2014 Symposium: Climate Change Planning

By: Ian Kaplan 

Climate change impacts every corner of Federal Land Management, so this panel had plenty to talk about. The panel was moderated by Anne Finken, the Deputy Associate Director for Regulatory Policy at the CEQ.

Alice Hill, of the National Security Council, set the stage for the discussion by mapping out the current and future effects of climate change on different regions of the U.S. and American interests. Ms. Hill offered a preview of climate efforts in President Obama’s 2015 budget, including funding for climate resilience and for new data tools that will provide information about the effects of climate change at local levels, a key to land management planning.

Professors Robert Glicksman and Alejandro Camacho presented their research on climate preparedness among federal agencies. Dominant-use agencies like the National Parks Service (who are normally thought of as environmentally-focused) appear, counterintuitively, to be less prepared for climate adaptation than multi-use agencies like the Forest Service (who are normally thought of as having a more conflicted relationship with environmentalists.) Dominant-use agencies often have statutory mandates to preserve their lands as they are, or restore them to the past, which may be impossible goals in the face of changing climate; for example, the ‘native range’ basis of the Endangered Species Act may be counterproductive in a world where most animal ranges are shifting pole-wards. Multi-use agencies generally have more discretion in their mandates and are often directed to plan for, and adapt to, the needs of future generations. Perhaps as a result, the Forest Service has a detailed and evolving plan for localized adaptation, while some dominant-use agencies like Fish and Wildlife have done little work to date.

Professor Mark Squillace drew on his experiences in Wyoming to propose a new model for public land use management. He argued that the current planning process is inadequate in the face of constrained budgets and the threats of climate change; it is an essentially static regime in which a plan takes years to develop, applies to vast areas of land, and changes only minimally until a new plan is created decades later. He offered a layered approach in which comparatively simple plans are determined at levels from an overall landscape plan down to a very local ‘project level,’ leaving more flexibility for change at the project level and freeing up budgets to include continuous monitoring and adaptation in the plan. The success of plans, particularly in a changing climate, could be evaluated using metrics like species population, and the lower-level plans adjusted accordingly.

Professor Hillary Hoffman discussed an example of land management impacted by climate change, grazing rights in the Great Basin. The Great Basin, in the Southwest, is likely to suffer dramatic drying and warming in coming years. Professor Hoffman proposed using principles from the economic field of demand management in response – treating available forage as a renewable resource, and managing the amount taken per year while using research and education to use it more efficiently.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding of the afternoon came in response to a question about what the National Security Council brought to the land management question. Ms. Hill pointed out that there is an expedited regulatory process available for addressing national security issues; it is already being used to revise flood insurance standards. Academic ears perked up throughout the room at this idea as the session closed.

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