Jamie Laatsch - USDA Forest Service's perspectives on forest management
The USDA Forest Service is facing unprecedented challenges due to climate change. Understanding the perspectives of forest managers and policy makers will provide invaluable insight into these challenges and help identify opportunities for strengthening the agency's ability to adapt to climate change and enhance forest resilience. By analyzing data from key informant interviews and an internet survey in the Intermountain West, this study examines perspectives within the Forest Service with respect to what challenges forest managers face in today’s changing climate, how forest management is currently conducted in the face of climate change, what resources or support may be needed to help forest managers better address climate change when managing the National Forests, and how these perspectives vary at different levels of agency management, from district operations to national policy making. Although most respondents recognize the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation, their ability to implement relevant plans has been limited due to a lack of site-specific data and information, the need for more practical, applicable direction from the agency, insufficient resources for on-the-ground actions, and competing priorities and responsibilities. However, this does not mean that forest managers have not tried to indirectly address issues related to climate change. Efforts have been made to develop projects and strategies that can be incorporated into existing management plans, like increasing species diversity and complexity or promoting species that are expected to be better suited to future climate conditions in a given area. To move forward, better communication between forest scientists, managers, and policy makers is needed with respect to potential management options and the various effects of climate change on the forest ecosystem at relevant scales. Innovative policy frameworks are also needed to support and guide forest managers and to give them the “degrees of freedom” they need to make a real, positive impact.