GAO report outlines how agencies adapting to climate change

Since 2007, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service have taken steps to establish strategic directions for addressing climate change adaptation, said a report released June 20 by the Government Accountability Office.

This report, officially dated in May, was released on the eve of an apparent major announcement by the Obama Administration on plans for greenhouse reductions, including reduced emissions from power plants.

GAO said that as an example of how agencies are working in this area, the Forest Service developed a strategic framework document that established climate change adaptation as a central agency priority and another document, known as “the roadmap,” which identified actions that national forest managers were taking or could take to implement the direction outlined in the framework, including re-vegetating ecosystems that had been affected by fire with plant species that are better adapted to current and future climates.

These four agencies have also developed guidance, training, and other tools for managers to use in adapting to climate change. For example, the National Park Service is developing guidance for park-based climate change adaptation plans that includes steps such as identifying conservation targets and conducting vulnerability assessments.

The Bureau of Land Management has not established a strategic direction for addressing climate change impacts but is planning to develop a high-level climate change adaptation strategy by the end of the summer 2013.

GAO said it visited one field location within each agency and found that managers at four of the five locations have taken steps to address climate change adaptation. For example:

  • Chugach National Forest managers have begun an assessment of the vulnerability to climate change of key resources to help set priorities and identify adaptation actions.
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary managers are beginning to assess whether parts of their management plan should be revised to address climate change adaptation and have taken actions to protect marine resources, such as coral reefs, from climate change impacts.
  • Managers at BLM’s Kingman Resource Area, which manages its lands for livestock grazing and other uses, have not taken steps to address climate change adaptation and are awaiting agency direction.

The federal natural resource management agencies GAO reviewed are collaborating on climate change adaptation. For example, agencies are collaborating through landscape conservation cooperatives, comprising public and private organizations working to define shared goals and provide science for conservation planning, among other things. In addition, agencies have collaborated in developing national strategies for addressing climate change adaptation in the federal government. For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and others collaborated on a strategy, released in March 2013, for addressing climate change adaptation in managing fish, wildlife, and plants.

“Climate change poses a variety of threats to federally managed natural resources, such as forests and wildlife, including possibly more frequent and severe droughts and wildfires,” GAO wrote. “Adaptation – adjustments in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment that exploits beneficial opportunities or moderates negative effects – can be used to help manage the risks to vulnerable natural resources. GAO was asked to review federal agencies’ efforts to incorporate climate change adaptation into their natural resource planning and management since GAO last reported on this issue in 2007.”

GAO said it is not making any recommendations. It received written comments from the Department of Agriculture, which said the Forest Service agreed with the findings. GAO also received general and technical comments from the departments of Commerce and the Interior, which were incorporated as appropriate.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.