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Climate change, water, and kids

Comments by Abigail R. Kimbell, Forest Service Chief


A picture of a dried up lake or pond area. In my travels and discussions this year, three themes in particular have stood out: climate change; water issues; and the loss of a connection to nature, especially for kids. History will judge the conservation leaders of our age, including our own leadership in the Forest Service, by how well we respond to these challenges.


These are not new topics for us, but they offer a context to build upon or within. Recognizing that context means using our knowledge of cross-cutting issues at the broadest scale to better care for the land and serve people.


Climate change can have significant impacts to the lands we manage and is in the news everywhere. The Forest Service manages National Forests and Grasslands to provide the needs of today and for future generations to sustain their diversity and productivity. We have developed materials to help you better understand climate change from both a global and local perspective. Forest Service researchers have studied the impacts of climate change and air pollutants on forests and grasslands over thirty years. This research already identifies trends and subsequent effects to ecosystems across the United States. We are developing a national framework for guiding and directing land management activities in light of expected changes. In some landscapes, the changes in management will be significant, based on anticipated regional and local effects of a changing climate.


We will also focus on water. Climate change has been linked to declining snow packs, retreating glaciers, and changing patterns of precipitation and runoff. The evidence shows that we are entering a period of water scarcity not seen in our history. The national forests were created in part for “securing favorable conditions of water flows,” the importance of which has grown as populations have grown. The Forest Service can make a difference by managing vegetation to restore ecological processes and functions, including the recharging of streams and aquifers.


Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell in New York City with several children examining the based of a tree. The third focus area is reconnecting people, especially kids, with nature. The challenges associated with climate change and water will not be resolved in a few years. It will take generations. Kids must understand why forests are so valuable so they will grow into citizens who support conservation. Building on the Forest Service traditions of conservation education, we will work with partners to ensure that American children have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors, whether it is a remote mountain wilderness or a spot of nature in the heart of a city.


It is important to remember two key things: first, many of the tools and approaches we have used to accomplish our land management objectives will continue. In particular, forest health restoration, open space, managing recreation and invasive species will still serve as a way of focusing and prioritizing our work. Second, strong community relationships, partnerships, and collaborative work will be more important than ever in delivering the Forest Service Mission.


The Forest Service has always risen to the great conservation challenges, and I am confident that we will continue to do so. I deeply respect and appreciate your commitment and professionalism in your work. Thank you for working safely and steadily to accomplish our mission.


Forest Service Mission

Sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations

US Forest Service
Last modified March 28, 2013

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