Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has directed the agency's regions and research stations to jointly produce draft "landscape conservation action plans" by March 1 to guide its day-to-day response to climate change.

In a memo earlier this month requesting the plans, Tidwell said climate change is "dramatically reshaping" how the agency will deliver on its mission of sustaining the health and diversity of the nation's forests. He focused particularly on water management.

"Responding to the challenges of climate change in providing water and water-related ecosystem services is one of the most urgent tasks facing us as an agency," Tidwell wrote. "History will judge us by how well we respond to these challenges."

Tidwell said the agency's task is to translate the overall strategic framework for responding to climate change, which was released last month, into its daily operations. He directed regional foresters and station directors to work together to prepare "aggressive and well-coordinated" area-specific action plans for landscape conservation. While most have already begun such work, he added, they should be expanded into "full-blown regions, stations and area action plans" that address water as a "fundamental outcome set."

Tidwell suggested dividing the country into five planning regions and imposed a 20-page limit for the draft action plans.

The plans should include desired outcomes, strategies and specific actions for each goal laid out in the agencywide framework and a description of who will lead the partnership, including a point of contact for the Washington office, Tidwell said.

"The plans should seize opportunities to integrate activities and be innovative," Tidwell wrote. "They should become blueprints for integrating climate change and watershed management. They should use climate change as a theme under which to integrate and streamline existing national and regional strategies for ecological restoration, fire and fuels, forest health, biomass utilization, and others."

The plans also should address priority landscapes and consider the use of "model" watersheds or landscapes to create showcases for experimentation, collaboration and demonstration, Tidwell said. They should address how the partners work with other agencies and groups and articulate how "science and management will interact to adapt to changing conditions and apply newly created knowledge in the future."

Tidwell also said he will soon name a "climate change executive" to guide the overall implementation of the framework through the landscape conservation plans.

Mike Anderson of the Wilderness Society said the memo outlines a good direction for the Forest Service.

"First, it gives scientists a co-leadership role in determining the agency's climate change plans," Anderson said. "Second, it emphasizes the importance of watershed protection and restoration, which is an often overlooked climate change issue. Third, the bioregional approach should result in plans that take a broad view of climate change impacts in different parts of the country. Finally, the short timeline suggests that the chief means business and expects quick, science-based action."

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500