Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Forest Service updates drought report

WASHINGTON, DC—While the ongoing drought in many parts of the U.S. has been widely publicized, there remains limited information about how drought affects forests and rangelands, as well as guidance on how to effectively manage these lands for resiliency and adaptation to drought.

The USDA Forest Service has released a report, Effects of drought on forests and rangelands in the United States: Translating science into management responses, designed to address this shortcoming. The report evaluates appropriate ways to quantify and monitor drought, assesses consequences for forests and rangelands and their values, and identifies potential adaptation strategies.  

A cow in a dried up creek.
Forests and grasslands face many challenges directly rooted in drought. A new report explores management options to reduce drought impacts on forests and rangelands. USDA photo by Cynthia Mendoza.

Forests and grasslands face many challenges directly rooted in drought, including longer fire seasons with more intense fires, and tens of millions of acres of forests vulnerable to invasive insect outbreaks. 

Drought effects on forests and rangelands depend on the severity, duration, frequency, and spatial extent of drought events. New drought regimes—drought combined with higher temperatures—may overwhelm forest and rangeland capacity to resist negative effects or recover after the drought is over. Broad scale disturbances such as wildfire and insect outbreaks are typically associated with drought, and these have impacted large areas in recent years. Drought impacts extend to the forest products industry when increased mortality results from prolonged drought. 

Land management practices may significantly lessen or intensify drought impacts. This assessment explores potential management options to reduce drought impacts on forests and rangelands, such as thinning stands to reduce fuel loads, planting or favoring more drought-adapted or disturbance-adapted species, and managing for species diversity. Developed with land managers in mind, it can help inform federal, state, and private land management efforts to build resilient, drought-adapted landscapes.

“Timely implementation of drought management practices helps managers plan effectively so crisis management can be avoided when ecosystems are impacted by drought,” said Toral Patel-Weynard, director, Sustainable Forest Management Research.