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Answering the Call: Making Science More Accessible for Forest Planners in the East

This post is part 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.

In forests, climate change ramps up stress already occurring from extreme weather events, disease and insect outbreaks, catastrophic wildfires, and invasive species. Resilient forests are better able to absorb stress without compromising the services they afford. In the same way that good sleep, healthy diet, and regular exercise make a person resilient (though not immune) to illness, forests can be helped towards resiliency by management practices that focus on sustaining or restoring ecological integrity in relation to future conditions. While neither the many threats to forests nor the management approaches available to abate them are new to forest managers, climate change introduces additional pressure and the need for the rapid translation of emerging science into forest management practice.

In early 2009, a group of Southern Research Station researchers led by Steve McNulty, ecologist and team leader with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC),  met with forest planners from across the Southern Region of the National Forest System to start looking at what needed to be done to address the looming problems posed by climate change. A series of meetings were held to share information and ideas about solutions. The results of this collaboration are captured in the Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options (TACCIMO), a Web-based technology designed specifically for natural resource management under climate change.

Tupelo-baldcypress swamp in the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Tupelo-baldcypress swamp in the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

TACCIMO leads forest managers through the thought process of assessing what climate change may mean for their specific forests. Based on emerging needs and discussion between scientists and managers, TACCIMO is constantly updated with searchable quotations from peer-reviewed scientific literature that describe impacts and management options. To make the connection between science and management literal, forest plans for all of the national forests east of the Mississippi are provided in TACCIMO as an organized resource. A custom map viewer enables exploration of climate change projections across selected regions.

Before TACCIMO, there was no central resource for national forest planners and managers to turn to. Even more important than putting the information all in one place, TACCIMO provides a visual interface where multiple types of information can be connected or layered with existing forest plans. Forest managers can see what the potential impacts are in a given area, what management options exist, and which aspects of their existing plan might be affected. The TACCIMO experience is captured in exportable reports that document climate change impacts on forest planning and management in a “science report,” while the spatial variability and projected range of future climate is presented in a “geospatial report.”

Read more about TACCIMO in an article by Emrys Treasure in the latest issue of Compass magazine.

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