About the RPA Assessment

The RPA Assessment: Past, Present and Future

The Congress called for an assessment of the Nation's renewable resources in 1974, because they believed reliable information was necessary to properly manage those resources and make informed policy decisions. The need for reliable information on the status and trends of the Nation's resources continues today. However, the emphasis has broadened from a solely economic concern with supply and demand to concern about resource conditions, ecosystem health, and sustainability.

Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA)

The RPA legislation (P.L. 93-378, 88 Stat 475, as amended) requires the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct an assessment of the Nation's renewable resources every 10 years. The original Act had four requirements for the Assessment:

  • an analysis of present and anticipated uses, demand for, and supply of the renewable resources, with consideration of the international resource situation, and an emphasis of pertinent supply and demand and price relationship trends;
  • an inventory of present and potential renewable resources, and an evaluation of opportunities for improving their yield of tangible and intangible services;
  • a description of Forest Service programs and responsibilities; and
  • a discussion of important policy considerations, laws, regulations, and other factors expected to influence and affect significantly the use, ownership, and management of forest, range, and other associated lands.

Subsequent amendments to the RPA added two requirements:

  • an analysis of the potential effects of global climate change on the condition of renewable resources on the forests and rangelands of the United States; and
  • an analysis of the rural and urban forestry opportunities to mitigate the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide and reduce the risk of global climate change.

The Assessment-related language of the RPA is primarily focused on resource availability. However, "resource condition" is mentioned in the original legislation and in the amendment on global change. Further, the Act specifically states that the Assessment is not limited to the requirements in the Act, which allows flexibility in developing the Assessment framework.

An Overview of Past RPA Assessments

The 1979 RPA Assessment

The first Assessment report was due in 1975, with an update in 1979 and every 10 years afterward. The 1975 RPA Assessment compiled existing information on renewable resources. Individual chapters described the basic assumptions; the forest and rangeland resource base; the current and projected supply of and demand for outdoor recreation and wilderness, wildlife and fish, range forage, timber, and water; and additional needs for scientific information.

The Forest Service developed a research agenda for completing the 1979 Assessment, which resulted in a more rigorous analytical approach. The basic format for 1979 was similar to the 1975 Assessment. However, it included more original analysis, as well as a new section on resource interactions, which addressed the feasibility of meeting all resource demands simultaneously. A supporting document on the timber portion of the Assessment was also published.

The Forest Service chose to publish a five-year update of the 1979 Assessment. The 1984 RPA Assessment Update highlighted changes in the renewable resource trends that had occurred since the 1979 Assessment and included a chapter on Assessment implications to inform Agency strategic planning and provide broad context for land management planning.

The 1989 RPA Assessment

A major research effort was undertaken to increase the Forest Service's analysis capabilities in all resource areas for the 1989 RPA Assessment. A resource specialist was assigned for each resource area and charged with producing a technical document that provided supporting information and analysis to the Assessment summary document. These specialists were primarily field research scientists.

The 1989 RPA Assessment summarized the findings from each resource area. The document was designed to appeal to a wide audience by shortening the length and minimizing technical jargon. The detailed supporting technical information was published in a series of documents. Seven documents reported on the findings in each resource area (wildlife and fish, range forage, outdoor recreation and wilderness, water, timber, minerals, and land base). Five additional documents were published on multiple resource interactions, global climate change, programs and responsibilities of the Forest Service, evolving uses of the Nation's resources, and basic assumptions. See the 1989 RPA Assessment.

The Forest Service opted to produce an update to the 1989 Assessment. Although the update included new information on supply and demand trends, the focus was on domestic and international resource issues. Based on the 1989 Assessment findings, a number of resource issues were identified that had the potential to impact resource availability and use. Studies were commissioned to further study a subset of those issues. The results of these studies are highlighted throughout the 1993 Assessment update, and a technical document was published to support each issue analysis. Issues included biological diversity, recycling, threatened and endangered species, customer diversity and the demand for recreation, forest productivity and climate change, private forest investment, and water quality on forest and rangelands. See the 1993 RPA Assessment.

The 2000 RPA Assessment

The original language of the RPA emphasizes resource availability in an economic context. However, it is clear that the ability of the resource base to produce both tangible and intangible outputs for society is dependent on the condition of the resource base. As a result, more attention was directed to assessing resource conditions for the 2000 RPA Assessment. International linkages continued to be important. National policies and international agreements on global warming and biological diversity had increased the visibility of international resource issues. U.S. demands affect resource conditions and supplies outside national boundaries.

In 1993, the President established a goal of achieving sustainable forest management (SFM) of all U.S. forests by the year 2000. In 1995, through the Montreal Process and the Santiago Declaration, the United States committed to a process of developing and evaluating national indicators of SFM. A set of seven criteria and 67 indicators were initially endorsed for use.

The seven criteria provided the organizing framework for the 2000 RPA Assessment. The Assessment served as a synthesis and reporting mechanism for the SFM criteria and indicators at the national level. The SFM indicators focus on historic and current conditions. Additional information is provided on rangeland resources, mineral resources, and the projected outlook for forest and rangeland resources. Supporting documents were published for the individual resource areas, climate change, and various other topics. The first urban forest assessment was published as part of the 2000 RPA Assessment. See the 2000 RPA Assessment.

As with previous Assessments, an update was produced that was published in June 2007. The interim update continued to use the seven criteria of sustainable forest management as an organizing framework. Projected increases in population and income suggested continued increases in demands for renewable resources. The update summarizes numerous current resource issues, including globalization, climate change, urbanization, and the availability of processing capacity for small diameter timber in the west. A short publication on the 15 key findings from the interim update was also created. Supporting documents were published that provide more detail on these topics. See the Interim Update of the 2000 RPA Assessment.

The 2010 RPA Assessment

The 2010 RPA Assessment framework continues to improve on our ability to provide an integrated modeling and analysis framework linked by a set of common assumptions on population change, economic growth, climate change, and land use change. Several improvements in the 2010 RPA Assessment design are particularly important. First, global interactions and their effects on domestic resource conditions and trends are being addressed through embedding domestic forest product models within a larger global forest products model. Second, climate effects are being directly incorporated into several resource analyses, including forest inventory projections, wildlife habitat stress projections, and water supply projections. In addition to extending the treatment of climate effects, resource analyses will continue to be linked by common assumptions about population growth, economic growth, and land use change. Finally, the resource analyses will be done across three future scenarios to better portray the complexity and uncertainty associated with forecasting resource conditions and trends.

Selecting Scenarios for the 2010 RPA Assessment

Several criteria were identified for evaluating scenarios to use for the 2010 RPA Assessment analyses:

  • Scenarios must be globally consistent
  • Scenarios must be scientifically credible and well-documented
  • The scenarios must include assumptions about the driving forces of resource change:
    • Population and economic growth
    • Land conversion
    • Climate change
    • Energy use
  • Globally consistent data must be available to link to U.S. analyses

A number of scenario-based analyses were reviewed as candidates to provide the basis for global scenarios. The IPCC 4th Assessment was chosen as the global basis for the 2010 RPA scenarios because it best matched the selection criteria. The supporting data are publicly available, including world, regional, and some country level data. The range of scenarios considered in the 4th Assessment provides a broad spectrum of potential futures, which allows for a selection of a subset that were most relevant for the purposes of the Assessment. Three IPCC scenarios are being used to provide the global context which then links to more detailed US data and assumptions. See the 2010 RPA Assessment.