As the lead federal agency in natural resource conservation, the USDA Forest Service (USFS) has been a frontrunner in understanding, researching, and developing forward thinking policy directives to respond to the impacts of future change. This legacy continues in the recently enacted National Forest System 2012 Planning Rule that, for the first time in federal land management planning concepts, requires climate change be taken into account and supports an adaptive framework based on science, public values, and the all-lands context for resource management. National forest managers are now charged with evaluating the effects of climate change on the natural resources under their care, and identifying their unique roles in the broader landscape.

FMThe Francis Marion NF (Forest or Francis Marion) is one of three NF’s in the Southern Region currently revising its land and resource management plan under the new planning regulations. Located adjacent to not only the Atlantic Ocean, but also, the major metropolitan area of Charleston, SC, the Francis Marion serves as an important ecological and economical centerpiece in the American South. Although the area surrounding the Forest has gained considerable attention as a popular tourist and retirement destination, projected urban expansion, increasing demands on resources, rising seas and a changing climate are becoming challenging issues for forest planners and may significantly impact the ability of the Forest to provide the goods and services that people want and need.

At first glance, this may seem like a tall order for any one forest or land manager to tackle. Climate and non-climate drivers are broad in scope, not necessarily predictable, and will significantly vary among management units. Juggling daily demands, while keeping up with current climate science that can be linked to management or planning actions to the specific resources under their change is more than overwhelming – it’s downright scary.

Fortunately, they don’t have to do it alone. To help land managers meet this challenge, Forest Service employees, like Mary Morrison (Forest Planner on the Francis Marion), Carl Trettin (Team Leader for the Center of Wetlands Research, Southern Research Station) and Emrys Treasure (Biological Scientist, Southern Research Station), are working with partners like the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) to see where common priorities exist and identify opportunities for collaboration on regional management priorities and strategies. “There are considerable opportunities for coordinated landscape-scale monitoring that could be done in collaboration with other agencies and university partners,” noted Trettin. “We need to make provisions for monitoring parameters that include influences beyond the Forest, such as development activities or hydrologic processes.”

“The key objective is not only to get science into the hands of managers,” said Lori Barrow (USFS Liaison to the South Atlantic LCC). “It’s improving management and conservation at a variety of spatial scales, from site-specific management projects, to regional, national, and international evaluations.”

To that end, Treasure, a lead developer of the Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options tool, and Barrow have spent the past year helping staff on the Francis Marion put scientific findings into perspective as they apply to various ecosystems and resources. They have produced a number of key reports and documents that link regional monitoring and modeling with finer, site specific information needs.

“Deliberately considering how the Francis Marion fits into the broader landscape has tremendous value to both the National Forest and the broader network of partners focusing on addressing similar management challenges in a changing climate,” says Treasure. We may not always be able to precisely predict the full extent of future change, but “the efforts on the Francis Marion will help us understand how to do this.”

FM_factsheetIn an effort to improve the quality of coordination, Barrow has been working with Francis Marion to support their land and resource management plan revision processes by supporting an understanding of the roles, values, and contributions of National Forest Service lands within a broader, all lands context. She developed a brief report exploring how FS personnel on the Forest are collaborating with neighboring land management groups and working with regional partners to develop management strategies that adapt, restore, and protect forest resources.

Numerous federal, state, and local agencies share responsibilities for maintaining our resources throughout the region. Effective coordination between these organizations will be essential to meeting the USFS’s legal and regulatory requirements for analysis and reporting at the project-and plan-scales. Collaborative endeavors such as this sets a unique precedent in adaptive natural resource management, advancing the implementation of effective management and monitoring strategies beyond the scope or scale of any one organization.

For more information, contact Lori Barrow (lori@southatlanticlcc.org; 919.707.0291) or visit the Francis Marion Plan Revision web page.