Francis Marion National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan Revision - Climate Change Integration

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Fast facts
Project Status: 
Project Dates: 
Project Summary: 

The Francis Marion National Forest (FMNF) in the low country of South Carolina is in the process of revising their Land and Resource Management Plan (commonly known as a forest plan), as all national forests are periodically required to do. They are doing this under the Forest Service’s 2012 Planning Rule, which directly addresses the ability of a forest to respond to climate change and other stressors.

This adaptation example will illustrate how the FMNF is working through science-management partnerships to apply the Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options (TACCIMO) web tool in their forest plan revision. The plan revision is in progress and the FMNF expects to have a completed plan in 2016. Working together, TACCIMO and the FMNF planning team have charted out a path for integrating climate change into the three general phases of the plan revision process:

Phase 1 - Assessment

  • The Francis Marion integrated scientific findings from the TACCIMO tool into the plan assessment, which is a comprehensive review of existing information that is relevant to conditions and trends on the forest. The assessment findings were then used to integrate climate change into a"need to change" document, which serves as a transition from the assessment to the forest plan development phase.

Phase 2 – Plan development
In progress:

  • The planning team is using key findings from the assessment and the "need to change" document to help identify management strategies for climate change. These strategies are under discussion with potential partners for incorporation into the draft plan, and also form the basis for monitoring program development.

Phase 3 - Monitoring

  • The final plan will integrate the concepts of multi-scale monitoring and adaptive management as a way to dynamically respond to forest changes caused by a changing climate. The general concept and approach is described in the proposed management strategies.


Geographic area of project: 

Scale of Project: 
National Forest
Francis Marion National Forest
USFS Southern Region (Region 8)
USFS Southern Research Station
USFS Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center
Santee Experimental Forest
South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative
Emrys Treasure, Mary Morrison, John Cleeves, Kristen Schmitt
Project background and scope: 

Forest Plans help guide the management of national forests and are typically revised every 10 to 15 years. These plans help ensure that national forests and grasslands continue to meet the requirements of the National Forest Management Act—for clean air and water, timber and other forest products, wildlife habitat, recreation and more. Instruction on how to write these plans is given through directives issued under what is known as the Planning Rule. The Francis Marion last revised its forest plan in 1996, using a Planning Rule developed in 1982. It is among the first national forests to revise its forest plan under the 2012 Planning Rule, which has several differences compared to the 1982 version. It was designed to improve the efficiency of forest planning, and emphasizes collaboration and public involvement, the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions, and a stronger role for monitoring. Both the Planning Rule and the directives that guide its implementation contain specific requirements related to the consideration of climate change as a ecosystem driver. Forest plan revisions under the 2012 Planning Rule are expected to take less time and to allow forests to update plans as conditions on the ground change. This and other aspects of the new Rule should improve each forest’s ability to respond to climate change and other stressors.

Project Process and Implementation: 

Forest Plan Revision under the 2012 Planning Rule is an iterative process that includes three general phases – 1) assessment; 2) developing, amending or revising the forest plan, and; 3) implementation and monitoring (see fig 1). The plan revision is currently in progress on the Francis Marion, and materials are revised as new information and public input become available. See the Francis Marion Plan Revision webpage for the most current information.

At each of these three phases, there are opportunities to consider climate change, how it will affect forest resources on the Francis Marion, and how to develop appropriate management responses and monitoring efforts. In order to base these climate change considerations on the best available science, the Francis Marion partnered researchers and used TACCIMO for knowledge management. TACCIMO is a web-based information delivery tool that was developed by the Southern Research Station (SRS) Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center (EFETAC) and the Forest Service’s Southern Region (R8) to connect climate change science with forest management and planning needs. The TACCIMO support team works directly with national forests on a variety of planning efforts, and these collaborations help TACCIMO tool evolve over time. The forests in the Southern Region are among the first to directly incorporate climate change into their forest plan revisions using the new 2012 Planning Rule, and the TACCIMO team, along with other FS and partner scientists, are supporting these efforts and assisting in interpreting relevant best available scientific information. Members of the TACCIMO team have attended forest planning meetings and presented at public fora on the forest plan revision for the Francis Marion

Figure 1: This diagram illustrates the Forest Plan Revision processFigure 1: A diagram illustrating the three phases of the Forest Plan Revision process

Project Outcomes: 

Phase 1: Assessment
Draft Assessment Development
The assessment for a forest plan revision is designed to rapidly evaluate existing information about relevant ecological, economic, and social conditions and trends, and their context within the broader landscape. TACCIMO reports capturing findings from current and relevant climate change scientific literature was reviewed by the Francis Marion planning team and integrated into the assessment phase of the plan revision process. The planning team also used TACCIMO summaries developed from the Climate Change Tree Atlas to look at future suitable habitat for different tree species, and the Sea Level Rise Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) model to examine sea level rise. The draft assessment for the Francis Marion is open for review and input until late 2014.

A small sample of key findings on climate change that were integrated into the Francis Marion assessment include:

  • Sea level rise and extreme weather - The rate of sea level rise is expected to increase over the next century, as is the potential for severe storms such as hurricanes. Together, these changes could have large consequences for the coastal ecosystems that occur where the FMNF borders the Atlantic Ocean. Ecosystems like maritime forests, saltwater marshes, and tidally influenced riparian zones may be particularly threatened. Sea level rise will also increase the potential for saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater tables, which could affect groundwater resources.
  • Synergy between adaptation and restoration goals - Some plant and animal species are expected to do better than others as the climate changes. For example, longleaf pine ecosystems tend to be more tolerant of stressors such as drought, insects, and wind damage, and science suggests that they may be well-suited to future conditions. An ongoing effort on the Francis Marion is restoring native ecosystems and species, including longleaf pine ecosystems which were once dominant across the southeastern U.S. but have lost ground to other species such as loblolly pine. In this situation, forest restoration efforts could have the added benefit of making the forests on the FMNF more resilient to changing climate.
  • Invasive Species - With a changing climate, invasive species may outcompete or negatively affect native species. Certain invasive plant species such as cogongrass are able to tolerate a wide range of harsh conditions, and have the potential to increase on the FMNF, which could alter entire forest ecosystems. The FMNF is located close to a major harbor that gets shipping traffic from around the world, so the potential for new introductions is also high.

Draft Preliminary Need to Change
The Draft Preliminary Need to Changerepresents the transition from the assessment to the forest plan development phase. It evaluates the existing forest plan in light of new scientific information, laws, and policies, and identifies plan directions that “need to change.” Comments and questions on the draft are being accepted.

Notably, there is no direction for responding to climate change in the 1996 forest management plan for the Francis Marion. Based on assessment findings derived from TACCIMO, the FMNF planning team collaborated with Forest Service and partner scientists to integrate climate change considerations as they developed the ‘need to change’ document.

For example:

  • Sea level rise - The assessment identified current and projected sea level rise that is affecting the FMNF, yet the 1996 forest management plan does not mention this. The ‘need to change’ states that “Forest plan management direction is needed for ecological systems that are in the margin of change due to rising waters, as well as recreation developments and the risks associated with potential new development in the margin of change.” Management and/or monitoring actions to address this point will be included in the forest plan revision.
  • Longleaf pine restoration - The 1996 forest management plan does place importance on restoring longleaf pine ecosystems. However, in light of new estimates of their historical distribution and their expected resilience to climate changes and disturbances, the ‘need for change ‘ states: “Objectives need to be revised to increase the amount of maintenance or restoration of longleaf pine woodlands, flatwoods, and savannas for at least 50 percent or more of land with the ecological potential to support those ecosystems. Longleaf pine needs to be promoted over loblolly pine to increase sustainability of pine forests to severe wind and hurricane damage.”

Phase 2: Developing the forest plan
Identifying Management Strategies
The summary of Proposed Management Strategies builds on previous documents to outline some of the actions that may be included in a revised forest plan for the Francis Marion. Many proposed strategies in this document were not necessarily developed as direct responses to climate changes, but were reviewed by the planning team with climate change information in mind, and may have the indirect benefit of making forests more resilient to changes. However, TACCIMO did provide information to deliberately and directly include climate change response strategies in the document’s discussions on forest health and adaptive management, based on the integrated interpretation of resource area experts. This document is under discussion and open for public input.

Strategies proposed primarily to help maintain forest health on the FMNF under climate change include the following:

  1. Reduce vulnerability by maintaining and restoring resilient native ecosystems, including streams and longleaf pine;
  2. Enhance adaptation of species by reducing the effects of serious disturbances where possible and taking advantage of disruptions to convert to more resilient and desirable ecosystems;
  3. Use preventive measures for reducing opportunities for forest pests;
  4. Lessen greenhouse gas emissions by reducing carbon loss from hurricanes and restoring species such as longleaf pine that have higher carbon sequestration rates;
  5. Maintain, improve and restore the diversity within stands to be ecologically sustainable;
  6. Increase resilience of forests to both climate change and hurricane damage through landscape structural diversity;
  7. Plant new trees and improve forest health through thinnings and prescribed burning to increase carbon for the future;
  8. Address ecological systems that are in the margin of change due to rising waters, as well as, recreation developments and the risks associated with potential new development in the margin of change;
  9. Address speedy salvage, road repairs or other ecological damages after major disturbances by tornados, hurricanes, wildfire, floods or drought;

Collaborate with partners and local municipalities to monitor the loss of marshlands, the effects of sea level rise on vegetation, saltwater intrusion, stream water temperatures and flows, and tidal forests and bald cypress for effects of increasing salinity.

Phase 3: Monitoring
Integrating Multi-scale Monitoring in Plan Development
The FMNF is developing a process for adaptive management and multi-scale monitoring that will play a key role in integrating climate change into the forest plan. Monitoring is essential for detecting changes in a timely manner and being able to respond to them effectively. For example, climate change leads to an increased risk of an invasive species being introduced on the forest. But forest managers have no way of knowing where or when exactly that introduction will happen. By setting up a monitoring strategy that accounts for anticipated climate impacts, the forest will be better able to adjust management approaches quickly to account for changes in the environment.

Currently, TACCIMO is supporting the process to develop a cohesive monitoring strategy along with plan revision team members, RO monitoring staff and South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative staff. They are collecting ideas on monitoring needs from sub-teams of people responsible for specific sections of the forest plan revision. All ideas are being compiled into a table that describes ecosystem drivers, stressors, indicators of those stressors, current monitoring efforts, and possible changes. Alerts are being developed for each monitoring indicator, that would incite further evaluation if conditions change. The alerts are paired with adaptive management strategies that will help the forest identify potential solutions when problems arise. Collectively, this information will represent the forest monitoring strategy, which closes the adaptive management cycle. For more information on these efforts, see Section 2.8 of the Proposed Management Strategies

The timeline for the Frances Marion National Forest Plan Revision. Figure 2: The timeline for the Frances Marion National Forest Plan Revision.

Project challenges and lessons learned: 
  • Collaboration between the FMNF and the TACCIMO team was essential in moving forward relatively quickly and smoothly on incorporating climate change into the forest plan revision. It represents one successful model for a science-management partnership.
  • A key step was being able to translate the climate change projections and literature into relevant and practical information for forest planning. TACCIMO provided a comprehensive and organized information resource to support this, but the science-management partnership between collaborating researchers and the planning team practitioners enabled "mainstreaming" (integration) of climate change findings in the broader context of the planning situation.
  • The need to develop broad-scale monitoring initiatives was introduced in the 2012 Planning Rule and is something relatively new that may serve as an important tool in relating the influences of ecosystem drivers like climate change to issues that are more directly influenced by management. It was helpful for the FMNF to network with organizations like the South Atlantic LCC on these efforts.


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