.  Maybe something akin to the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act has a chance of becoming reality one day after all...

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  1. If you want to dig more deeply into the issues of forests, carbon, and climate, here is a slide show clarifying many frequently heard misconceptions:
    (For full effect click "full" in the lower right.)

    And here is a more detailed foot-noted report on forests, carbon and climate change:

  2. Thanks Doug!

    It's been a long time -- I think I last spoke to you when I was working with Joy Belsky back in the late 90's...

  3. Yes, it is extremely interesting and promising, and I do believe it is a sincere effort but, I don't think it is an achievable goal given the hyper-fractured nature of environmental governance in this country. To truly embrace ecosystem services and ecosystem based management we MUST actually have a governance system that can effectively operate on the proper scale and across political and disciplinary boundaries. The Forest Service cannot do this effectively. In fact, none of our environmental agencies can operate effectively in this frame. We need nothing short of a total overhaul of our piecemeal environmental governance structures to achieve this vision.

    On another note. Many more pressing and tangible environmental concerns are being left unattended and without resources in the clamor to jump on the climate change money train. This will play out to be a major mistake in the long run.