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Part Two: “Building In” a Balanced Response to Climate Change … and Being Acountable

This post is Part Two of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio. Read part one here.

Accountability is just as important when dealing with climate change as any other issue faced by government. Because of limited financial resources, every aspect of government operations will be scrutinized by the Administration, Congress, and the American public. We in the Forest Service believe that what we do makes a difference in climate change response just as in the other facets of our mission pursuit.

But we need to create compelling evidence to array alongside other agencies that are vying for increasingly scarce resources. We must continue to show that our programs have impact as a national effort; they are not just a collection of noble, individual actions. A recurring question will be how well our agency accomplishments are aligned with our stated goals. By linking field accomplishments directly with the USDA Strategic plan, which devotes one of its four goals to our nation’s forests, our climate change performance system allows us to more fully describe and justify the total impact of our actions.

Our performance system is an opportunity for the Forest Service to step out on one of the major issues of our time. We can show that what we do is relevant to the lives of today’s and tomorrow’s citizens. Does this mean we are about to turn the whole national forest system upside down, chasing climate change? No. Instead, we are incorporating climate change considerations into what we already do in our many programs. We will need to reshape the appropriate elements, mixes, and locations of those activities based on the best predictions we have about where climate change is taking us. As we do this, our major functions – restoration, fire, fuels, forest health, recreation, public affairs, and many others – will be better positioned for the future.

What kinds of accomplishments can be considered for the scorecard? They should be activities that are being directed in some demonstrated, justifiable way to dealing with the effects of a changing climate or the opportunities to reduce the net emission of greenhouse gases either in land management or consumption/operations. These activities could include moving facilities to prevent flood damage, treating stands to relieve water stress, responding rapidly to invasive species, increasing landscape connectivity, conserving genetic material, creating and expanding partnerships with scientists and stakeholders, monitoring for climate change impacts, raising climate change awareness among employees and the public, and reducing energy use.

As the effects of climate change begin to take a larger toll on our national forests, the public will ask us what is happening to their favorite forests, trees, recreation areas, water supplies, and wildlife species and what we are doing about it. We already have a good start on our answer, but we need to up the level of the game, reshape some of the ways we do things, adapt to changes around us that are already well underway, and build a track record. The climate change performance system will help keep us balanced, flexible, and accountable as we move together as an agency as leaders in the response to climate change.

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