Considering Climate Change in Forest Plan Revision on the Uwharrie National Forest
U.S. Climate Change Science Program. 2008. Preliminary review of adaptation options for climate-sensitive ecosystems and resources. A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. [Julius, S.H., J.M. West (eds.), J.S. Baron, L.A. Joyce, P. Kareiva, B.D. Keller, M.A. Palmer, C.H. Peterson, and J.M. Scott (Authors)]. Washington, DC. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 873 pp.
This example focuses on how the Uwharrie National Forest used scientific information to incorporate climate change considerations into their Forest Plan Revision process.
All National Forests are periodically required to revise their forest management plan. Existing environmental and economic situations within the forest are examined, and then plans are revised to move the forest closer to a desired future condition. The Uwharrie National Forest management plan was originally developed in 1986, and recently underwent a Forest Plan Revision (FPR), with the revised Uwharrie National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan unveiled in May of 2012.
The Uwharrie revised forest plan focuses on three themes. Two of the themes—restoring the forest to a more natural ecological condition, and providing outstanding and environmentally friendly outdoor recreation opportunities—will likely be affected by a changing climate. Scientists from the Southern Research Station (SRS) conducted a literature search for potential climate change effects and possible management responses on the Uwharrie. This information was used to critically review the revised forest plan and assess whether planned management strategies would help reduce the risks to Uwharrie National Forest associated with projected impacts of a changing climate.
This case study represents an early example of how climate change was addressed in FPR, using the 1982 Planning Rule. Since the Uwharrie experience, new tools have been developed that can help forest planners consider local climate change impacts, and a new planning rule has been adopted (2012).
The Uwharrie began the most recent iteration of their revised forest plan in 2010, with the intent to include management approaches that would contribute to forest resiliency in the face of a changing climate. Climate change is a developing area of science for forests in the southern U.S., and at the time there was limited precedent to show how this might be done. The Southern Region (Region 8) helped to develop a process for identifying and using climate change information in the Forest Plan Revision process for southern forests.
Southern Research Station scientists provided basic climate projections for the area and assisted with the time consuming process of finding and selecting scientific literature relevant to climate change on the Uwharrie National Forest. This experience later contributed to the creation of a tool that would allow managers to more easily identify and sort literature on climate change impacts and responses, called TACCIMO (Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options).
Collaborators at the Southern Region (R8) compiled the climate projections and the results from the literature search into a report that was passed on to forest planners on the Uwharrie. This report was used to consider the Uwharrie plan components, including desired conditions, objectives, standards and guidelines, in light of likely climate change impacts.
Forest planners were able to identify several key climate change considerations that could be addressed by management and that could be examined in the context of the Uwharrie plan components. Some of these included projected increases in wildfire frequency and intensity, severe storm events and heavy rainfall, and increased risk of insect outbreaks. Starting with two of the themes central to the Forest Plan Revision, the document was reviewed with these potential climate impacts in mind.
Forest planners identified four general management approaches that could help ecosystems on the Uwharrie respond to projected regional climate changes:
- Maintaining and restoring native ecosystems
- Managing the potential for soil erosion
- Reducing vulnerability to drought and windthrow
- Reducing vulnerability to insects and diseases
Themes 1 and 2 of the revised Forest Plan were then reviewed while considering potential climate change impacts and these general management responses.
Revised Forest Plan Theme 1: Restoring the Forest to a More Natural Ecological Condition
Plant communities that were more common in the past on the Uwharrie include longleaf and shortleaf pine woodlands and oak-hickory forests. These forest types are well adapted to the frequent, low intensity fires that were a common occurrence in southern U.S. ecosystems prior to the 1940's. The fires would kill thin-barked tree species such as red maple, sweetgum, and tulip poplar. Compared with what would have occurred historically, a higher percent of conifers are now the less fire-and drought-resistant loblolly pine, because of the planting emphasis of this species over the past 40 years.
Theme one of the Forest Plan Revision emphasizes increasing these longleaf and shortleaf pine, and oak-hickory forest types in areas where they occurred historically. As part of its Forest Plan Revision, Uwharrie National Forest plans to restore 100 acres of longleaf pine and 200 acres of oak-hickory forests annually, and to increase the use of prescribed fire to assist in native ecosystem restoration. According to current literature, climate change is projected to increase the number and severity of wildfires across the southern United States in the coming years. This means that native ecosystem restoration would have the added benefit of increasing ecosystem types well adapted to fire, which may help increase overall forest resilience to wildfire disturbance.
Additional management objectives considered under this theme relate to reducing vulnerabilities associated with extreme weather conditions and pests. These include:
- Increasing the amount of thinning in overstocked stands, which would lessen susceptibility to insects, diseases and windthrow.
- Treating outbreaks of non-native invasive species that could increase with a changing climate.
Revised Forest Plan Theme 2: Provide Outstanding and Environmentally Friendly Outdoor Recreation Opportunities
Recreation opportunities provided by Uwharrie National Forest are an important ecosystem service to the local and regional communities. The proximity to large population centers and diverse interest in outdoor activities make the Uwharrie a destination for many groups that use the trails and water bodies located within the forest. The quality of these trails, streams, and lakes are of very high importance to the Uwharrie National Forest's mission.
During the 20th century the frequency of extreme precipitation events has increased, and climate models suggest that rainfall intensity will continue to increase during the 21st century. Soil erosion occurs when the surface soil is exposed to rainfall and surface runoff, and would be expected to increase over the next 50 years in the Uwharrie National Forest region if no management measures are taken to control the current soil erosion problems. Soil erosion is limited to exposed (i.e., without vegetative cover) soil surfaces. Unpaved roads, trails, fire lines, log landings and skid trails are potential areas of exposed soil surface in the Uwharrie. Increased soil erosion would degrade both trail and water quality.
Several actions from the Uwharrie Forest Plan Revision could help to mitigate soil erosion. The Uwharrie proposes to reconstruct road and trail stream crossings to minimize erosion and improve water quality, close unauthorized roads and trails, repair at least 12 miles of authorized roads each year, and designate trail systems that can be used by horses and mountain bikes. In addition, unstable and/or poorly functioning stream channels will be restored, ground-disturbing projects near streams will be restricted, and erosion control measures are explicitly called for, helping to reduce sediment sources for these streams. In total, these measures could reduce the potential impact of increased precipitation intensity on soil erosion in the Uwharrie National Forest.
See the Additional Resources section for more information.
- All national forest staffs need access to current best available science for implementing and modifying forest plans.
- Forest Service scientists are critically important partners for national forest managers. They can provide and screen best available and applicable science, and help make proper application of the science for management of national forests. Likewise, national forest managers are essential in this process, and would ideally be involved early-on in any efforts to consider climate change science in planning.
- Climate science, literature and applications to forest management are developing rapidly. National forest managers are hard-pressed to keep up with and use these resources effectively.
- Often, management actions that could address potential climate impacts are also useful in accomplishing other management goals.
- The broad need and urgency for learning and applying climate science in Southern national forests stretches the limited capacity of Forest Service Research to give hands-on assistance. Developing tools that can help give access to the latest climate change science is one possible solution.
- Concerted effort is needed to provide for effective technology transfer for all national forests that keeps up with the highly dynamic development of the technology.
- As more forests get experience in addressing climate change in forest plan revision, and as the new (2012) planning rule is adopted, this process will continue to grow and evolve.
- Understand one process by which research and management can both contribute to addressing climate change on a National Forest.
- Understand how climate change was incorporated into existing forest planning efforts using the 1982 planning rule.
- Understand how considering climate change can help forests move effectively toward a desired future condition.
- See examples of “win-win” solutions when it comes to addressing climate impacts and other management goals.