WASHINGTON, JULY 20, 2010 AT 2:45 PM EDT - The USDA Forest Service today announced the release of the National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change and a new system for performance accountability in response to the USDA's 2010-2015 Strategic Plan that sets a goal of ensuring that our national forests are made more resilient to climate change.
"A changing global climate brings increased uncertainties to the conservation of our natural resources," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "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 Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change identifies Forest Service priorities in responding to and implementing related direction in USDA's Strategic Plan, which describes the Department's major programmatic policies. These include working to "ensure that our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources" and to "lead efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change."
The Roadmap is built on the Forest Service's 2008 Strategic Framework for Responding to Climate Change and lays out actions to incorporate adaptation, mitigation, sustainable consumption, and education objectives into existing programs, policies, and processes; coordinate among programs in implementing climate change strategies; and build strong partnerships with other agencies, tribes, States, communities, and citizens.
To ensure accountability across the National Forest System, the Forest Service has created ascorecard rating system to be used by all national forests and grasslands to gauge the success of efforts to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. The scorecard includes requirements for organizational capacity; partnerships and education; adaptation; and mitigation. Every National Forest and Grassland will submit an annual report on progress towards compliance by 2015.
"We are committed to playing a leading role in responding to climate change and making the nation's forests and grasslands more resilient," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "We will do this by fully engaging communities and partners, and the scorecard will help all of us focus and measure our progress towards achieving this goal."
"The roadmap will help Forest Service employees continue to bring science and technology into play in order to assess, adapt to and mitigate climate change," said Forest Service Climate Change Advisor Dr. David Cleaves. "It will also make our employees accountable for engaging with communities and partners in responding to climate change."
The effects of a changing climate can be seen throughout the nation's forests and grasslands. Examples of these changes include longer and more severe fire seasons; reduced snowpack, earlier snowmelt, and changes in stream flow patterns; a marked decrease in sap runs in sugar maple trees; shifts in the distribution of some tree species; and increasing stress on some native fish and wildlife species.
With top land management experts and experimental facilities located throughout the country, the Forest Service has one of the best scientific databanks on climate change and forests and rangelands in the world. The agency has more than two decades of climate change research, which is supported by other research in watershed hydrology, fire management, nutrient cycling, wildlife and forest management.
To support the Agency's efforts, the Forest Service's research organization and its recently created Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) will provide information and tools to land managers to address climate change in project planning. The CCRC offers educational information, decision-support models, maps, simulations, case studies, and toolkits.