Americans know the importance of forests to our communities and our economy. They provide jobs and recreational opportunities, filter our air and water, and make up essential habitat for wildlife and natural resources. But increasingly, we’re also recognizing that forests play an important role in mitigating climate change.
Recently, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare for the impacts of climate change on our communities and economy, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change. This plan recognizes that America’s forests play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, absorbing as much as 14 percent of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. Over the last several decades, forest regrowth on former farm lands, reforestation, and maturing forests have kept our forest growth rates high, helping us absorb even more carbon.
At the same time, development of forest lands is reducing the amount of carbon we can absorb now and in the future. Carbon pollution is also taking a toll on our forests – heat waves, wildfires, pests and drought are all worsened by climate change, reducing our forests’ ability to sequester carbon.
This initiative will build on the significant work the Administration already has underway to ensure healthy, thriving forests. For example, the Department of Agriculture announced this year the creation of seven new regional hubs to provide research and timely information to farmers and forest landowners as we work together to combat climate change. This work will complement research by DOI Climate Science Centers, in areas such as evaluating management options, projecting forest conditions and carbon storage under climate change, evaluating the effects of changing rainfall and snow conditions, and studying the effects of changing forests on particular species and ecosystem services. This information is helping to inform restoration efforts undertaken by the Forest Service and its partners to make our forests more resilient. And DOI and USDA are working together with other Federal agencies, states, tribes, and private landowners to engage in historic, landscape scale conservation projects that will put critical ecosystems on a stronger footing for the future.
Climate change poses a tough new challenge for the forest ecosystems that provide so much for all Americans. Following President Obama’s lead, we’re getting ahead of the game – focusing on new partnerships, strengthening interagency collaboration, and ensuring that the best science is available as we take on climate change in the years to come.
Robert Bonnie is Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment
Anne Castle is Assistant Secretary for Water & Science at the Department of the Interior