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Saving the Sink: Conserving Stored Carbon on Private Forest Lands
Will Price

The carbon stored and sequestered in forests in the United States has for most of the last century masked the atmospheric implications of economic growth. Pre-colonial forests were cleared and then mostly recovered just as a fossil fuel-intensive economy reached full throttle.This forest recovery depended on an exodus from the countryside to cities where industrialization was centered. Cities then sprouted suburbs on surrounding agricultural lands. These historical changes in landcover are well-documented, as are the changes in our forest carbon sink over time.1 The evolution in land use still continues, as there now is little arable farmland that will be so easily abandoned. In fact, over the last two decades forests have become the growth zone for population centers throughout the US.2

Over time this trend will both accelerate and slow in correlation with national GDP and housing, but will not abate for some decades. By 2050 urbanized land may expand by 73% to 98%, and exurban/suburban areas by 15% to 20%.3 The character of this change— the paving and perforation of forests across the landscape—eliminates and impairs habitat and degrades water quality.4 It also irrevocably reduces the extent and future potential of our forest carbon sink.
Hunter Mountain, Twilight. Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1866.

The forest carbon sink is sequestration and storage of carbon in forest ecosystems. The scientific literature on carbon storage and flux in the US has exploded in recent years, and with it different estimates of how much carbon is stored in US forests and what will happen to it over time. The oft-cited figure is that US forests absorb around 16% of the country’s annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions.5 This essential service provided by forests is ever more important considering the increase in national CO2 emissions. For the first six months of 2014, CO2 emissions were higher than emissions for the same periods in 2013 (+3%) and 2012 (+6%), with only the transportation sector holding the line (EIA 2014). We cannot afford to have emissions continue to rise in direct proportion to economic growth.

We also can not afford a reversal of fortune in forest carbon stores. The “forest account” is a critical component of the national total, and we can still affect whether today’s forests will, over the next 100 years, be a net source or a net sink. A useful way to think of this question is to treat forestlands as the principal that accrues interest as the forest grows—much the same way as timber investors have thought of forests all along. Within the construct of climate mitigation this concept became controversial with the publication of the “Manomet Study,”6 creating substantial debate on the notion of “carbon debt.” Timber removals are a withdrawal on the principal, which as long as the land regenerates, will grow back over time. With conversion of forest to houses and towns, the principal declines as well as potential future interest. So how rich is our stockpile of forest carbon? Are we withdrawing or depositing and for what purposes?

The latest Resources Planning Act Assessment shows that going forward an increasingly greater share of the “forest carbon pool” will be in the slowly decaying (releasing CO2) pool of harvested wood products and not in in the forest.7 While in prior years we have gained actual forestland, in some regions we have begun to lose acres, yet the total carbon in the forest sector still increases nationally because remaining forests still grow and there continues to be carbon stored in buildings throughout the country. From a carbon perspective this could be the equivalent of a bubble, a “carbon bubble.” By sometime between 2030 and 2040 the bubble will burst, and from that time forward the forestlands in the US will give up more carbon to the atmosphere than they absorb.8

The most complex and contentious part of our growing understanding of carbon dynamics is what happens to carbon in wood that is taken out of forests. The prevailing science shows that carbon in buildings stays out of the air for many years and substitutes for more polluting building materials.9 Wood burned for energy can also substitute for more polluting sources of energy, but inmost cases will only begin to reduce atmospheric CO2 many years from now since burning wood immediately moves carbon from the forest to the air.10 It takes decades until the balance of exchange is a net reduction in atmospheric CO2, but how many decades is still debated.11 Accelerating wood utilization strategies is favored by many policymakers and scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The idea is that over the long term more use of wood could have climate benefits, but all scenarios suggest that this intensification of wood use will reduce the carbon stored on the land in the short run.12 This tradeoff emphasizes the need to protect the principal, to retain forestlands in whatever way we can.

So what is happening to the principal? The present consensus seems to be that on private forestlands there was more carbon on the land by around the year 2000 than there was at any time over the last 100 years, and carbon is still accumulating from year to year.13 The story of what is happening right now to the actual area of privately owned forestlands (58% of US forests) is a little murkier. There is no such thing as real time data on forestcover, and recent studies use different methods or draw data from different periods (e.g. the heyday of housing starts in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, or the subsequent economic recession.) Also, different assessments variously define “forest” and the implications of forestry—e.g. as a disturbance that leaves bare land vs. a harvest that moves carbon to another “pool”, such as building material. Reconciling the implications of different modeling and accounting approaches is crucial to understanding what is actually happening on the land.

The US Forest Service estimates that an average of 6,000 acres of forest land and open space are converted to development every day. Image credit Shawn Kashou/Shutterstock. A study of global forest cover loss from a few years ago ranks the US among the countries that are losing forest the fastest—6% between 2000 and 2005.14 But this is based on satellite data that just looks at bare land, a lot of which has been harvested and will soon again be forests. These findings are echoed by the USGS Land Cover Trends project, which looks at exchanges between different kinds of landcover.15 This kind of information helps reveal the highly regionalized character of forest loss and gain, with a net deficit of eastern forest occurring from 1973 to 2000 (-4.1%, or -0.15% each year). Last year, a remarkable study carried out by the World Resources Institute, University of Maryland, and Google shed light on forest “turnover,” showing that the US South has some of the fastest cycles of harvest and regrowth in the world— with a portion of the forest being lost to development in each cycle. The same pattern occurs throughout the Mid- Atlantic and into the Northeast, albeit with trees growing back more slowly further north. The studies that look at shifts in landcover (e.g. farms to forest, forest to cities, fields to neighborhoods, etc.) may prove particularly important for devising regional strategies to keep the land forested.

The charge is clear for all organizations that work to conserve forests: protect US forest carbon sinks and reduce emissions resulting from forest loss, change, and management. The challenge on private lands is fundamentally different from that on public lands, in the sense that saving the carbon estate on private lands cannot happen simply through changes in land management.16 Rather, change will result from decisions made by millions of landowners—responding to markets, advice, offers, and incentives available at the right time and which solve whatever situation they are facing. In other words, the factors that drive the loss of forests have to change.

The strategies for accomplishing this are only weakly deployed across the country. They include policies that allow carbon offsets to reduce emissions, incentives to increase wood-based bioenergy and construction, and land protection and land use planning that encumbers the conversion of forests to other uses. Also, agencies such as the USDA, through programs carried out in cooperation with states, have begun to transform federal assistance such that payments made to landowners can help reduce emissions. Finally, for landowners who are willing, there is some reinvigoration and retooling of land protection investments, to mitigate and adapt to climate change. All of these strategies have helped slow the loss of forestland, but larger financial pressures are still resulting in high rates of forest loss on private lands. We are at a crossroads at which we need to decide which strategies will most effectively and efficiently prevent forest loss.

A strategy that has attracted a great deal of attention over the last two decades is to impose fees for CO2 emissions and invest some of the revenue in forests. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) first introduced the world to large-scale trading in forest carbon offsets when in 2005 it was linked with the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. In nine years, forest projects around the world have received billions of Euros through the EU ETS to implement projects.

The US has been slow to consider actions of this kind—California being the notable exception. In 2010, when the US Congress came within a few votes of passing a Senate version of the House’s American Clean Energy and Security Act, there were expectations that a cap and trade regime would emerge in the US, harnessing carbon markets to reduce emissions. In the proposed legislation, the EPA could allow regulated entities (the energy sector) to meet their emissions cap by purchasing credits generated outside the energy sector, including emissions reductions resulting from forest planting, management, and protection.

Many involved in forestry were giddy at the prospect of this new source of revenue. At the same time there was also criticism of the House version of the bill, contending that forest offset provisions were not stringent enough and would at the end of the day let CO2 leak back into the atmosphere. In fact, recent modeling suggests that the leakage rates for carbon offsets are perhaps more significant than previously imagined.17 This research shows that in North America delayed harvest becomes wood removed elsewhere—wood supply being very inelastic and the leakage adjustments included in offset protocols perhaps being too modest.

USDA NRCS Four years after the last serious attempt to create a national carbon market, there is only one regulated emissions trading system in the US that has led to private forestland protection. In 2014, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) issued the first forest offset credits under California’s compliance protocol. These were issued to the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, which had been working for several years with a private firm to inventory, model, and register carbon credits. All told there are 366,894 acres in ten forest projects that are now credited, or nearly so, within the CARB system. Voluntary credits for forest projects in the US are also being sold, 58,185 acres of which are registered with the Verified Carbon Standard. This cumulative total of less than half a million acres, while a notable accomplishment, will have to grow quickly to catch up with the rate of forest loss.

Many of the projects registered for carbon credits have been developed by conservation organizations, but these are a small fraction of the forestlands they have conserved over the last few decades. As of 2010, national, state, and local land trusts had protected 47 million acres—at a rate that has accelerated over the years.18 Other than the 316 million acres of forest conserved on public lands, this has been perhaps the most reliable strategy to protect forests. The land trusts’ ongoing campaigns and creativity will be essential to safeguarding the carbon sink on private lands.

A popular goal among conservationists is “no net loss of forests. ”This is much easier said than done as it immediately pits forests against every other land use to which forests may be shifting. Forests will have to reclaim land now in farms, towns, golf courses, and other land uses—each of which has a constituency. Only one state in the US has successfully launched a no net loss policy, in the form of Maryland’s Forest Preservation Act of 2013.19 The legislation is unique in the US. It adds a number of measures to complement and strengthen Maryland’s pioneering Forest Conservation Act, which requires developers to work with counties to offset the removal of forests. Other mechanisms include offsite mitigation for highway projects and a host of incentives for private landowners. The combination of measures introduced in Maryland promises the emergence of new and innovative ways to work with landowners. It also directly influences land use such that the carbon sink will be protected.

Few states will muster the political support to follow Maryland’s lead, though more should try. Also, few states, even those northeastern states that joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, will have offset revenue available to landowners. Moreover, one of the lessons from California may be that the stringent requirements for the highest-value offsets may be unacceptable to the majority of landowners who steward the US carbon sink. For them we need to deploy additional strategies, which do more than encourage faster growth and better use of forest carbon— at the end of day these strategies need to save the principal by reducing forest loss. Senator Stabenow of Michigan introduced a conservation program title to the Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 200920 that would have provided “supplemental incentives” for private landowners. While the bill was not passed by the Senate, it suggested a model for investing in the carbon sink at a large scale. The model was similar to a concept developed by the Pinchot Institute, the US Forest Service, and members of the Forest Climate Working Group.21 In essence, the idea is to sharpen the focus and improve the outcome of federal landowner assistance programs, or, introduce a new program altogether. Such a program would need to secure and grow the carbon sink in the forest, not just through 2030, but through 2100 and beyond.

Ideas of many kinds are under consideration, with supporting science and institutions capable of delivering them in cooperation with federal, state, and local government. They need to be evaluated from the perspective of what they can do to safeguard the forest carbon sink on private lands over the long term. We then need to apply strategies on the ground at a scale that matters, and get serious about saving the private forest carbon estate.

Will Price is Director of Conservation Programs at the Pinchot Institute in Princeton, NJ. The author appreciates the editorial contributions of Dr. John Gunn of SIG-NAL.

1 E.g. Birdsey, R., Pregitzer, K., Lucier, A. 2006. Forest carbon management in the United States: 1600-2100. Journal of Environmental Quality, 35, 1461-1469; Rhemtulla, J., Mladenoff, D. and Clayton, M. 2009. Legacies of historical land use on regional forest composition and structure inWisconsin, USA (mid-1800s- 1930s-2000s) Ecological Applications 19,1061-1078. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/08-1453.1

2 E.g. Nepal, P. et al. 2012. Projection of US forest sector carbon sequestration under US and global timber market and wood energy consumption scenarios, 2010-2060. Biomass and Bioenergy, 45, 251-264; Drummond, M. and Loveland T. 2010. Land-use pressure and a transition to forest-cover loss in the eastern United States. Bioscience, 60.4, 286-298; Houghton, R. and J. Hackler. 2000. Changes in terrestrial carbon storage in the United States. 1: The roles of agriculture and forestry. Global Ecology and Biogeography 9.2, 125-144.

3 Brown, D. et al. 2014. Ch. 13: Land Use and Land Cover Change. In Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, Melillo, J., Richmond, T. and Yohe, G., Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 318-332. doi:10.7930/J05Q4T1Q

4 E.g. Riitters, K. and Coulston, J. 2005. Hot spots of perforated forest in the eastern United States. Environmental Management 35.4, 483-492; Stein, S., McRoberts, R., Alig, R., Nelson, M., Theobald, D., Eley, M., Dechter, M. and Carr, M. 2005. Forests on the edge: housing development on America’s private forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-636. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 16 p.

5 Joyce, L. et al. 2014. Ch. 7: Forests. In Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, Melillo, J., Richmond, T. and Yohe, G., Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 175-194. doi:10.7930/J0Z60KZC.

6 Walker T. et al. 2010. Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. NCI-2010-03. 189 pp. Available at: https://www.manomet.org/sites/default/fil es/publications_and_tools/Manomet_Biomass_Report_Full_June2010.pdf.

7 USDA Forest Service 2012. Future of America’s Forest and Rangelands: Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-87. Washington, DC. 198 p.

8 Joyce et al. 2014.

9 Miner, R., Abt, R., Bowyer, J., Buford, M., Malmsheimer, R., O’Laughlin, J., Sedjo, R. and Skog, K. 2014. Forest carbon accounting considerations in US bioenergy policy. Journal of Forestry 112(6), 591-606.

10 Buchholz, T., Prisley, S., Marland, G. Canham, C. and Sampson, N. 2014. Uncertainty in projecting GHG emissions from bioenergy. Nature Climate Change, Volume 4, Issue 12, pp. 1045-1047.

11 E.g. Nepal et al. 2012; Sedjo, R. and X. Tian 2012. Does wood bioenergy increase carbon stocks in forests? Journal of Forestry 110.6, 304-311.

12 E.g. Nepal et al. 2012; Ryan M., Harmon, M., Birdsey, R., Giardina, C., Heath, L., Houghton, R., Jackson, R., McKinley, D., Morrison, J., Murray, B., Pataki, D. and Skog, K. 2010. A synthesis of the science of forests and carbon for U.S. forests. Ecological Society of America, Issues in Ecology 13, Spring 2010.

13 E.g. Joyce et al. 2014; Harmon et al. 2010.

14 Hansen, M. et al. 2010. Quantification of global gross forest cover loss. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.19, 8650-8655.

15 Drummond and Loveland 2010.

16 Brown et al. 2014.

17 E.g. Murray, B. et al. 2004. Estimating leakage from forest carbon sequestration programs. Land Economics 80.1, 109-124.; Nepal, P. et al. 2013. Forest carbon benefits, costs and leakage effects of carbon reserve scenarios in the United States. Journal of Forest Economics 19.3, 286-306.

18 Chang, K. 2010. National Land Trust Census Report: A look at voluntary land conservation in America, Aldrich, R. and Soto, C., Eds., Land Trust Alliance, Washington, DC.

19 Forest Preservation Act of 2013. Maryland House Bill 706.

20 S.2729 – Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009.

21 http://www.pinchot.org/gp/Forest_ Carbon_Incentives .
From the President
Dwindling Wildlife: For Whom Does it Matter?
According to a report released recently by the National Audubon Society, climate change is “likely to so alter the bird population of North America that about half of the approximately 650 species will be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find new places to live, feed and breed over the next 65 years.” If they do not they could become extinct.1 The world as a whole has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, according to authoritative research compiled by the World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London, and several other organizations.2 This follows the publication earlier this year of Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, an attempt to raise public awareness of an ongoing mass extinction that has been evident to scientists for at least the past decade.3

The Conservation Movement in the US began in the late 19th century in response to fears of running out of wood and other resources, but also because the potential impacts of human progress on birds and other wildlife were already becoming readily apparent. First came the citizens organizations—the American Bird Society, American Forestry Association, and others that worked to raise public awareness and press for government action. This action took the form of new agencies—the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1871, the US Forest Service in 1905; the National Park Service in 1916; the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1940—charged with protecting many of America’s remaining wild lands and ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources.

“America’s greatest idea,” as Ken Burns characterized the creation of national parks and other protected areas, prompted others around the world to take stock of declining wildlife populations, from western Europe to the plains of Africa, and take actions aimed at reversing these trends. Clearly unsustainable patterns of natural resource exploitation spawned entirely new areas of natural and social science focused on understanding the complex web of ecological relationships in the natural world, and expanding the production of renewable resources to stay ahead of the needs of a growing—and increasingly consumptive—human population worldwide. Advances in agriculture and forestry greatly increased the land’s productivity for food, shelter, and renewable energy. The new field of resource economics posited that free markets, the laws of supply and demand, and new technologies would temper resource scarcities and ensure that production and consumption would always be roughly in equilibrium.

And yet...after more than a century of concerted effort in conservation science, policy and management techniques, we find that populations of other animal species around the world have plummeted by half in less than the last fifty years. How else to describe this magnitude of loss over such a short period of time in the history of life on Earth? This is not just the loss of rare, sensitive, and local species—as bad as that is—but a precipitous drop in the populations of robust species that heretofore have been able to co-exist in a world dominated by human influences.
Frosty pine

So here is a question for the social scientists: How should we interpret so passive a public response to the finding that we are already several decades into a global mass extinction on the order of the one that ended the era of the dinosaurs? Perhaps it is not that people don’t care, but that they are overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge and the apparent lack of any realistic solutions. Or perhaps many have concluded that, while certainly tragic, these trends in the natural world don’t really matter, particularly as humanity becomes increasingly an urban species. For most of us, especially in the US, life is good; we may never have noticed these declines in wildlife populations had they not been discerned by watchful scientists.

Besides, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. There were five previous extinctions, after all. The planet survived and here we are today, perhaps even the beneficiaries of the cataclysmic events that gave mammals a shot at ecological dominance. Might we actually benefit from the current mass extinction as well, technologically rendered immune to the forces that are decimating the populations of so many other species? It may be worth considering that humanity was not around to survive any of those previous extinctions, and the higher order species that were present at the time did not fare nearly as well as microbes and bacteria.

The reality is that humanity is a highly adaptable and opportunistic species, and we will adapt as best we can to the global environmental changes that we helped put in motion, and now cannot stop.We are betting heavily that it will be at least a survivable world, notwithstanding the disappearance of so many other life forms.

I have a book, Animals of the World, that was given to me as a child. Its rich color illustrations of strange and exotic beasts drew me to its pages time and time again. I will pass this book along to my first grandchild, born this past summer, in hopes that in her own lifetime she too will still have a chance to experience this rich diversity of life—that the exotic beasts on these pages will not have become something akin to what the saber-toothed tiger and woolly mammoth were to my generation’s childhood.

More than half the world’s population is now urban and increasingly distant from natural systems.4 But environmental change that has eliminated half the world’s wildlife in a mere four decades cannot help but have significant implications for the future of humanity as well. Creating a broader understanding of the connections between healthy natural systems and the health and well-being of human societies may be the most critical mission of conservation in this century.

Al Sample

1 Barrington, F. 2014. Climate Change Will Disrupt Half of North America’s Bird Species, Study Says. The New York Times, September 8. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/09/us/climate-change-will-disrupt-half-of-north-americas-bird-species-study-says.html?_r=0

2 Carrington, D. 2014. Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF. The Guardian, September 29. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

3 Kolbert, E. 2014. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York. Henry Holt & Sons.

4 United Nations Development Programme. World Urbanization Prospects. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/publications/2014-revision-world-urbanization-prospects.html
Growing the Role of US Forests in the Climate Movement
Brian Kittler

Why Forest Science and Forestry Need to Engage the Climate Movement
Throughout America’s history, grassroots movements have played a significant role in shaping how we govern ourselves as a people. The US civil rights movement of the 1960s is the preeminent example, and a watershed moment for our nation.

In fact, the US civil rights movement is perhaps the most referenced case for how a shift in the collective consciousness of the masses transformed how society functions. Up to now, a similar movement to address climate change—a threat that promises to impact the health and welfare of every person and ecosystem on the planet— has largely failed to result in a shift in collective consciousness similar to that which occurred during the civil rights movement. There are now signs of such a grassroots change beginning to take root.
Hundreds of thousands participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, Survival Media Agency.

On September 21, 2014, more than 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City and more than 160 other cities worldwide to participate in the People’s Climate March. In what is probably the largest environmental protest in history, the march was timed for just before a UN Climate Summit. Many conservation groups rightfully used the occasion to advocate for the role of reducing deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics. Yet, as these groups marched through midtown Manhattan alongside so many other Americans, a focus on the fate of the forest carbon in their own country was noticeably absent. Surely American forests are a central issue for conservation groups, so why are they not also of focus for the broader climate movement?

Tropical deforestation for agriculture. Frontpage/Shutterstock Conservation of tropical forests is of course a crucial strategy in mitigating the worst effects of climate change; however, the role of temperate forests in the US must not be overlooked. Roughly a third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions now in the atmosphere are attributed to land use change. The remaining two-thirds come from the combustion of fossil fuels since the early 1900s. Over time, deforestation globally shifted from the temperate forests of North America and Europe to the tropical forests in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Ironically, it was that movement to fossil fuels away from wasteful uses of fuelwood and extensive clearing for agriculture that allowed forest carbon stocks of North America and Europe to recover.

However, forest regrowth in the US has recovered only about a third of the carbon released to the atmosphere from land use change occurring between 1700 and 1935.1 Forests are naturally a long-term proposition binding generation to generation. Indeed, when it comes to US forest carbon, the choices we make now with regard to repairing the damages of the past will dictate the course of our future.

An Uncertain Future for US Forest Carbon
When considering net primary productivity, timber harvest removals, and forest disturbance, US forests are on the balance serving as a substantial net carbon sink accumulating approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon annually.This storage is equivalent to approximately 10% of net CO2 emissions from all US sources. While debated in conservation circles, the National Climate Assessment cites an additional 77.6 million metric tons of carbon being stored in harvested wood products each year, which is equivalent to approximately 4%of net CO2 emissions from all sources. So in all, the forest sector is assumed to currently serve as a net carbon sink in which the equivalent of 14% of annual CO2 emissions of the US economy are being stored.2

Forest carbon stocks have increased rapidly since the 1940s, but recent years find this trend line slowing, if not leveling off.3 If events of the past are indeed the prologue for the future there is no guarantee that we will be able to maintain the nation’s forest carbon sink and we should expect substantial carbon flux in the coming decades. In fact, the most recent national forecast for US forests, the 2010 Resource Planning Act (RPA) assessment, suggests a return to our forests being a net source of carbon release to the atmosphere. How can this be possible and what can we do to bend this curve?

As projected, each plausible RPA scenario suggests that US forests will change from being a net sink to a significant source of carbon emissions by 2030, with annual net carbon emissions from forests increasing to 40–80 million metric tons by 2050.4 From a climate forcing perspective this would be like adding as many as 86 additional 600 MW coal plants to the US electric power grid. Given the battles fought over new fossil fuel power plants, this potential fate of US forest carbon stocks should be alarming to climate activists, but the issue is rarely looked at this way.

While previous long-range RPA projections of forest growth and loss have been shown to have significant margins of error relative to subsequent measurements of forest growth and carbon storage,5 emerging science on the effects of climate change on net carbon storage in forests, coupled with observed trends in the scale and severity of urban development, wildfires, insect infestations, and drought related forest die-off, would seem to indicate that these long-range RPA scenarios at least correctly identify the trends.

Declining Trends in Forest Carbon
In the last decade or so, the US has been losing forest and open space at an estimated average rate of about four acres per minute. If trends in the US continue unabated, increases in urban development are expected to expand by 41% by 2060, with most of this development occurring at the expense of forests. Forests lost to development in the southeastern US alone, a region that has tremendous natural forest carbon sequestration capacity, are projected to be as much as 9.7 million acres by 2050—a land area about twice the size of New Jersey.6 Urban growth projections in other forested regions, the Puget Sound for instance, are expected to result in significant loss of carbon storage.
Mega-fires like the 2013 Rim Fire are becoming more common across the West. Credit USDA Forest Service

When forests are cut, the direct impact is not only a pulse of emissions and the ensuing loss of sequestration capacity, but also often the addition of secondary emissions from new buildings replacing forests. These secondary emissions are not captured in estimates of net forest carbon flux, meaning that the effects of land use change are significantly larger when the carbon footprint of the built environment replacing natural carbon sinks is considered. Going forward, better integration of regional urban planning and strategies to conserve working forests around cities will be fundamental as it is these specific geographies where forest carbon will continue to be lost.

In addition to forest conversion, degraded forest conditions should rightly be viewed as a carbon concern too. For instance, western forests represent 20–40% of US terrestrial carbon sequestration capacity.7 Opinions vary widely on what management approaches should be taken across this massive land area.

The wet forests of the Pacific Coast offer globally superior carbon storage rates, with old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest storing nearly 250 metric tons of carbon per acre. Much attention is being paid to incentivizing longer rotation forestry in the coniferous forests of the Pacific Coast as a means to remove more carbon from the atmosphere and store it in standing forests. Strategies vary across landownership types, from the integration of carbon into National Forest plan revision processes, to engaging large acreage private landowners in carbon offset projects through the California carbon market. New types of incentives also need to emerge to promote carbon storage and land retention within the family forest landowner demographic.

In the Interior West, high intensity crown fires and large-scale insect infestations are becoming increasingly significant factors in the regional terrestrial carbon balance.The scale and frequency of disturbance events is being driven in part by an over-accumulation of small trees. The USDA Forest Service has estimated that across this region, from Idaho and Montana south to Arizona and New Mexico, forests are experiencing significant fire regime departure due to overstocking of at least 1.5 billion cubic feet of excess tree growth per year. From a carbon management perspective, this translates to as much as 9 million metric tons of additional forest carbon being added annually to already unstable carbon pools.

These forest conditions are expected to contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere. In fact, between 2001 and 2008, carbon emissions from fires on western rangelands and forests in effect cancelled out nearly 12% of the carbon sequestered in those same ecosystems.8 Looking forward, when combined with losses in sequestration capacity, direct emissions from wildfires are projected to counter as much as 27–43% of net carbon sequestration by terrestrial ecosystems across the West by 2050. This trend is unfolding before our eyes.

In the western US over the last 30 years, the average area burned in large fires (i.e. those greater than 1,000 acres) has increased to about 1 million acres per year.9 The last 10 years have seen more than 60 “mega-fires“ of greater than 100,000 acres across the West, many of them high-severity stand-replacing fires.10 Unsurprisingly, climate change is playing a role here. In what appears to be the new normal, the western fire season has increased in length by more than two and a half months since the 1980s.11 Warmer springs and earlier snow melt are drying out western interior forests, increasing the risk of wildfire related emissions.

Going forward, under future climate change scenarios for the period of 2041–2050, the annual area of land burned by wildfires in the West is projected to increase by 31–66% as compared to 2001–2008, a period which itself had already seen increased wildfire activity.12 A growing percentage of these fires will likely be high-severity stand-replacing crown fires.

Some suggest this is an expected reconfiguration of western forests in response to 100 years of fire suppression, while others see a more nuanced story linked to the effects of climate change.Whatever the cause, we need to learn to live with fire and identify strategies for reducing negative impacts to forest ecosystems, human communities, and the climate.

We also need to consider the loss of carbon storage after large fires. Recent studies find that in parts of the West, the types of ecosystems returning after severe disturbance events are not always the same as existed before.13 Forests in parts of the Southwest, for instance, are transitioning toward grass and shrub systems with inherently less capacity to store carbon.14 In fact, between the late 1990s and 2010 nearly 20% of the forest area of the Southwest experienced tree killing wildfires, bark beetle infestations, and related mortality from drought stress.15 Given trends in fire activity and intensity, it appears that the success of reforestation efforts post-fire are now, and perhaps greater than in any time prior, a controlling variable in the functional ability of the land to store carbon. Scientists and managers take heed.

Altered fire regimes are not the only way in which the forest carbon to climate change feedback loop is being expressed. Rather, all manner of disturbance appears to be at least somewhat induced by climate change. For instance, the mountain pine beetle epidemic in western Canada occurring on a land area the size of Missouri has transitioned much of British Columbia’s forests from being a small net carbon sink to a large net carbon source. In the worst year of the infestation by this endemic insect, the carbon impacts are estimated to be equivalent to approximately 75% of the annual direct forest fire emissions from all of Canada during 1959–1999.16
During a 2003 fire in the Glacier National Park, the Rocky Point Trail served as a natural firebreak. Credit: Wing-Chi Poon, CC BY-SA 2.5

Federal Policy and Management of Forest Carbon
Policies will need to recognize variation in regional forest types and conditions. Conserving the vast reservoir of carbon currently stored in US forests, and increasing the near-term rate of carbon storage where possible, is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Forest species, ages, soils, fire risks, vulnerabilities to natural disturbance, and decomposition rates vary widely from the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, to the pine flats of the South, to the boreal forests of the Lake States and New England. Each must be understood for its own potential, and for the specific ways in which forest managers and conservationists can adjust their methods to achieve this potential.

California remains in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history. Credit Cynthia Mendoza/USDA CC BY-SA 2.0 Across the forest regions of the US, management actions for optimal forest carbon management vary widely, from encouraging the development of late successional characteristics that promote dense accumulations of biomass, to strategies focused on reducing the amount of standing biomass. This will inherently involve tradeoffs between competing values. For instance, in the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast, restoring optimal savannah habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker involves reducing forest biomass through mechanical thinning and frequent prescribed burning, which has been found to reduce forest carbon stocks by as much as 22% as compared to passive management.17

The relationship between climate change and forest carbon is exceedingly complex and the scientific community is just now beginning to develop a robust understanding of these issues. Policy is not waiting for science to catch up. There are a number of proposals under consideration by federal and state agencies regarding the management of forests to enhance or maintain carbon storage. Many of these policy initiatives are presented within the context of reducing net carbon emissions across the entire economy. The objectives of these proposals include maintaining existing reserves of stored carbon in live forest biomass; minimizing carbon emissions associated with forest loss, degradation, and disturbances; and identification of optimal forest management regimes for various regional forest types.

At the same time, there is an active discourse on “resilience” occurring within the natural resource management world. As defined by a 2013 executive order,18 resilience is “the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.” Much of this resilience dialogue is centered on the need for stabilizing forest carbon pools and identifying the management actions that may do so.

Building on this Executive Order, the interagency Council on Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience has prepared a report detailing several actions needed to promote the resilience of the US forest carbon estate. As reported, these include: improving inventory, assessment, projections, and monitoring of carbon sinks via integration of remote sensing with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and the USDA Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) to regularly and accurately detect changes in terrestrial carbon stocks; developing estimates of baseline carbon stock and trends using methods consistent with those developed by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and promoting forest conservation and restoration through initiatives such as the Forest Legacy Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, but also by stimulating “complementary markets for sustainably harvested wood products,” such as efforts to create a boom in multi-story wood construction as a means to creating long-term stable pools of biocarbon within the cities of the future.19 These high level goals, as valid as they may be, presently lack transparent strategic plans to catalyze those capable of making real progress toward the goals by working at the interface of government and the private sector. Without leadership, little progress will be made.

Policy leaders are calling for the increased storage of carbon in multistory wood-framed buildings. Credit Blumer-Lehmann AG As a society, we face difficult choices regarding what steps to take to positively affect the stability of carbon stocks in our forest sector. These steps cannot be taken on the basis of conjecture, conventional wisdom, or wishful thinking. We need to get this right the first time; science has a significant role to play and is absolutely necessary for identifying optimal forest sector strategies. Moreover, we need to quickly enhance the way in which scientific knowledge informs natural resource management, as the implications of climate change for the US forest carbon sink are already playing out. As a first step, a process is needed to identify the low hanging fruit for forest carbon management in each region of the country to identify:

  • Opportunities for reforestation and afforestation. For instance, the failed Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation identified a hypothetical goal of storing nearly 1 billion metric tons of CO2 via tree planting that would require 105 and 455 million acres of afforestation.20 Who owns these lands, at what expense, what financial mechanisms are used, and how such forest banks are maintained are all essential questions for such a policy.
  • Priorities for restoration treatments in fire adapted ecosystems. With emissions from disturbance projected to increase, the costs and benefits of measures that may reduce risk of losing stored carbon need to be weighed along with myriad other variables. Mechanisms to finance and reduce the cost of such activities are sorely needed.
  • Market-based incentives to encourage carbon storage through long-rotation forestry. Incentives need to flexibly account for variations in forest ownership demographics. An appropriate balance between robust protocols for carbon measurement and practice-based approaches should be considered.
  • Methods of more effectively integrating regional urban planning efforts with strategies that conserve working forests. Substantial amounts of carbon are being lost through conversion of forests at the fringes of expanding cities. Networks of individuals and institutions in the conservation and planning worlds need to target these buffer areas and prioritize them for conservation.
Through the process of identifying near-term priorities and opportunities, it will be vital that science continues to inform policymaking and peels away motivations not otherwise grounded in evidence. Such science is thus not a feel good gesture or academic exercise, but rather an essential act of the democratic process.The choices we make, from the woods of the forester to the desk of the policymaker, affect the nature of future carbon fluctuations.

Finally, science must also interface with the growing climate change social movement if forest sector strategies are to be given serious consideration by society at large. During the civil rights movement there was a collective realization that significant social change was needed and that this would ultimately improve the lives of all Americans. However, it was a strong and consistent desire for changes expressed across society which created the political will necessary to pass Civil Rights legislation. Similar momentum is needed to enact transformational climate policy. Strategies for maintaining the US forest carbon sink and minimizing its transition to becoming a net source of emissions must be as clear as possible in order to engage the growing climate change movement.

If we are to avoid a truly life-altering climate change future, greenhouse gas emissions will need to be aggressively reduced in the next 25 years. Reducing the carbon intensity of the energy, materials, and food we consume is paramount but maintaining, and where possible expanding the US forest carbon sink is just as important. The forest sector must nudge the American people toward the realization that the fate of our forests warrants equal airtime to calls for the divestment from fossil fuels, ending tropical deforestation, and other statements emblazoned on the signs of climate activists marching through the streets of Manhattan. This will only happen with greater consensus within the forest sector itself. Without a commitment to a transparent and non-politicized dialogue, the US forest sector will remain at the fringes of the climate movement.

Brian Kittler is the Director of the Pinchot Institute’s Western Regional Office in Portland, Oregon.

1 Birdsey, R. 2006. Forest carbon management in the United States, 1600– 2100. Journal of Environmental Quality, 35,1461-1469.

2 Melillo, J., Richmond, T. and Yohe, G., Eds. 2014. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.

3 Ryan, M. 2010. A Synthesis of the Science on Forests and Carbon for US Forests. Issues in Ecology, Report Number 13, Spring 2010.

4 USDA Forest Service. 2012. Future scenarios: a technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR- 272.

5 Buchholz, T. et al. 2014. Uncertainty in Projecting GHG Emissions from Bioenergy. Nature Climate Change, 1045- 1047.

6 Zhao, S. 2013. Land use and carbon dynamics in the Southeastern United States from 1992 to 2050. Environmental Research Letters. US Geological Survey.

7 Westerling, A., Hidalgo, H., Cayan, D. R. and Swetnam, T. 2006. Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western US Forest Wildfire Activity. Science, 940-943.

8 Zhu, Z., and Reed, B., eds. 2012. Baseline and projected future carbon storage and greenhouse-gas fluxes in ecosystems of the Western United States: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1797, 192 p.

9 Westerling, A., Brown, T., Schoennagel, T., Swetnam, T., Turner, M. and Veblen, T. 2014. Briefing: Climate and wildfire in western U.S. forests. In: Sample, V. and Bixler, R., eds. Forest conservation and management in the Anthropocene: Conference proceedings. Proceedings. RMRS-P-71. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 81-102.

10 Ibid.

11 Westerling et al. 2006.

12 Zhu and Reed. 2012.

13 Raymond, C. et al. 2015. Representative regional models of post-disturbance forest carbon accumulation. Forest Ecology and Management, 336, 21-34.

14 Allen, C. 2012. Statement of Dr. Craig Allen, US Geological Survey Department of the Interior, to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

15 Williams, A. 2010. Forest responses to increasing aridity and warmth in southwestern North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107, 21289-21294.

16 Kurz, W. et al. 2008. Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change. Nature.

17 Martin, K. 2014. Carbon Tradeoffs of Restoration and Provision of Endangered Species Habitat in a Fire-Maintained Forest. Ecosystems.

18 Executive Order 13653 3 C.F.R. 330. 2013.

19 Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Climate and Natural Resources Working Group 2014. Priority Agenda: Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources. Washington, DC.

20 Gorte, R. 2009. US Tree Planting for Carbon Sequestration. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Request for Proposals: Forest Carbon Project Aggregation Model
Project Title: Forest Carbon Project Aggregation Model

Project Period of Performance: January 01, 2015 – March 01, 2015

Proposal Due Date and Submission Instructions: Submit proposals to Bkittler[at]pinchot.org by 5:00 PM PST on December 15, 2014.

Project Summary: The Pinchot Institute for Conservation (the Institute) is seeking a consultant to assist with the development of a forest carbon offset project involving multiple non-industrial private forest landowners in Western Oregon and Western Washington State. Participating landowners will be aggregated under the American Carbon Registry (ACR) Improved Forest Management (IFM) carbon credit methodology for non-federal forests. The specific work being sought under this RFP is for the development of a model for aggregating non-industrial private forest landowners under a single carbon project.

For more information download the full Request for Proposals
Inside the Institute
Pinchot Institute Opens Western Regional Office

Clear Lake, Willamette National Forest (Angelica Hernandez)The Pinchot Institute for Conservation opened its new Western Regional Office in June, naming Brian Kittler as its founding director. Kittler was formerly with the National Fish and  Wildlife Foundation. “The Western Regional Office will allow the Pinchot Institute to work more closely with our federal, state and regional partners throughout the West to improve the conservation and sustainable management of forests on both public and private lands,” said Institute President Al Sample. “Population growth, energy development, and climate change are making conservation more difficult than ever before, and it is all the more important to engage communities and other stakeholders in developing enduring solutions to these challenges.”

“New kinds of working relationships will be needed to confront the unprecedented conditions on public lands in the West, especially the federal lands,” said Brian Kittler. “Communities all over the West have a common interest in finding ways to get ahead of wildfires and insect epidemics. New developments in science and policy won’t mean much if we don’t find practical and broadly supported ways to implement these ideas on the ground.”

The Western Regional Office will also advance projects focusing on private lands, such as the Institute’s innovative Forest Health-Human Initiative which seeks to provide family forest owners with additional health care assistance in exchange for their commitments to conserve and sustainably manage their woodlands. “New and exciting innovations are emerging at the local level; our objective is to show they can work, and then apply them on other locations across the country,” said Kittler.

“The Pinchot Institute has contributed to improving knowledge of important conservation issues, including bioenergy, ecosystem services, climate change, forestry education, and community forestry, said Kent Connaughton, the Pacific Northwest Regional Forester for the US Forest Service. “All are relevant across the United States, but the perspective provided by the Institute has been particularly important in the Pacific Northwest, where a number of these issues are in their infancy, and promise to become dominant in influencing public policy in the future.” Connaughton added, “I particularly appreciate the Institute’s work on stewardship contracting, which has become an influential tool in achieving environmental, community, and economic goals on the national forests in the region; I believe the new office in Portland will only strengthen the Pinchot Institute’s influence and impact on the conservation policy.”

Kent Connaughton,Wade Mosby Elected to Pinchot Institute Board of Directors

The Pinchot Institute for Conservation has announced the election of Kent Connaughton and Wade Mosby to its board of directors. “Wade and Kent bring exceptional knowledge of forest conservation and management to the Institute, with broad experience in economics and policy matters on both public and private lands,” said board chair Nels Johnson.

“Kent and Wade have been bold leaders on emerging issues such as forest certification, bioenergy, and climate change that are both challenges and opportunities for forest landowners and managers.We are pleased to have their innovative leadership to strengthen the Institute’s influence and impact on conservation policy,” said Al Sample, President of the Pinchot Institute.

Kent Connaughton served until recently as Regional Forester for the Pacific Northwest Region of the US Forest Service. Connaughton began his 36-year career with the Forest Service at the Pacific Northwest Research Station as a forest economics researcher. He has had assignments as Forest Supervisor on the Lassen National Forest in California and as Deputy Regional Forester in the Pacific Southwest Region. He also served as Associate Deputy Chief for State&Private Forestry in Washington, DC, and as Regional Forester for the Eastern Region.

Connaughton holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University, a Master of Forestry degree from Oregon State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the Society of American Foresters, and was elected Fellow of that professional society in 1991. Kent and his wife Sue reside in Portland, Oregon.

Wade Mosby served most recently as Senior Vice President for Collins Companies, an integrated forest products company headquartered in Portland, Oregon, with certified forestry operations in Oregon, California, and Pennsylvania. His 35-year career in the forest industry includes positions at Kimberly-Clark, Bohemia, and Roseburg Forest Products. Mosby is a founding member of the Forest Stewardship Council, co-founder and director emeritus of Forest Trends, founding director emeritus for the Oregon Natural Step Network, and served on the boards of Sustainable Northwest, American Forest Resource Council, Keep Oregon Green, and Biomass Power Association. Wade and his wife Susan are long-time residents of Portland, Oregon.

Fellowship Focuses on Increasing Capacity for Community-Based Conservation

Patrick Bixler has been appointed to a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Pinchot Institute, following the recent completion of his Ph.D. in Sociology at Colorado State University. Bixler will continue his research on factors that contribute to increased capacity in community-based conservation, leading to more effective conservation outcomes.

His dissertation illustrates that landscape conservation outcomes can be attributed to relationships, flows of information, and resource linkages that constitute conservation networks. His research illustrates this effect through three different problem case studies: invasive species, grizzly bear conservation, and climate adaptation. Throughout each, the analysis highlights key mechanisms that increase capacity for community-based conservation engaged in cross-scale networks to bring information and resources to implement local conservation efforts. His research highlights that conservation outcomes are more likely when there is alignment in the ways that stakeholders “frame” the problem, illustrating the range of uncertainty in the decision-making process in landscapes characterized by change and variability. While at Colorado State, Patrick was twice a Center for Collaborative Conservation Research Fellow, selected for a competitive summer school program for environmental governance in Aas, Norway, and worked closely with Pinchot Institute Senior Fellow, Tony Cheng.
Remembering Ed Vandermillen
Ed Vandermillen

The Pinchot Institute’s 50th anniversary gave us an opportunity to recognize some of the extraordinary individuals whose vision and leadership helped make the Institute into what it is today. Ed Vandermillen, who passed away on June 3, played a pivotal role as Director of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies at Grey Towers 1983–1987, and then again 1988-1990 following an assignment to the US Forest Service office in Washington. In cooperation with Gifford Bryce Pinchot and the Pinchot family, Ed strove to realize the vision of the Pinchot Institute as a catalyst for conservation and a think tank for new ideas designed to resolve the many looming environmental problems facing the country and the world.He believed strongly that the Institute’s work must be “science-based and impartial,” and helped establish the reputation of Grey Towers as a neutral forum at a time when controversies over natural resource conservation and environmental policy were exceptionally contentious. Ed helped craft the vision for the Pinchot Institute that has guided our work, and that will continue to inspire generations to come.
—Al Sample
Greening a Forestry Supply Chain to Mitigate Climate Change: A Case Study from the Rainforests of Ecuador
Peter Pinchot

The EcoMadera community forestry enterprise is a Pinchot Institute pilot project— combined with a for-profit business— testing an innovative strategy for conserving Ecuador’s coastal rainforests. The EcoMadera project was established in 2002, when a group of landowners in a small rainforest community in northwestern Ecuador partnered with a US Peace Corps volunteer, David Smith, and with Pinchot Institute Senior Fellow Peter Pinchot, to create a community forestry enterprise. The goals set by the community members were to conserve the forests that were being lost to persistent illegal logging and conversion to agriculture, and to improve the standard of living of families living within the local watershed.

Twelve years later, EcoMadera has grown into a small, but rapidly growing forest products company. It manages forest plantations and native forests, manufactures wood products in a facility located in the community, markets them internationally, and provides full-time employment to 55 community members. This kind of success, relatively rare among community forestry projects in the tropics, is inspiring others to learn more about this approach and apply it in other locations in tropical forests. EcoMadera is now updating its community forestry business model to demonstrate how a project like this can have a greater impact on mitigating climate change.

Global Context
Debates about climate change focus largely on the role of coal, oil, and natural gas as the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions. However, over the last 150 years, forest exploitation and deforestation have been responsible for 30 to 40% of the human-generated carbon emissions contributing to global climate change. This trend is continuing, with tropical deforestation and forest degradation in Latin America, Africa, and Asia still producing roughly 15% of global annual carbon emissions. Temperate forests, having significantly recovered from forest loss in the 19th and early 20th century, are currently acting as carbon sinks, but are predicted to become carbon emitters as the climate continues to get warmer.1 These trends make it clear that reducing forest carbon emissions is essential to our ability to make the transition to a low-carbon economy and to return to a sustainable climate regime.
Forest Carbon Stocks and Emissions

An additional 50 years of tropical deforestation, without any further fossil fuel emissions, would put us close to a 2°C increase, the estimated threshold for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

In 2008, recognizing the need to develop an effective strategy to control tropical deforestation, the United Nations established a program for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). During the past six years, 51 tropical nations (including Ecuador, where EcoMadera operates) have partnered with the UN to develop national REDD strategies.

A key obstacle to putting REDD into practice has been the failure to create a global carbon market that can provide sufficient funding to support national programs to control deforestation. The UN estimates that it will cost $30 billion a year to reduce deforestation sufficiently to stay within the 2°C limit. In the absence of a global carbon market, no international consensus has emerged to provide this funding.

There are several factors that have to be addressed to reduce deforestation in developing countries: 
  • Unlike temperate forests, most native tropical forests are populated by rural communities who make their primary living from their land. 
  • Families in most tropical rural communities lack full legal rights to their land, which inhibits sustainable management. 
  • Over 80% of deforestation is caused by conversion of forests to agriculture. 
  • Tropical forests are very diverse, and there has been little research in silviculture, wood products, and markets for most species. Diverse native tropical forests typically have low timber value. 
  • If the economic opportunities from agriculture appear to be greater than what landowners can gain from managing native forests, they make a rational decision to convert their forests to agriculture.
Thus the key elements of reducing tropical deforestation include helping forest communities gain legal rights to their land and ensuring that they can gain equal or greater benefits from managing their forests sustainably than they can from agriculture. This strategy is the foundation for the UN REDD program and for the EcoMadera community enterprise.
Pinchot Institute forestry team with botanical samples in a study of 300 local tree species
While waiting for the emergence of REDD carbon markets, EcoMadera has focused on raising the value of community forests through sustainable forestry, on managing native forests and forest plantations, and on local manufacturing of valuable wood products. The Pinchot Institute has played a central role in the evolution of this enterprise, with major support from the MacArthur Foundation, Overbrook Foundation, and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and from USAID and private donors. These funds have supported basic studies that are the foundation of sustainable forestry, including conservation planning, taxonomy and silviculture of 300 tree species, low impact timber harvest, and design of innovative wood products that can utilize 60 to 80 largely unknown wood species in products that can drive value back to forest communities.

Low Carbon Economy, Green Markets, and Impact Investing
The dramatic growth of the green economy, focused on sustainability and on mobilizing “impact investing” —venture capital invested with a commitment to achieving social and environmental outcomes—provides important new opportunities for addressing both climate change and tropical deforestation. Exciting examples include: the California cap and trade program, which is creating the first formal carbon offset market for preventing tropical deforestation; the rise in global investment in renewable energy projects to nearly $300 billion annually; the rapid growth of energy-efficient, low-emission housing design and commercial construction; and growth of impact investment funds to nearly $1 trillion in capital. These trends create an unprecedented business opportunity for community forestry to scale up to the point where it can have a major impact on deforestation and carbon emissions—if we can help community forestry enterprises to access these markets.

For decades, the conservation community has supported community forestry projects through multilateral and private foundation funding, and many nations have developed policies friendly to community forestry. These actions have been necessary, but in many cases insufficient to slow deforestation. Why? Because deforestation is driven largely by the opportunity cost of agriculture and other non-forest uses. To reduce deforestation, communities have to connect their forests to markets which will provide returns to landowners that are economically competitive with the most valuable non-forest opportunity.

A countertop made of mixed-species hardwoods from the EcoMadera project.To become competitive, community forestry has two options: 1) accessing government incentives for conservation and 2) establishing a viable business enterprise that can drive value back to forests and their owners. Where opportunity costs are high (soy beans, cacao, African oil palm, and even cattle), conservation incentive programs cannot compete effectively with agriculture. Thus EcoMadera believes that, where the deforestation threat is high, the combination of a competitive business venture and government incentives is the most viable option.

EcoMadera has built its forest product business by accessing two of the green markets described earlier: global wind energy and the US green construction industry. First, we grow balsa tree plantations and manufacture balsa wood laminates which are transformed into the core material for industrial composites used in wind turbine blades. EcoMadera exports to balsa composite markets in Europe, the US, and China. The wind industry demand for balsa is growing rapidly, and EcoMadera is currently raising capital to expand its manufacturing capacity and to establish more balsa plantations.

Second, based on the Pinchot Institute’s program of R&D in forestry and wood products, EcoMadera is starting up a second business line in mixed-species hardwood products. Our first product is butcher block countertops. This product has grown out of EcoMadera’s “whole forest design” strategy, which is based on utilizing the harvestable species in the native forest in the relative abundance in which they can be sustainably harvested. We let good silviculture drive our product design, which then drives the maximum value possible back to the forest. The types of wood used will vary according to the mix of species in the latest timber harvest, with 6 to 8 species per countertop, and a balance of colors and textures. We are working with green architects, designers, and contractors to develop the most appealing species mixes, and we are negotiating a contract with a national distributor of countertops.
Maria Quezada, Plant Manager (2nd from right) with Shop Foreman Gema Basurto (far right) and balsa clients

The Value of Empowering Local Women as Leaders
EcoMadera’s manufacturing facility is run by three female employees from the local community. One manages the entire manufacturing facility, another is production foreman, and a third manages kiln drying—the most technically demanding skill set. Since these highly capable women assumed their new posts a year ago, the manufacturing process has been made more efficient, achieving a 25% increase in wood yield, and employee productivity has been dramatically improved.

New Partnerships— A Multiple Benefit Community Forestry Model
Despite the progress in establishing a viable community forestry enterprise, EcoMadera is still struggling to control deforestation elsewhere in the 125,000-acre watershed where it operates, settled by 500 colonist families in the late 1970s. Although EcoMadera has become a viable forest products business, until recently, we had not evolved an effective strategy for connecting the families to markets that can compete with agriculture.

In the past eight months, EcoMadera has developed a strong partnership with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment that will allow us to integrate government incentives into a comprehensive set of benefits to landowners. We have developed an memorandum of understanding between EcoMadera and the Ministry with the following conservation strategy: 
  • EcoMadera partners with the Ministry to help landowners gain legal land titles to land parcels, allowing them to access bank credit and participate in government incentive programs. 
  • We help families enter the Ministry’s Socio Bosque forest reserve incentive program, with annual payments to avoid all timber cutting and agriculture. 
  • EcoMadera establishes lease contracts with families to implement sustainable forestry on the rest of their native forest. The contracts are based on revenues from the sale of wood products such as countertops, sold in US green construction markets. 
  • We help families gain a forest plantation subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture by providing technical assistance and a contract to purchase the future timber (balsa and hardwood). 
  • We help families gain subsidies from the Ministry of Environment for forest restoration on abandoned agricultural lands.
Our business model estimates that, with these multiple sources, families can realize revenues of between $3,000 and $4,500 annually from their 125-acre parcels, which is close to the median Ecuadorian family income and equal or greater than revenues from cattle and most local agricultural crops.

EcoMadera is now expanding this multiple benefit conservation model, with continued strong support from the MacArthur Foundation, and more recently from the German development agency, GIZ. Just recently the Ministry of Environment has expanded its Socio Bosque incentive program to include all the elements of this model including sustainable forestry and forest restoration. The Ministry plans to work closely with EcoMadera to develop this strategy as a model for community forestry in Ecuador. EcoMadera also recently hosted a visit by the Rainforest Alliance and representatives of Quichua indigenous communities in the Amazon region of Ecuador, who want to partner with EcoMadera and develop a sustainable forestry program.

Based on this new landowner model and the expansion of the balsa laminate business and the start up of hardwood countertop manufacturing, EcoMadera is updating its business and market plan. We are also working with social investors to raise capital for continued expansion.

More information about EcoMadera and its developing business and market plan can be found at http://www.ecomaderaforest.com. We would greatly appreciate any comments or suggestions regarding this project.

Peter Pinchot is a Senior Fellow at the Pinchot Institute, and director of the EcoMadera project in Cristóbal Colón, Ecuador. He can be reached at peterpinchot@ecomaderaforest.com.

1 USDA Forest Service. 2012. Future of America’s Forest and Rangelands: Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-87. Washington, DC. 198 pp.
2 IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
3 Trumper, K., Bertzky, M., Dickson, B., van der Heijden, G., Jenkins, M., Manning, P. June 2009. The Natural Fix? The role of ecosystems in climate mitigation. A UNEP rapid response assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, UNEPWCMC, Cambridge, UK.
4 Verbist, B., Van Goidsenhoven, M., Dewulf, R., Muys, B. (2011). Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. KLIMOS working paper 3, KLIMOS, Leuven, Belgium.
5 A. Baccini et al (2012). Estimated carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation improved by carbondensity maps. Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/nclimate1354 Published online 29 January 2012
The Nature Conservancy’s Strategies for Climate Change
Chris Topik — Director, Restoring America’s Forests, North American Region, The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, working in 33 nations with a large and dedicated staff in the United States implementing a broad array of conservation work. Our mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. We are now focused on a new global framework that provides a discrete set of strategies to respond to global challenges we all face: conserving critical lands; securing fresh water; restoring our oceans, and reducing the impacts of climate change. As one of the largest private land owners in the United States our land stewards have the opportunity to pioneer many innovative land use practices to help maintain habitats, including forests, so our lands and waters can be more resilient to climate change stresses.

In the United States we remain concerned by the likelihood climate change will greatly impact nature, by changing normal stresses that help shape our natural communities, such as fire and disease. We recognize that long term forecasts suggest in a few decades we will see dramatic reductions in the ability of America’s forests to sequester carbon, so it is vital we figure out how to make forests adapt in order to keep forests as major carbon mitigation tool. Sample efforts in the United States include:
  • Our North America priority project, Restoring America’s Forests, includes 13 large forest restoration demonstration sites, sitting in 22 states that focus on federal forest management that fosters community engagement, science applications and collaboration to foster projects and planning that make forests more resilient in the face of disturbances and extreme natural processes, such as unnaturally extreme wildfires. Project areas include the Southern Blue Ridge area (TN, NC, SC), central and southern Oregon, the northern Sierra Nevada range (CA), the Colorado front range, Arkansas shortleaf pine and oak forests, and the longleaf pine in the southeast, among others.

  • Our leadership in the Fire Learning Network provides communities, local agencies, and various industry and conservation practitioners the tools to better understand and use beneficial fire to promote ecosystem resiliency that benefit the places where people live. We are co-leaders of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, which now has 17 pilot communities across the United States. These locally-driven partnerships are determining which combinations of tools are most effective in certain social and ecological contexts to best support an individual community’s efforts to become more fire adapted over time.
Firefighters on the Beaver Creek Fire USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
  • The Southwest Climate Change Initiative enhances science-management partnerships in the Four Corner states and focuses on managing for change while searching for ways to increase the pace and scale of conservation activities. We are working on innovative funding tools to support projects to enhance water security for large population centers that depend on healthy forests so they can resist damage from increased, unnaturally damaging wildfires.

  • Other efforts, such as in the Northeast, are providing resiliency analysis that identify focal regions that will best promote regional resilience to stress. This helps us prioritize projects that help manage essential core forests and linkages areas that will presumably foster species movement as climate change affects various species at differential rates.
The Nature Conservancy recognizes that climate change is affecting nearly everything we do and impacts all the aspects of nature. A substantial effort outside of the Unites States is focused on demonstrating low-carbon development models can be successfully implemented at a large scale, thereby enhancing the maintenance of forests vital as carbon sequestration engines.We are deeply engaged in these efforts to reduce deforestation and degradation in places such as in Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil. We also see that climate change is exacerbating disasters that can have tremendous, negative impacts on nature and society, so we help develop and advocate for green infrastructure solutions that can be economically efficient and reduce disaster risk to people, water, and wildlife.
Can a Federally-led Partnership Facilitate Regional Change?
Sarah Low — US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Philadelphia Field Station

The Delaware River Watershed, specifically Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania, Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, was made an Urban Waters Federal Partnership site in June 2011. In developing this Partnership the lead agencies for this site, the USDA Forest Service, NOAA, and Department of Interior National Park Service, decided to convene gatherings of federal agencies, community nonprofit organizations, and local agencies to find out from communities what the pressing issues and needs are. Several themes emerged across the four cities—brownfields, parks/trails/open space, habitat and river restoration, water quality and quantity, and climate resilience. The first four themes are easily connected to existing or possible projects, the kinds of projects that can be delineated on a map, funded, monitored, and completed, but climate resiliency projects are not as easy to identify.
Phoenix Park in Camden, NJ - Camden County Municipal Utility Authority
Connecting climate change projection models, studies, and reports to local action at the scale of a city or region can be challenging; however, it may be possible to use existing local efforts to create climate resiliency. In our meetings in Chester, Camden, Wilmington, and Philadelphia, we heard about work already happening that contributes to climate resiliency, such as the conversion of former industrial sites into parks. One site in particular is the future Phoenix Park located on the Delaware River in Camden and led by the Camden County Municipal Utility Authority. When the park is completed, it will infiltrate onsite stormwater, thereby reducing the runoff entering the Delaware River and reducing Camden’s impact to cities downstream, such as Chester and Wilmington. The site is currently devoid of vegetation but once the construction is completed, trees and other vegetation will be planted— at the very least reducing heat island effect.

Phoenix Park also brings together a variety of partners, including the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, a nonprofit that has been planning and monitoring living shorelines throughout the Estuary. A living shoreline will be created at Phoenix Park to reintroduce mussels, which may improve the water quality of the Delaware River for downstream communities that depend on the river for drinking water. If the conversion of one brownfield to a park can carry with it the potential for regional benefits, what could happen if brownfields throughout the watershed were converted to green space?

While climate resilience may not be the initial impetus for projects like Phoenix Park, it may be an important outcome. If projects like Phoenix Park were completed throughout the region in a way that compounds benefits at each site, perhaps a strategic approach to climate resilience could come from the act of gathering and sharing. For this reason, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership has been developing Communities of Practice that link Federal agencies with local and regional organizations and agencies.

Communities of Practice are not only valuable to their region, but they also offer lessons learned that can be shared with the network of 17 other Urban Waters Federal Partnership sites throughout the country. These Communities of Practice are intended to create real, sustained change that improves peoples’ lives by increasing access to information about existing resources and elevating regional knowledge through the sharing of lessons learned.
Climate Change and Conservation — A Fish and a Marsh
Noah Matson — Vice President for Landscape Conservation and Climate Adaptation, Defenders of Wildlife

Climate change is upending conservation. To illustrate, I will tell a story about a fish and a marsh. The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is a unique wildlife refuge—established as much to catalyze conservation throughout the Connecticut River watershed as to protect land. One of the Refuge’s establishing purposes was to restore imperiled Atlantic salmon to the river where they once swam.

There are many challenges with this conservation objective, but perhaps the biggest today is climate change. The Connecticut River is in the southern end of the historic range of Atlantic salmon, and this mighty river will become increasingly inhospitable for this cold water fish. The US Fish and Wildlife Service needs to evaluate its basic conservation purposes for this refuge in light of climate change.

“...no single individual, organization, or agency can practice conservation alone, and we need to work collectively, across large landscapes, in order to address extreme weather events, larger and more intense wild fires, and species on the move.”Further down the eastern seaboard, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland was created in 1933 to protect marshes important to migrating waterfowl and other species. Since establishment, a third of the refuge’s marshland areas have become open water as a result of a combination of influences, including the highly-erosive habits of the invading nutria (a wetland rodent) population; subsidence of the land, and sea level rise. In its now decade-old management plan, the refuge set out to restore the marsh to its historic conditions—a bold, expensive, and perhaps impossible task in light of the rising waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

But now the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with partners to strategically think through its conservation options given both the experienced and projected impacts of climate change. The refuge is beginning to look at not where the marshes used to be, but where they might be going to make sure the refuge continues to provide this important habitat type.

Five to ten years ago, in places like these we often saw managers wrestling with how to deal with the complex impacts of climate change on their own, and often within the context of their own boundaries and jurisdictions. Today that is changing.

Last year, the Obama administration released the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.1 This unprecedented strategy is the product of more than 20 federal and state agencies and tribal organizations making it the first national level intergovernmental climate adaptation plan. It provides a foundation for tackling the complex, large-scale issues of climate change. It recognizes that no single individual, organization, or agency can practice conservation alone, and that we need to work collectively, across large landscapes, in order to address extreme weather events, larger and more intense wild fires, and species on the move.

There are now increasing science and technical resources available for wildlife and land managers to tackle climate change. The USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and its associated regional climate science centers are now a $25 million a year venture providing applied adaptation-related science. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,USDA, and other federal and state programs have similar science- driven entities relevant to land and resource management.

The foundation has been laid for a more comprehensive and effective response to conservation in an era of climate change. It has taken over a century to build the conservation movement and institutions we have today, and it will take time to adjust to the new reality of an ever-changing climate. We can and we must adapt the way we do conservation if we are to succeed in passing along this world’s incredible biodiversity to the next generation.

1 National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Partnership. 2012. National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Council on Environmental Quality, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and US Fish and Wildlife Service. http://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/
Conservation in a Changing World
Peter Howell — Executive Vice President Conservation Capital Programs, Open Space Institute

Climate change poses vexing challenges for the land trust community. Chief among them is the issue of permanence. Land trusts like the Open Space Institute are primarily focused on permanent protection, through the purchase of land and easements. But given climate change, which lands should we protect? And how can we be assured that the lands we protect today will harbor or attract biodiversity tomorrow? How can we deliver on this larger concept of permanence?

...how can we be assured that the lands we protect today will harbor or attract biodiversity tomorrow?Of course, not every land trust is focused on conserving biodiversity. Many trusts protect lands for recreation, their aesthetic value, or for water quality and quantity. But as the climate warms, there is increasing pressure on land trusts to demonstrate that their work is relevant to climate adaptation-of both wildlife and humans—and thus is addressing the major issue of our time.

The good news is that advances in science are illustrating the important role for land protection in facilitating wildlife adaptation to climate change. With support from various foundations and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Landscape Conservation Cooperative,my organization is wrestling with understanding and translating a range of cutting edge climate science that can help land trusts determine which are the most important places to protect and why.

There is no shortage of information available about climate change. Various organizations, including The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation, have released helpful guides on how to understand and facilitate climate-smart climate adaptation. It’s the subject of many sessions at land trust gatherings, and few land trust practitioners can afford to ignore the evolving science about climate change.

New research on terrestrial resilience developed by The Nature Conservancy is helping to identify places where natural communities will thrive well into the future. The idea is to protect those places most likely to harbor a wide variety of natural communities even though the composition and location of those communities will most likely change in ways we cannot predict. In a nutshell, resilience boils down to three things: complexity, connectedness, and geology. The more “complex” a landscape—the more slopes, valleys, cliffs it has—the more species can adapt when change occurs. The more “connected” a landscape—the fewer the roads, buildings, etc.—the more species can move around and access these complex features. Geology plays a critical role, as different geologies and soils support different kinds of plants and animals. Protecting a range of geology types is critical to maintaining the full suite of biodiversity. Indeed, as a community, we have protected a lot of mountain peaks and coastal landscapes.We now need to do a better job of protecting, for example, lower level mountains, limestone valleys, and silt flood plains that could be crucial to facilitating wildlife adaptation to climate change.

With funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Open Space Institute is testing the application of this science by providing capital grants to land trusts to protect resilient landscapes in four focus areas of the east, and providing smaller grants to incorporate the science into conservation plans and guide public and private funders. It’s a grand experiment that both requires a new way of thinking about “place” and very practical ground-truthing to make sure the science makes sense.

This approach—focusing on the enduring features of the land— provides a complement to the more species-based approach that underlies traditional vulnerability assessments. The latter are used frequently to identify how changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to affect the distribution of species across the landscapes. While predicting such changes can be problematic and the focus on species movements may obscure what’s enduring about certain places, such assessments are an important piece of the puzzle.With the support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, we’re hoping to utilize these and other science and data to provide decision-makers with the information they need to make better choices about conservation on the ground.

In the end, to paraphrase hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s comment about skating and the puck, we will measure our success by whether we can help land trusts to protect the lands where biodiversity will be, not just where it has been.
Adapting Conservation to Climate Change: Perspectives from the Field
Will Price

As governments, businesses, and conservation organizations debate what can be done to decelerate emissions of greenhouse gases, they are already mobilizing to deal with the repercussions.More and more, strategies to conserve biodiversity and sustain ecosystem functions take into consideration how conditions and disturbance regimes will change going forward, thinking about where flora and fauna will need to move, or how to identify and secure places that have always proven to harbor biodiversity.

In the last few years a number of studies have begun to paint a picture of how ecosystems of North America will be affected by shifting seasons: more droughts in some places and floods in others, higher tides, bigger storms, and many other possibilities. However, climate models are still hard to interpret at the scale at which we must make conservation decisions and investments. Some changes at this point seem certain (like the rising seas) or are already being observed (average annual temperatures). Other changes are harder to predict, in many cases because they rely on complex climatic interactions that do not yet downscale reliably to specific regions—especially when the variable of interest is inherently dynamic (e.g. intensity of storm events). Yet despite these uncertainties many organizations are finding ways to take actions that are needed to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Sunset near Alexandria, LA - USDA NRCS
For our part, the Pinchot Institute seeks to further the dialogue and move new thinking to the ground where it is needed. Last year the Institute hosted a major national symposium on “Conservation in the Anthropocene” inviting scientists and land managers to share their thinking on how conservation must evolve during this new epoch.1 We are also working with organizations in various parts of the country to identify adaptive conservation strategies and help grow the capacity and expertise to facilitate their implementation.2

Among the most influential organizations working on this challenge in North America are the Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the US Forest Service, though many others are doing similar thinking and adapting their strategies and actions to a new world. What follows are a few vignettes on how these organizations are coping with the challenges of climate change in the field.

Conservation in a Changing World by Peter Howell, Executive Vice President Conservation Capital Programs, Open Space Institute

Climate Change and Conservation - A Fish and a Marsh by Noah Matson, Vice President for Landscape Conservation and Climate Adaptation, Defenders of Wildlife

Can a Federally-led Partnership Facilitate Regional Change? by Sarah Low, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Philadelphia Field Station

The Nature Conservancy's Strategies for Climate Change by Chris Topik, Director, Restoring America's Forests, North American Region, The Nature Conservancy

Will Price is Director of Conservation Programs at the Pinchot Institute in Princeton, NJ.

1 Sample, V. Alaric. 2012. “Redefining Forest Conservation in the Anthropocene.” Pinchot Letter 16.4 http://www.pinchot.org/doc/420

2 Beecher, Susan. 2014. “Adapting to a Changing Climate: Risks & Opportunities for the Upper Delaware River Region.” http://www.pinchot.org/doc/499
Getting What We Pay for: Payments for Wildlife and Biodiversity Outcomes Under Farm Bill Programs
Susan Culliney and Sara Vickerman

The recently passed 2014 Farm Bill refined the conservation programs that reward farm and forestland owners for conservation practices. Although the funding pie is smaller, the present need for such programs is greater. The nation faces ongoing challenges that threaten to not only degrade wildlife habitat and water resources, but also diminish the amount of land in forests. Climate change will also introduce challenges, placing water resources and wildlife in jeopardy and in some cases reducing the efficacy of certain conservation practices. In these uncertain times, innovation and efficiency are paramount to achieve desired outcomes with taxpayer investments in conservation. One of the innovations that could potentially optimize the federal investments in farm and forestland conservation is beginning to experiment with “outcome- based” incentives over “practice- based” incentives; if successful this approach could be expanded. Performance-based approaches are not new and the idea is simple: pay landowners (also known as “producers”) for the ecological conditions they create, rather than the practices they follow. In the era of fiscal austerity, such a reform would likely have broad political appeal.

A Novel Innovation for Public Conservation Programs
Many existing Farm Bill programs that pay for ecological benefits do so by rewarding landowners for implementing or adhering to a specific set of practices known, or assumed, to result in biodiversity or wildlife conservation benefits. In a practices program, a producer needs only to follow the pre-determined set of steps. Landowners are paid for successfully implementing these steps and not based on an assessment of whether the steps produced the outcome for which the practice was designed. For example, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service pays landowners to plant trees by streams in order to reduce erosion, stabilize streambanks, filter nutrient runoff, and improve water quality—all being benefits long-proven to result from these kinds of projects. Some projects perform exactly as hoped, but not always to the same degree, even when the prescription is strictly adhered to. Still, simplification by prescription has helped deploy practices across the countryside at large scale.

USDA NRCSSome existing practices work well at achieving environmental outcomes. For example, restoring riparian vegetation is a common practice that results in a variety of benefits to fish and wildlife, water quality, and to people more directly by providing aesthetic and recreational values. Other practices do not work well at achieving environmental outcomes. For example, riparian plantings can go awry when such practices are required in an area where trees do not naturally occur. A program that pays for this practice expends resources without achieving meaningful ecological results, and could inadvertently cause harm.

Rewarding the actual result instead of the intended result can mean greater accountability for dollars invested. Overall, there is a reciprocal relationship between the certain but rigid approach of using practices and the flexible but necessarily indefinite and risky approach of using outcomes and performance measurement to target conservation programs and to guide the design and implementation of individual conservation projects. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, the US Department of Agriculture may have the administrative flexibility to incorporate biodiversity and wildlife outcomes into its existing practices-based programs, even if only on a limited or experimental basis to begin with. Paying landowners for outcomes, in addition to paying for practices, could result in a greater return for our public investment in Farm Bill conservation programs in the form of greater achievement of biodiversity and wildlife goals.

The idea of reframing public investment in conservation towards outcomes requires clear and practical outcomes and measurements. In such an approach, a payable outcome could be a single indication of habitat quality,1 such as the presence of beaver dams; multiple species and habitat characteristics that represent biodiversity collectively;2 or, the outcome measurement could be presented as a tiered system3 or index,4 such as ecological integrity assessments, into which land parcels are placed according to various criteria. There is a tradeoff when selecting payable outcomes, between constructing the perfect detailed system (which is costly and narrowly focused, but perhaps easier to recognize) and general outcomes (which are less costly and have a wider focus, but may prove unwieldy for monitoring and payment purposes).

The payment structure should incentivize overall production of tangible outcomes and delivery of ecological benefits. A program aiming to pay for ecological benefits should reward actions that enhance benefits (also known as net gain or ecological lift), as well as actions that maintain lands with existing value (no net loss), and lands that have been restored to provide improved habitat. By strategically coordinating with other sources of conservation support in a given area, Farm Bill programs will enhance their potential for achieving specific outcomes and reaching broader conservation goals. An overall goal in transitioning toward an outcome-based orientation is to reframe public conservation investment to be more strategic rather than opportunistic.

Evaluating the Tradeoffs: Performance-based vs. Practice-based
There are tradeoffs to favoring either practices or outcomes.5 Outcomes are theoretically more accurate than practices in achieving an environmental goal because the payment is tied as closely as possible to the achievement of the goal itself. Also, the producers themselves will calibrate a project to better suit local conditions, applying their own knowledge to tailor practices to the site, using information only they have. In a similar fashion producers might locate projects in places that have inherently greater ecological value, as these will yield a higher payment. The tradeoff of course is that often high site productivity is as valuable to crops as wildlife, but the farmer or forester would have to make this decision. Conversely, practice-based approaches in many cases allow the landowner to use poorer quality land.

For conservation organizations, orienting conservation programs towards outcomes may present opportunities to work more closely with landowners to experiment with the methods to best achieve the stipulated outcome. Overall, an outcomes-based approach places greater responsibility with the producer, as opposed to treating the producer as an implementation instrument, while conveying more flexibility and autonomy to farmers and forestland owners.

Andrea Westmoreland CC BY-SA 2.0As is often the case, greater responsibility or autonomy means greater risk. A producer will sacrifice the certainty of practice payments, but have more flexibility to consider their options and diversify their land’s “products” into environmental goods as well as traditional crops. A major challenge to the outcomes-driven approach is that outcomes link an individual landowner’s management actions to ecological benefits that may only be realized or be detectible over longer time frames or broader scales. Outcomes may also be overly broad and difficult to explain or costly to measure; payments for practices are generally simpler and easier to conceive.

This article does not call for the complete abandonment of practices-based programs. Instead, it is important to recognize that outcomes and practices nurture a close, and at times nearly inextricable, relationship. Measuring the outcome in some capacity, whether overt or unacknowledged, is a critical part of developing a standardized practice. Where a practice successfully achieves a conservation objective, the success arises because the practice leads to the outcome it originally was designed to achieve, even when the desired outcome may have not been clearly stated in a USDA practice description. Where a practice does not achieve the desired conservation goal, the connection to the outcome has failed, and the practice requires further refinement. For example, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, improvement of riparian forest buffer practices took place when better science on the outcomes of practices adjusted standards for buffer width. Where a practice consistently achieves a result, such practices may come very close to being perceived as an outcome itself. For example, the practice of flooding agricultural fields may turn into an outcome, the presence of flooded fields, that itself represents the biodiversity and hydrological integrity of a functioning wetland ecosystem. A narrower but more specific outcome could be presence of waterfowl or shorebirds at the flooded field.

The close relationship between practices and outcomes suggests that well-structured conservation programs can benefit from integrating each approach to a certain degree. Practices that refine their methods within the context of a conceptual outcome are more likely to deliver ecological benefits than practices operating without such guidance. A program that pays for straightforward practices, but uses a conceptual outcome to guide those practices, with an added bonus payment for measurable outcomes attained through implementation could be a practicable solution that results in greater assurance in achieving ecological results. Paying a bonus for tangible outcomes allows creativity and experimentation to flourish, and provides greater incentive to holistically incorporate ecological benefits into farm or land production, rather than relegating conservation values to the fringes of the economic venture. Phasing in an outcomes approach to an existing practices program can result in innovation without abandoning the administrative and financial security of practice payments.

Introducing this New Approach to Conservation Investment
Ideally a carefully selected tangible outcome guiding the implementation of a conservation practice plays a major role in supporting the ecological integrity of its ecosystem. Selection of outcomes to adapt conservation programs can readily borrow from conservation planning which directly links overall ecosystem integrity to local conservation objectives. Refined outcome-based conservation programs could be tiered towards achieving the fish and wildlife conservation goals explicitly articulated in regional or national level conservation frameworks, such as State Wildlife Action Plans, State Forest Resource Assessments and Strategies, and other eco-regional plans. To the extent that these documents represent some level of agreement concerning conservation goals, they add value to Farm Bill programs by providing important ecological and social context. Significant resources were directed towards these conservation plans over the last decade and it makes good sense to consider how the conceptual outcomes articulated in such planning documents can be used to steer, and where necessary refine landowner assistance programs. Ideally, both broad goals and specific local outcomes would be re-evaluated periodically to track effectiveness.

The current USDA payment programs authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill should be evaluated to determine whether there is flexibility in their implementation to have a greater focus on outcomes. Applications to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program can be prioritized if they include an outcomes-based approach,6 or if they demonstrate the participation of multiple landowners in the region.7 The Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program are covered programs under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program,8 thereby nesting smaller scale projects within a larger scale approach that could have a greater ecological benefit across the landscape. The three covered programs focus on practices,9 but the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program offer additional funding for experimental pilot projects via the Conservation Innovations Grants and other programs,10 which could conceivably experiment with using outcomes-based payment approaches. Though rulemaking will be needed to clarify some of the relationships between the programs and how bonus payments for outcomes might work, the prospect of using outcomes is clearly expressed in the Regional Program, with favorable language in the covered programs.

By paying bonuses for outcomes or for regional conservation, the 2014 Farm Bill is poised to introduce outcomes as a feasible method for rewarding conservation activities, and could ultimately bring enhanced guidance and effectiveness to ecological benefit payment programs. Refining the focus of Farm Bill programs toward environmental outcomes offers a way to connect payments to tangible results on the ground. Early iterations of outcomes-based payments will in all likelihood be imperfect, however, and phasing in outcomes to payments under the Farm Bill should therefore be a gradual and collaborative process.

Susan Culliney is an Ecosystem Service Specialist at The Willamette Partnership in Portland, OR. She was awarded a JD with a certificate in environmental law by Lewis & Clark Law School in May 2014. Sara Vickerman is Senior Director, Biodiversity Partnerships at Defenders of Wildlife in Portland, OR.

This article is modified from a white paper written for Defenders of Wildlife. The Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation generously provided funding for the project. The following individuals gave valuable feedback used to improve this paper and offered helpful examples of outcomes in the field: Sam Baraso, Drew Bennett, Bobby Cochran, Sally Duncan, Shauna Ginger, Nancy Gloman, Damon Hess, Kassandra Kelly, Brian Kittler, Esther Lev, Laurie Macdonald, Nicole Maness, Noah Matson, Sara O’Brien, Emily Pindilli, Will Price, Carrie Sanneman, and Bruce Taylor.

1 See e.g., Astrid Zabel and Karin Holm- Muller, Conservation Performance Payments for Carnivore Conservation in Sweden, 22 Conservation Biology 247 (2008).

2 See e.g., Burghard Wittig, Anne Richter gen. Kemmermann, and Dietmar Zacharias, An indicator species approach for result-oriented subsidies of ecological services in grasslands - A study in Northwestern Germany, 133 Biological Conservation 186-197 (2006).

3 See e.g., Sebastian Klimek, Anne Richter gen. Kemmermann, Horst-Henning Steinmann, Jan Freese, and Johannes Isselstein, Rewarding farmers for delivering vascular plant diversity in managed grasslands: A transdisciplinary case-study approach, 141 Biological Conservation 2888-2897 (2008).

4 See e.g., Astrid Zabel & Brian Roe, Optimal design of pro-conservation incentives, 69 Ecological Economics 126-134, at 131, table 2 (2009); Butler, S.J., L. Boccaccio, R.D. Gregory, P. Vorisek, and K. Norris, Quantifying the impact of land-use change to European farmland bird populations, 137 Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 348-357 (2010).

5 See also generally, Rob J.F. Burton and G. Schwarz, Result-oriented agri-environmental schemes in Europe and their potential for promoting behavioral change, 30 Land Use Policy 628-641 (2013).

6 See Agricultural Act of 2014, 113 Pub L. 79 (hereinafter “2014 Farm Bill”), Sec. 1271B(d)(4)(E).

7 2014 Farm Bill, Sec. 1271B(d)(4)(B).

8 See 2014 Farm Bill, Sec. 1271A(1)(B)-(D) (defining “covered program” as including Stewardship Program, Incentives Program, and Forests Program); Sec. 1271B(d)(3)(C) (requiring an application to the Regional Program to include an indication of which covered programs will be used).

9 7 C.F.R. § 1470.24(a);16 U.S.C. § 3839aa(3)(B), 2014 Farm Bill, Sec. 2201(1)(C); 16 U.S.C. § 3839aa-2(f); 2014 Farm Bill, Sec. 2203(4); 16 U.S.C. § 3839aa-2(g); 2014 Farm Bill, Sec. 2203(5); 7 C.F.R. § 625.9(b)(4); 16 U.S.C. § 6573(b).

10 7 C.F.R. § 1470.24(c); 16 U.S.C. § 3839aa-8(a)(2)(E)-(F); 2014 Farm Bill, Sec. 2207(1)(C).
Forest Bioenergy and Biodiversity: Commitment to Sustainable Sourcing
Brian Kittler

The US EPA recently proposed a regulatory framework to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from domestic power plants. Critics and supporters alike recognize that this move, as precedent setting as it is for the world’s second largest emitter, will do little to curtail the damaging effects of climate change unless similar actions are taken by other nations across the globe. Recent studies suggest that the effects of climate change are appearing faster than previously expected, and that even reducing global GHG emissions 50 percent by 20501 may still not prevent some of the more dangerous impacts of climate change (IEA, 2010).

The role of forests and forest-based bioenergy in climate change mitigation strategies is an intensely debated topic. Wood bioenergy plays a significant role in the national energy strategies of many European nations, and these net biomass importers are looking to North America for their biomass supply. Additionally, pending action by the US EPA relating to the carbon accounting of bioenergy2 could result in increased domestic use of biomass for energy. Mixed into the debate over the climate change mitigation benefits of forest bioenergy is the multitude of other values that forests represent, especially the conservation of native plant and animal species. People are concerned about the effects of increased demand for wood for energy on wildlife habitat and biodiversity at both the local and landscape level.

Increased Demand for Biomass: Potential for Additional Pressures on Conservation
The majority of activity in the US bioenergy sector is developing in the Southeast, which is also the most biologically diverse region of the country. The high net primary productivity of the region results in high biodiversity and also high forest productivity, making the US South the largest producer of wood and fiber in the world. The forests of the Southeast are also among the most dynamic in the US, with forest cover increasing in areas being retired from agriculture, but being lost in other areas of rapid economic development and suburban expansion. Likewise, the presence of strong forest product markets—as represented by areas harvested and regrown—can be seen in the image below from a recent study of global forest trends (Hansen, 2013).
Forest gain and loss in the US South represented in purple vs. outright forest loss represented by areas in red and outright forest gain in areas in blue and areas of consistent forest cover in green

Demand for wood and fiber has resulted in private investments that have increased tree cover in the region over the past several decades. The USDA Forest Service estimates that the region could support even higher levels of timber production, up to a 40 percent increase over 2006–2007 levels (Wear & Greis, 2013). Where would such an increase come from? There are nearly 40 million acres of intensively managed pine plantations in the region, most of which are located in the coastal plain, with some also in the Piedmont region. Most of these plantations are on land previously deforested for agriculture, and subsequently replanted to forest by private landowners anticipating a higher return than from agriculture. The growth in new plantation acreage has leveled off in most places, but the USDA Forest Service projects that plantations could increase by as much as 27 million acres by 2050 depending on future market demand (Wear & Greis, 2013). While the future interaction of various land uses and markets is difficult to predict, such an increase in plantation acreage could be expected to come at the expense of mixed hardwood and longleaf pine forests. These forests provide habitat for species and ecological communities not typically found in single-species forest plantations. Wood biomass demand, coupled with existing demand for wood and fiber, add to the concerns over habitat protection.

The Prothonotary Warbler lives and breeds in the bottomland hardwood forests of the Southeast. They nest in cavities, like in this Cypress tree.But there are other forces at work in the South’s forests that may have a far greater impact on biodiversity and wildlife habitat. By 2060, as much as 23 million acres of forest in the South could be lost to urbanization as the region continues to grow (Wear & Greis, 2013). A relatively small proportion of the South’s forests are subject to conservation easements, or are in some other status that would protect them from development. The greatest loss is expected to occur in areas where forest product markets are weak and development pressures are strong. The economic values associated with the South’s forests may be a critical factor in keeping private lands as forest, and maintaining the conservation values provided by a mosaic of native and plantation forests, in a variety of ages and successional stages.

Sustainable Sourcing: New Territory for the Wood Bioenergy Industry
The number of wood bioenergy facilities in the Southeast continues to increase, in response to demand from both domestic and international markets. While much of their wood biomass supply still comes from plantation thinnings and wood waste, the continued expansion of this industry will begin to significantly increase overall wood demand in the region. The existing forest industry in the Southeast has devoted significant time and resources to understanding environmental concerns, and designing sustainable sourcing and supply chain certification programs to ensure that their operations remain compatible with protecting the region’s conservation values. The wood bioenergy industry now shares this responsibility.

Considering how rapidly the wood bioenergy industry is expanding through the construction of entirely new facilities, it is important to recognize that this responsibility begins before a proposed facility is even built. This involves accessing ecological data from state Natural Heritage programs and other sources to become informed about rare, threatened, and endangered species and ecological communities occurring within their projected supply areas. It also involves a genuine and ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders so that important concerns are understood, internalized, and effectively addressed. As leaders from throughout the US forest industry can attest, siting new facilities depends not just on regulatory permits, but also on earning the “social license” to operate.

Given the forest land ownership patterns in much of the South, a large wood bioenergy facility will be supplied from hundreds of privately-owned forest tracts, so a sustainable sourcing program will involve working proactively with landowners to promote the conservation of ecological resources. Private forest landowners, especially family woodland owners, consistently mention a desire to conserve and enhance wildlife The threatened Louisiana black bear relies on bottomland hardwood forests in the Southeast for survival. Fewer than 1200 are estimated to remain.habitat and biodiversity as one of their objectives in managing their forests sustainably (Butler 2008). However, a large proportion of these private landowners do not have a forest management plan to assist them in managing for these objectives, often because of the cost of consulting services needed to develop such a plan. The traditional forest products industry has played an important role in providing outreach, education, and services to forest landowners, through tree farm certification and other landowner assistance programs (Ellefson, 2004). The wood bioenergy industry must be similarly proactive in engaging forest landowners and the conservation community in a manner that reflects the complexity of conservation issues in the South.

If current trends in renewable energy development continue, wood bioenergy companies will invest billions of dollars in new plants and equipment in the South. To be economically viable, these companies will also need to invest in the sustainable management of the region’s forests. Regional biomass harvesting standards, best-management- practices guidelines, and existing certification programs will all be useful in informing this process. But it will be important for wood bioenergy companies to make their own public commitments to sustainable sourcing programs that recognize the important conservation values of the region’s forests, that specify the standards under which their facilities will and will not accept wood biomass from suppliers, and that verify compliance with these standards at every point in their supply chain.

The new EPA-proposed rules for reducing carbon emissions from power plants, and the rules for carbon accounting under the Clean Air Act expected later this year, will sharply focus the public policy debate over the role that wood bioenergy will play in US energy policy and in international markets for wood biomass for energy. Whether that role will be large or small, it will be important for wood bioenergy companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability through credible, verifiable programs providing public assurance that the conservation values of the region’s forests are well understood and adequately protected.

Brian Kittler is the Director of the Pinchot Institute Western Regional Office in Portland, OR.
Transatlantic Trade in Wood for Energy

1 This recommended target established by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to reduce net global GHG emissions 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2000 levels.
2 See http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/biogenic-emissions.html.

Butler, Brett J. 2008. Family Forest Owners of the United States, 2006. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-27. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 72 p.

Ellefson, P. K. 2004. Regulation of Forestry Practices on Private Land in the United States: Assessment of State Agency Responsibilities and Program Effectiveness. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota, Department of Forest Resources, College of Natural Resources and Agricultural Experiment Station.

Hansen, M. P. 2013. High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change. Science, 342(6160), 850–853.

IEA 2010. International Energy Agency: 2010 Energy Technology Perspectives Scenarios & Strategies to 2050. Paris, France: IEA.

Wear, David N.; Greis, John G., eds. 2013. The Southern Forest Futures Project: technical report. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-GTR-178. Asheville, NC: USDA-Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 542 p.
Biodiversity Conservation and Wildlife Management in the Anthropocene
R. Patrick Bixler

Reconsidering Strategies of the Anthropocene
In the Anthropocene epoch, “The Age of Man,” everything on earth is influenced by human actions, either by direct contact such as clearing forests for agriculture or indirectly through climate change or other global system effects. We’ve been thinking, talking, and writing a lot about the Anthropocene at the Pinchot Institute lately because in this new era of planetary change we are being forced to reconsider the contours of forest conservation and management. This includes a new role for humankind: from a species that had to adapt to changes in their natural environment to one that must be a steward of other species as we drive global change. Anthropocene stewardship, now that has an interesting ring to it. But what guides this thinking?

The Gambel's quail is particularly resilient to desert and drought conditions, adapting its food choices to the variabilityRecently, at a Resilience Alliance1 conference in Montpellier, France, C.S. (Buzz) Holling2 was reflecting on his early field studies and his search for an empirical basis to his theory of resilience. He recalled moments and months of uncertain anticipation as he watched, and waited. His manuscript, “Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems,” was already written (Holling 1973) and the postage paid, just waiting for validation before he mailed it off to the editors. Finally, the evidence he was waiting for came and resilience theory was born. Soon after publication, hundreds and then thousands of other researchers studying other systems provided further evidence to support the theoretical model of ecosystem resilience and regime shifts.

Interestingly, while Buzz was patiently waiting for the appropriate time to mail off his manuscript, the 93rd United States Congress was debating a landmark environmental law that would change the ways that public lands were managed for generations to come. In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act (Public Law 93–205). This act, as amended, recognizes threatened and endangered species of animals and plants, protects habitat of listed species from destruction by federal actions, specifies interagency cooperation, and requires preparation of recovery plans and monitoring of species awaiting listing and those recently recovered.

These two ideas—one from a unique blend of systems and ecological science and the other a crowning achievement of the environmental movement—coexisted at precisely the same time. Yet, these are two different ways of viewing the behavior of systems. On the one hand, individuals die, populations disappear, and species become extinct. It has been noted that the rate of species extinction in the Anthropocene will rival all previous mass extinctions, with as many of 30% of all species going extinct over the next four decades and 75% of mammals being extinct in 300 years (Barnowsky et al. 2011). On the other hand, it is not so much the presence or absence of species that matters, but rather the resiliency of a system to sustain a desired structure and function in the face of disturbance and ongoing evolution and change.

These two ideas, while not mutually exclusive, derive from different philosophies regarding nature. What does this mean for biodiversity conservation and wildlife management in the Anthropocene?

Great strides have been made both globally and domestically in biodiversity conservation and wildlife management since the passage of the Endangered Species Act just over 40 years ago. However, our understanding of what it means to “preserve” and “protect” species and habitat is undergoing a transition in this new epoch. Traditional wildlife and biodiversity conservation strategies have relied heavily on the establishment of reserves and other protected areas to conserve habitat, but as climate changes, optimal habitat zones are shifting to different places on the landscape.

This presents a challenge to biodiversity conservation and wildlife management because both plant and animal species are prompted to follow the climate-driven movement of the ecosystems and habitats in which they evolved (Hannah et al. 2002). As Sample (2014) summarizes in the introduction to Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene, ecological communities disassemble as species capable of migrating do so, and those that are not remain behind. Those that can migrate must traverse landscapes that in earlier epochs were not filled with highways, cities, farms, and other manifestations of a rapidly expanding human population that is relatively new on the geologic time scale. Designated parks, refuges, reserves, and other traditional approaches to protecting habitat are still important (Caro et al. 2011), but may be less effective when the species themselves are on the move (Kareiva et al. 2011). This is prompting biologists, resource management professionals, and policymakers to consider new approaches to conservation planning (Anderson and Ferree 2010), and strategies focused on large landscapes—vast areas that stretch from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon, or from the southern Appalachians to Labrador. These immense landscapes encompass cities, towns, and agricultural working lands, as well as a mosaic of public and private forests that are all managed for different purposes and objectives. For these landscape- scale conservation strategies to be environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable—and politically possible—new governance models must be developed to facilitate an unprecedented level of communication, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration (Bixler 2014; Kareiva et al. 2012).

Forest Conservation in the Anthropocene

Multi-stakeholder engagement across public and private boundaries is not only necessary, but increasingly seen as crucial to building resilience and protecting species. Local ecological knowledge must blend with science, and knowledge regarding wildlife and biodiversity must be connected to conservation action. My own understandings and reflections on wildlife management emerge from researching the conservation of mountain caribou in British Columbia and grizzly bears in Montana. These highly migratory and charismatic species illustrate well the complexities of biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene. In the following, I’ll draw on some of the contributions from our esteemed colleagues in “Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene” (Sample and Bixler 2014) and take these issues and ideas to the ground, so to speak, elaborating on my own engagement and research working with communities and wildlife management.

Conservation Theory and Policy in the Anthropocene

Wilderness, Protected Areas, and Landscape Conservation

As Tim Caro and his colleagues (2014) note, a protected area—“an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means”—can range from strict nature reserves to those that allow sustainable use of natural resources. From a biological standpoint, the effectiveness of protected areas as a conservation tool depends on their ability to incorporate biodiversity (e.g., Rodrigues et al. 2004) and to buffer plant and animal populations against anthropogenic forces (e.g., Bruner et al. 2001). Most appraisals generally suggest that protected areas are successful in their goal of biodiversity conservation when compared to areas with no formal protection. Nonetheless, plant and animal populations inside protected areas are not immune to anthropogenic forces and expanding, buffering, and connecting existing reserves may be very important.

Land use descriptions across large landscapes affect burrowing owl habitatGary Tabor, Anne Carlson, and Travis Belote (2014) describe this as large landscape conservation, a science-based response to increasing large-scale habitat fragmentation and degradation that advances the concepts of ecological integrity, ecological connectivity, and wildlife corridors. Large landscape conservation approaches have recently been embraced as a strategy to facilitate the adaptation of biodiversity to the impacts of climate change. In one sense, large landscape conservation is the evolution of the “beyond parks” conservation approach (Minteer and Miller 2011) in which species and ecological processes cannot be satisfactorily sustained within most circumscribed protected landscape parcels. Corridors and linkages that can connect habitat across several degrees of latitude are becoming critically important to facilitate the emigration of some plant and animal species and the immigration of others. However, this still leaves the question of whether something can be done to minimize the emigration of species from protected area reserves, and the dismantling of existing ecological communities. Some species within a given ecological community are able to use their mobility to migrate while others are left behind, thus disassembling existing communities of interdependent species (Schmitz and Trainor 2014).

At the same time, a region will experience the immigration of mobile species from elsewhere, developing species assemblages that may never have existed before. How to regard these “novel ecosystems” is a topic of considerable ongoing debate among conservation biologists. From one perspective, many of these novel ecosystems are highly biologically productive and may also exhibit a high level of species diversity, so they may represent a significant biodiversity resource in themselves. In any case, they are inevitable and will develop with or without biologists’ consent.

Anderson and Johnson (2014) illustrate another strategy, resilient sites, that defines biological and geological characteristics that can be resistant to the influence of climate change and hold their ecological communities intact. These sites tend to have highly specific characteristics of geology, soils, and topography. Identifying, mapping, and then protecting a sufficient number of these resilient sites across large landscapes can be an important component in a comprehensive, portfolio approach to biodiversity conservation and wildlife management in the Anthropocene.

Cross-Boundary and Multi-Stakeholder Conservation
There are significant additional challenges associated with actually implementing a cross-boundary conservation and management strategy on large landscapes, particularly when they are predominantly characterized by private ownership and comprised of many small tracts. These tracts are typically managed for objectives as diverse as the private owners themselves, who may or may not understand or share a commitment to biodiversity conservation. Large landscape conservation strategies can be applied to help achieve biodiversity conservation objectives in regions characterized by mixed public-private or predominantly private ownerships.

Joseph McCauley (2014) describes an innovative approach successfully pioneered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) on the Silvio O. Conte Engaging communities in biodiversity conservation can lead to effective and sustainable solutionsNational Fish and Wildlife Refuge following its designation by special legislation in 1991. Unlike traditional wildlife refuges at the time, the Silvio Conte encompassed large areas of land that were not directly owned or managed by the FWS—in fact, the entire 7.1 million acres in the Connecticut River watershed, across four states. The model was motivated by the understanding that the important wildlife and aquatic species in this watershed could never be adequately protected by the FWS working only on the agency’s small reserves. It is a model based on outreach to other landowners in the region, facilitating local meetings in which the FWS provided spatial information about key habitat they had mapped throughout the watershed, and about land management practices that could maintain or enhance these habitat values. Landowner actions were voluntary, not done as a matter of law or regulation, and a large number of landowners stepped forward to learn more about how they could protect habitat values that happened to occur on their land. Wildlife refuges in other regions have now adopted this watershed- based large landscape conservation model, and the concept is at the heart of the FWS strategy for wildlife and fish habitat conservation in response to climate change. As climate adaptation strategies such as the identification and mapping of ‘resilient sites’ are developed, especially in eastern regions of the US where forests are primarily in private ownership, outreach models such as that developed on the Silvio Conte Refuge could become critically important to translating the knowledge about where resilient sites are located to actually achieving their conservation and protection, through actions that can only be taken through communication, collaboration, and cooperation with the individuals who actually own the land.

Federal Policy Responses
Federal policy around wildlife management and biodiversity conservation has tuned in to these trends as well. In recent years within the US, various government-led large landscape responses have come to the fore. As Tabor et al. (2014) remark one of the more notable efforts was the 2008 Western Governors’ Association initiative on crucial wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors, initiated in response to large scale energy planning and development. All 17 western states within the Western Governors’ Association unanimously agreed on a shared policy framework to address the scale and scope of habitat and wildlife movement areas across their jurisdictions in the face of potential conflicts with planned development. This was a milestone event as states recognized the need to conserve their resources at a regional scale through interstate collaboration. Soon thereafter, in 2010, the US Department of the Interior embraced a new landscape partnership program, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, which designated 22 large scale cooperative landscape management areas across the nation and adjoining transboundary regions in Canada and Mexico as part of a department-wide coordinated adaptation response to climate change. At the same time, the All Lands Initiative and the US Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program were established to more effectively address conflicts in natural resource management planning and development at large scales.

The Blackfoot Challenge works to sustain landscapes and livelihoods in the Blackfoot Valley of MontanaMore specifically to the point of wildlife, as Mark Shaffer (2014) discusses, the federal government recently undertook a major initiative to develop the National Fish,Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (NFWPCAS 2012). In 2009 Congress requested that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) develop a national strategy to “...assist fish, wildlife, plants, and related ecological processes in becoming more resilient, adapting to, and surviving the impacts of climate change” (CEQ/USDOI 2009). As DOI’s wildlife bureau, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) took the lead in structuring a process to fulfill this request. Because of the complementary nature of US wildlife law, the FWS invited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and state wildlife agencies to co-lead the effort. Ultimately, a steering committee was formed that included representatives from 15 federal agencies, five state fish and wildlife agency directors, and leaders of two inter-tribal natural resource commissions.

The NFWPCAS is an unprecedented effort by all levels of government that have authority or responsibility for wildlife in the United States to work together collaboratively to identify what needs be done in the Anthropocene epoch. It was developed by teams of managers, researchers, and policy experts drawn from federal, state, and tribal agencies organized around major ecosystem types. The strategy identifies seven major goals that must be achieved to give wildlife the best chance of surviving the projected impacts of current and anticipated future climate change. Numerous strategies (23) and actions (100+) are identified that are essential for achieving these goals.

All of the seven major goals identified in the NFWPCAS are things that the wildlife management community already does (e.g., conserve habitat, manage species and habitats, enhance management capacity, etc.). What will be new, and what the NFWPCAS tries to illustrate, is that these things will need to be done in new ways, or in new places, or at new times, or in new combinations for conservation to be effective. Species stewardship in the Anthropocene must embrace four broad themes discussed in the NFWPCAS:
  • Be Inclusive and Collaborative. Climate change is so pervasive, and its impacts potentially so far-reaching, that no single agency, no single level of government, indeed no single sector will be able to mount an effective response on its own. All affected agencies and interests need to be at the table working collaboratively to be effective.
  • Think, Plan, and Act at the Right Scale. The days of believing that a single set of best management practices universally applied will automatically lead to a biologically functional landscape are over. Different agencies and organizations work at different scales. Entities that operate at the local scale need to do so in the context of the broader physical, biological, and institutional landscape of which they are a part. Entities that operate at the national or regional scale need to be mindful of the needs, realities, and differences of the many landscapes in which they operate.
  • Integrate Across Sectors. A corollary of being inclusive within the conservation sector is to also be inclusive of other sectors. Much of what governs the fate of wildlife is not the actions or inactions of the wildlife management community, but actions by other sectors that affect the natural world (e.g., agriculture, transportation, energy development, construction, etc.). Starting an adaptation planning process by including everyone and everything may be too large a burden for any one sector to bear, but as each sector develops a working understanding of its needs relative to adaptation, it needs to reach out to the other sectors relevant to its interests to identify commonalities, synergies, conflicts, and resolutions.
  • Engage, Communicate, and Act. The effects of climate change on species are beginning to be readily apparent. Because projections of future conditions and impacts come with great uncertainty it is tempting to wait until more is known and the models improved so there is less uncertainty before we act. Unfortunately, like many large systems, Earth’s climate has great inertia, and once change is entrained it will not be quickly or easily restrained. There is unequivocal evidence that the climate is changing, that the underlying cause is the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere resulting from human activity, and that there is no plausible institutional or policy framework in place to restrain additional GHG emissions which will increase the impacts on wildlife. Species are already responding; it is time for the wildlife management community to engage, communicate, and act on what we do know, even if the rates and patterns of change and the future status of species and communities remain uncertain.


Local Realities: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Redefining Problems, Transforming Practices, and Learning to Live with Grizzlies3

Cross-boundary collaboration means reaching across fence linesI’m in Ovando, Montana (population 71) about to enter Trixie’s Antler Saloon for an annual meeting of local ranchers. They spend a lot of time engaged in discussions of grizzly bears and wolves and the management and conservation of those once endangered species. By doing so, this local group has developed innovative solutions to complex challenges. I know these ranchers, but I’m always hesitant to start talking about landscape conservation, the Anthropocene, the Endangered Species Act, resilience, and the like. Especially over a beer at Trixie’s. The residents of this part of Montana, just south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, have known endangered species since long before the adoption of the eponymous act, and have learned to live with first the grizzly bear, and now wolves. When given opportunities, they’ve been incredibly innovative in their approaches to species stewardship.

Grizzly bears don’t recognize the human demarcated boundaries that we as societies have constructed. The political (counties, municipalities), administrative and managerial (USFS, BLM, NPS, etc.), and the institutional boundaries that shape our actions are not recognizable to a grizzly. They move across the landscape in search of suitable habitat in disregard of these boundaries. Interestingly though, by doing so, grizzly bears have served as a social catalyst for networks of actors to communicate with each other across these very same socially constructed boundaries. Here in the Blackfoot Valley of Montana, and beyond, grizzly bear conservation has connected local projects to a broader sense of the landscape. That is, local level action and habitat conservation is linked to landscape-scale science assessment and conservation planning.

In many ways, grizzly bears are the iconic North American species for ecological connectivity and connectivity conservation. Grizzlies have become the symbol of ecological connectivity and drivers of the push to think at the landscape scale (Bixler 2014). Grizzly bear habitat corridors that link ‘islands’ have been extensively mapped and are valuable and necessary conservation tools; scientists are increasingly looking to identify land that connects big wild areas, keeping in mind where species are expected to move and persist as the climate changes.

Grizzlies once roamed half of North America: from Alaska to Mexico, from California to Kansas, they hunted and foraged a landscape free of fences, highways, and men with guns. The native range of grizzly bears has contracted in the past century and a half because of human-caused mortality, habitat loss, and population fragmentation. In the lower 48 states, 98% of their range has been lost, and grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region have been isolated from northern populations for close to a century. A significant threat to grizzly bear population viability is anthropogenic mortality. One study tracked 388 radio-collared grizzly bears and found that people killed 77–85% of the 99 grizzly bears known or suspected to have died while radio-collared (Wilson et al. 2014). Half of those 99 grizzly bears were killed for being too close to human habitation (while the other half was permitted hunting and legal harvesting).

Often, private lands in valley bottoms and foothills adjacent to grizzly bear habitat on public lands are problematic zones, where conflicts or incidents include bears killing livestock, destroying beehives, foraging for garbage close to homes, or, in rare cases, threatening human safety (Wilson et al. 2014). Repeated incidents typically lead to more severe conflict, habituation, and eventually to removal of the bear through trapping, relocation, or killing.

As grizzly bears re-expand their range onto private lands (the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks suggests grizzly bear populations have grown at approximately 3 percent per year since population trend monitoring began in 2004), the chances for conflicts or incidents and anthropogenic mortality of grizzlies increase significantly. As discussed earlier, part of biodiversity conservation and wildlife management in the Anthropocene will require not only local stakeholder engagement, but also local innovations. This is precisely what happened in Ovando.

Grizzlies have become a symbol of ecological connectivity in North AmericaThe local community-based conservation group there, the Blackfoot Challenge, brought together the rural landowners, wildlife agencies, and conservation groups to determine exactly what the problem was and how best to address it. Through a series of meetings like the one I witnessed at Trixie’s, the Blackfoot Challenge sussed out as many definitions of the “problem” as there were bears in the area. As Wilson et al. (2014) reflect: some people felt that there were simply too many bears, some celebrated new grizzly bear activity, some defined the problem as primarily one of risk to human safety, and some linked the increased grizzly activity to an erosion of personal rights and freedoms exacerbated by the regulatory burdens of the Endangered Species Act.

Through a process of authentically engaging key stakeholders, which officially began in 2002, the Blackfoot Challenge implemented a participatory GIS program that mapped land use practices, bear attractants, and other relevant features and took that information back to the community to collectively re-frame the problem. Recognizing that the traditional practice of dumping dead livestock carcasses in “bone yards” was attracting bears onto ranches and driving much of the human-grizzly conflict, the Blackfoot Challenge started a carcass removal program. In the past three years, an average of 633 carcasses were removed annually, and the program now engages nearly 80 ranches covering more than 600,000 ha. In the Blackfoot watershed from 2003 to 2009, grizzly bear-human conflicts decreased 93 percent.

By clearly and accurately identifying the underlying problem, local people working with state and federal agencies found solutions. And by finding solutions, they are increasing their social connectivity across the landscape, helping other landowners in Alberta,Wyoming, and other places in Montana (Bixler and Taylor 2012), and now conservation practitioners are talking about it in the High Divide region around Salmon, Idaho.

Working Towards Integrating Science and Local Practices: The Challenge of Caribou Conservation4
Moving across the International Boundary of the 49th parallel, mountain caribou conservation in British Columbia helps highlight one of the key lessons learned from grizzly bear conservation in Montana: that species conservation and wildlife management in the Anthropocene must utilize local knowledge and community practices. Scientific understanding, while a critical ingredient, is no longer independently sufficient to solve these conservation challenges.

Mountain caribou conservation illustrates the social and ecological complexity of wildlife management in the AnthropoceneIn the upper Columbia River Basin, wedged between the Columbia and Kootenay Mountains, the population of mountain caribou (the arboreal lichen feeding ecotype of woodland caribou known scientifically as Rangifer tarandus caribou) has persistently declined in spite of a robust understanding of the species’ ecological dynamics. In fact, it is one of the most rigorously documented examples of the negative effect of anthropogenic disturbances on the dynamics of an endangered species. Since the early 1980s, more than 550 individual caribou have been captured and fitted with VHF telemetry or GPS collars (roughly one-third of the approximately 1600 remaining individuals), and through this research, recovery strategies have been developed based on habitat requirements for mountain caribou at multiple spatial scales. Recommendations usually involve protecting remaining suitable habitat from logging, implementing predator control (either lethal or nonlethal), as well as control of alternate prey species (achieved mostly by increasing hunting quotas). However, populations continue to decline not from lack of scientific understanding, but rather an inability to capture a broad range of stakeholders and human motivations for engaging in conservation.

In my time working with communities and groups there, I found that local stakeholders very often constructed a variety of competing narratives to explain the decline of mountain caribou. These narratives reflected the multifaceted nature of relationships between these people, the caribou and the landscape. Moreover, these local explanations illustrate the ways that people combine multiple types of expertise, such as technical information and personal experience. Developing conservation strategies that utilize both types of knowledge systems will be necessary in the Anthropocene.

We must develop and deploy multiple and intersecting conservation strategies in the Anthropocene, and providing the decision-making space for local communities to innovate policies and practices is a powerful venue to do so. This is evident in the Blackfoot, but other landscapes such as the upper Columbia, are ripe for similar locally driven solutions to large-scale biodiversity challenges.

The Future of Biodiversity Conservation and Wildlife Management in the Anthropocene

In many ways, I feel like Buzz Holling must have while he was waiting for his evidence of ecological system “tipping points.” While evidence is mounting, we seem to be waiting to officially send the manuscript off to publish “we are now in the Anthropocene.” It will be necessary to assess all aspects of forest conservation as we transition into this era, wildlife management and biodiversity conservation included. Thinking about biodiversity at a larger spatial scale (i.e. landscapes) can help ensure that the appropriate key species for ecosystem functioning are recruited to local systems after a disturbance or when environmental conditions change. However, as Tabor and his colleagues note, we shouldn’t “throw the Wilderness baby out with the Holocene bathwater.” Present protected areas are important and may be resilient sites that can increase the capacity for species to adapt to changes in the landscape. Current protected areas, however, should be complemented with dynamic reserves and an authentic engagement with stakeholders across a variety of scales, importantly including local communities who live and work in the landscape. Local stakeholders are going to be critical for sustainable conservation success over the long-term, and can drive innovation if we facilitate the appropriate blending of local and scientific knowledge and narrative building.

The Anthropocene presents to us an incredible opportunity to break down the boundary between human societies here, and nature over there. Embracing the responsibility of stewarding other species and managing wildlife is a perfect segue into dissolving this nature-culture divide. Hopefully, like Buzz Holling, soon after publication, hundreds and then thousands of other researchers studying other systems will be providing further evidence to rethink biodiversity conservation and wildlife management in the Anthropocene.

Patrick Bixler is a Research Fellow at the Pinchot Institute for Conservation in Washington, DC.

1 http://www.resalliance.org/
2 Crawford Stanley (Buzz) Holling, is an Emeritus Eminent Scholar and Professor in Ecological Sciences at the University of Florida. Holling was an early pioneer in blending systems thinking with ecology and introduced a number of important concepts, including resilience, the adaptive cycle, and panarchy.
3 This discussion is informed from research in the Blackfoot from 2010 and 2013, published as (1) Bixler and Taylor 2012, and (2) unpublished dissertation, Bixler 2014.
4 This discussion comes from “The Political Ecology of Local Environmental Narratives: Power, Knowledge, and Mountain Caribou Conservation.” Journal of Political Ecology, 20: 273-285. The article can be accessed at: http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_ 20/Bixler.pdf

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Sample, V.A. 2014 [forthcoming]. Introduction. In Sample, V. Alaric and R. Patrick Bixler (eds.). Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene. General Technical Report. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Schmitz, O. J.; Trainor, A.M. 2014 [forthcoming]. Adaptation approaches for conserving ecosystems services and biodiversity in dynamic landscapes caused by climate change. In Sample, V. Alaric and R. Patrick Bixler (eds.).

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Shaffer, M. 2014 [forthcoming]. Policy Challenges for Wildlife Management in a Changing Climate. In Sample, V. Alaric and R. Patrick Bixler (eds.). Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene. General Technical Report. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station.

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Takeaways from the UC-Berkeley Summit on Forest Science Education
By Joseph M. Smith, Managing Editor, The Forestry Source

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Forestry Program in the College of Natural Resources at the University of California–Berkeley. As part of its centennial celebration, the college hosted the North American Summit on Forest Science Education May 7–9. The three-day event brought together employers, students, and university faculty from the United States, Canada, and across the globe to produce recommendations on eight themes in forest science and forestry education.

Ultimately, summit organizers hope the recommendations will provide input to the forestry accreditation process, help guide the development of university curriculum, and be used to critically evaluate the role of education in forestland stewardship.

SAF director of science and education Carol Redelsheimer leads a working group discussion on the role of accreditation in forestry education.“There are a lot of serious challenges and issues, and we’ve brought you all here and given you a venue from which to produce some recommendations on forestry and forest science education—the direction it should take,” said Keith Gilless, dean of Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, during an address at the start of the summit. “Let’s figure out how to have a renaissance in the field, to produce students in larger numbers, with more diverse demographics that can think broadly and apply knowledge across disciplines and in a variety of cultural contexts. It’s a global environment—we have to figure out how our efforts play into that global environment and the political process.”

To produce those recommendations, summit attendees were divided into working groups focused on one of the eight themes—curricula (particularly the relationship among forestry, environmental science, and natural resources management); distance learning and new educational models; professional master’s programs; the role of professional accreditation; employment trends in forestry; forest science in US research universities; opportunities for international programs; and diversifying student demographics. The groups were tasked with developing suggestions and action items that could serve as the basis for ongoing discussions. [View the questions considered by the working groups and their recommendations here.]

The goal, said Gilless, was to produce a tangible product that would be of use to the forestry community at large.

“We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, and bring together some real thought leaders that represented the whole North American forestry scene, along with some input from outside the North American context, how would we structure it so that the discussion would have some legs?’ That was where we started thinking make it a working meeting; try and capture these thoughts in a form that would be useful to people in the community afterward,” he said. “Right from the onset, our real hope was to do something like a special issue of the Journal of Forestry, which would capture what were, in essence, white papers on the key issues.”

However, before the working groups were convened, attendees heard from Al Sample, president of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, and Maureen McDonough, professor of forest sociology and social forestry at Michigan State University, who presented the preliminary results of the institute’s 2014 draft survey, “The Promise and Performance of Forestry Education in the United States: Results of a Survey of Forestry Employers, Graduates, and Educators.”

A revision of the institute’s 1998 survey of forestry employers and graduates, which was undertaken to assess how well academic programs were preparing new professionals, the 2014 survey aimed to update and expand the forestry community’s understanding of the strength and weaknesses of current forestry education. It was distributed to a wider population than the 1998 survey (i.e., faculty members as well as employers and students), and included additional questions regarding diversity and new skills.

Among the take-home messages of the survey, said McDonough, is the importance of human dimensions skills in the workplace.

“Human dimensions and professional skills—our students aren’t getting trained in them. As Steve Bullard said, we’ve known that since 1914 and we keep talking about it, but we’re not doing anything about it,” she said. “The other thing for me is this whole diversity issue. If we’re really going to move forward, at some point we have to get out there and figure out why we’re not connecting with diverse populations.”

Sample cited the role the survey’s findings could play in helping educators develop the forestry programs of the future.

University of California–Berkeley College of Natural Resources dean Keith Gilless“There is a tendency for things like this to just look at a current snapshot. If you look at what the results of this are supposed to be, it’s supposed to be about reviewing and updating curricula and about training students with different competencies going forward, so it has to be much more future focused,” he said. “The comment made [during the question-and-answer session after his presentation] about talking to students when they’re thinking about going into a forestry program or when they’ve just entered is really good, because they are the ones who are really in tune with what they want to do, where the opportunities are in the field, and whether they’re in the environmental sciences, or more on the forestry or natural resources side of things. That’s going to be a much better guide to faculty as they think about [developing programs].”

Strategically placed in the summit’s agenda, the presentation of the Pinchot survey’s findings was to provide context for the working-group discussions, each of which had a unique set of questions (see page 5) to address. However, the next morning, when the discussion leaders presented their group’s recommendations, the interconnectedness of the eight themes became apparent. For example, the group focused on professional master’s degree programs discussed the implications and pros and cons of distance learning. The group focused on employment trends discussed the attributes that make forestry distinct from natural resources and other related disciplines. The group focused on international programs discussed the effects of curriculum requirements on opportunities for international study. And the group focused on forest science at research universities discussed the importance of collaborating with related disciplines whose work contributes to the field.

Carol Redelsheimer, SAF’s director of science and education and chair of the summit’s working group on accreditation, suggested that these linkages highlighted the need and willingness for collaboration within the forestry education community.

“It’s very encouraging to me to know that those linkages are there and that we can all work together to bring positive results,” she said. “People are very engaged and those linkages are real, and I think we’re doing a very good job of challenging ourselves to be honest in our assessment of what we’re doing.”

Others, such as Hal Salwasser, chair of the forest science in research institutions group, suggested that the interplay of these themes could help forestry better represent itself to the public.

“I think there is a terrific opportunity to begin rebranding what we’re up to by creating a new vocabulary and emphasizing the diversity of things that we do and that we aspire to do,” he said.

Although not a stated goal of the summit, it was clear that the idea of “rebranding” forestry, both as a way of attracting a greater number and more diverse population of students to the field, and to keep pace with society’s changing values, was in the air.
More than 50 people—employers, students, and university faculty from the United States, Canada, and across the globe—took part in the North American Summit on Forest Science Education at UC-Berkeley May 7–9.

“I think the discipline of forestry is up to figuring out how to stay relevant in a rapidly changing economic and social environment, or we wouldn’t have been willing to call a conference like this together,” said Gilless.

Berkeley forestry professor Kevin O’Hara—the man whom Gilless credited with the idea for the summit—agreed, saying that as society changes, so must forestry education.

“I think there is a sense of urgency, at least there should be a sense of urgency, that we need to act and adjust things, and to prepare ourselves for the future of forestry.  So, what I hope we get out of this are some recommendations for how to adjust curricula or how to organize forestry programs at universities, how to use distance learning. All these key questions are central to how we’re going to move forward.”

For more on the North American Summit on Forest Science Education, visit its website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/berkeleysummit.

This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of The Forestry Source, a newspaper published by the Society of American Foresters. It appears here with the editor’s permission.
Copyright 2014, The Society of American Foresters - www.eforester.org.

Climate, Energy, and Forests: The Need for a Comprehensive Strategy
by V. Alaric Sample

Biogas fermenter, wind turbine and photovoltaics on a farm in Germany. Credit Florian Gerlach (Nawaro), CC BY-SA 3.0On June 2, the US EPA released its long-awaited proposed federal regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The actual mechanisms by which these reductions are to be achieved are left to individual states to decide. California and states in the Northeast will move forward more assertively with their existing carbon cap-and-trade programs, and other states may join them. Some states may opt for a carbon tax. Most every state is likely to adopt President Obama’s unofficial national energy policy of an “all of the above” strategy in terms of shifts toward wind energy, solar power, biomass, natural gas, and other reduced-carbon energy sources.

Reflecting some of the key findings in the 2014 National Climate Assessment, EPA’s proposed rule notes specifically that “biomass-derived fuels can play an important role in CO2 emission reduction strategies,” perhaps offering a glimpse into the agency’s development of an accounting framework for biogenic carbon emissions, due later this year:

“The plant growth associated with producing many of the biomass-derived fuels can, to varying degrees for different biomass feedstocks, sequester carbon from the atmosphere. For example, America’s forests currently play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. As a result, broadly speaking, burning biomass-derived fuels for energy recovery can yield climate benefits as compared to burning conventional fossil fuels . . . Many states have recognized the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience and mitigation and have developed a variety of different sustainable forestry policies, renewable energy incentives and standards and greenhouse gas accounting procedures. Because of the positive attributes of certain biomass-derived fuels, the EPA also recognizes that biomass-derived fuels can play an important role in CO2 emission reduction strategies. We anticipate that states likely will consider biomass-derived fuels in energy production as a way to mitigate the CO2 emissions attributed to the energy sector and include them as part of their plans to meet the emission reduction requirements of this rule and we think it is important to define a clear path for states to do so.”
The conservation community has always been of two minds about the potential role of wood biomass in the nation’s future energy portfolio. Substituting renewable wood biomass energy for fossil fuels while maintaining the overall volume of carbon stored in forest ecosystems can help achieve significant net reductions in carbon emissions over time. In addition to helping reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, factoring biomass energy into existing sustainable forestry programs can help improve the resiliency of forest ecosystems to the effects of climate change. On private lands, expanding markets for thinned materials and wood waste helps improve the economics of forest conservation in the face of increasing development pressures. On public lands, markets for wood biomass could help offset at least some of the costs of forest restoration and hazardous fuels treatments urgently needed to reduce wildfire risks, or to enable forests to better withstand the increased vulnerability to insects and pathogens that comes with prolonged droughts and temperature stresses.

 On the other hand, there are concerns over “too much of a good thing”—new biomass energy facilities that, when added to existing forest industry and other sources of wood demand, begin having unacceptable impacts on wildlife habitat, biodiversity, water, and other essential values and environmental services provided by ecologically-intact forest ecosystems. Limiting the development of any new biomass energy capacity in the US is seen by some as the surest means of avoiding these potential impacts.

Since the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007, which established highly ambitious goals for “advanced biofuels” including cellulosic ethanol from wood, the Pinchot Institute has led a series of studies focused on ensuring forest sustainability as the use of wood for energy increases. These studies have carefully examined the implications of using wood biomass for electric power generation here in the US; they have also considered trends in Europe and other regions of the world that import large—and rapidly increasing—quantities of wood pellets derived from US forests. Almost monthly, there are announcements of new wood pellet manufacturing and export facilities to be constructed in the US, many of them with a capacity of 500,000 tons or more annually. Where these planned facilities are located—and where their wood comes from—will have important implications for local forest ecosystems and economies, as well the nation’s climate and energy strategy.

The Pinchot Institute remains committed to working with all interests in the development of sustainable sourcing programs that conserve and protect the nation’s forests, even as wood biomass plays an increasing role in climate and energy strategy. American and European interests are both approaching this from their own perspectives—and they are finding more common ground than anyone expected, as described in recent Pinchot Institute reports. Existing regional biomass harvesting guidelines, best management practices (BMPs), and various forest certification programs will all play a role in facilitating a better understanding by all parties for what is at stake, and coming to agreement on an achievable pathway to clearly defined objectives. Ultimately, everyone shares a common goal—improving environmental sustainability in all of its dimensions. This can be achieved only through an intelligent, comprehensive, and good-faith effort by the full range of stakeholders, each of them committed to finding solutions that address society’s parallel needs in mitigating climate change, shifting to renewable energy sources, and sustaining forests for all the other essential values and environmental services they provide.
Adapting to a Changing Climate: Risks & Opportunities for the Upper Delaware River Region
Climate Adaptation PlanIn 2012, the Model Forest Policy Program (MFPP), the Cumberland River Compact, Headwaters Economics, the Common Waters Partnership and the Pinchot Institute for Conservation came together to create a climate adaptation plan for the communities of the Upper Delaware River Region. Development of the plan came about because all parties, led by MFPP, recognized the critical need for local community resilience against the impacts of climate change by protecting forest and water resources. This climate adaptation plan for the Upper Delaware Region of southeastern New York, northeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey presents the results of a community team effort, deep and broad information gathering, critical analysis and thoughtful planning. The Common Waters Partnership and Pinchot Institute for Conservation shared the local leadership role to engage with the Climate Solutions University: Forest and Water Strategies program (CSU) and lead their community toward climate resilience with an adaptation plan that addresses their local climate risks and fits their local conditions and culture. This achievement was made possible by the guidance and coaching of the CSU program created by the Model Forest Policy Program in partnership with the Cumberland River Compact and the assistance of Headwaters Economics. The goal of CSU is to empower rural, underserved communities to become leaders in climate resilience using a cost effective distance-learning program. The result of this collaborative effort is a powerful climate adaptation plan that the community can support and implement in coming years. The outcome will be a community that can better withstand impacts of climate upon their natural resources, economy and social structure in the decades to come.

Download the report (13MB PDF)
Outlook Forum 2014
Natural Resource Management and Accelerating Environmental Change: Challenges, Opportunities, and Questions

Webinar Summary

Following is a brief summary of a recent Outlook Forum focused on important changes taking place in the management of various natural resources, as part of the larger effort to understand, prepare for, and adapt to the effects of climate change. Each year, the Pinchot Institute hosts an Outlook Forum to explore important trends that are likely to influence the course of conservation and sustainable natural resource management over the long term. These Outlook Forums bring together leading scientists and natural resource management practitioners from around the country to highlight important new developments in the field, and provide participants with opportunities to raise questions and identify information needs.

Adapting to climate change and other aspects of the “Anthropocene Era” means that important changes are ahead in the way we conserve biodiversity and wildlife habitat, protect water resources, manage wildfire, preserve wilderness, and sustain other important environmental and economic values in forest ecosystems. Researchers and natural resource management practitioners are learning together what will be needed to sustain these values and manage risks in a future that has “no analog” in past experience.

At this point there are more questions than answers. In this moderated webinar, natural resource scientists and practitioners highlighted some of the key questions and described possible approaches to addressing them. Participants in the webinar had opportunities to raise questions, offer suggestions, and identify needs for information to facilitate and support their own work in the field. Results of this discussion will factor into the setting of science and policy priorities at the Pinchot Institute and in other research and education institutions.

Overarching issues and needs identified during the Outlook Forum include:
  • Science is not the barrier. Anticipating the many different ways in which climate change affects the functioning of forests and other natural systems continues to be a challenge for science, but enough is already known to conduct vulnerability assessments and support the development of strategies to increase climate resilience and preparedness. The development of new scientific knowledge is far outpacing the evolution in the institutional, legal, and policy framework, which is critical to effective implementation and timely action on the ground. 
  • More effective integration is needed. Important progress has been made on climate change adaptation strategies for biodiversity conservation, water resources protection, wildfire management, and the management of biogenic carbon, but most of the information exchange and coordination still seems to be taking place within each of these disciplines rather than across disciplines. Yet natural resource management, in practice, must take an integrated approach. Improved integration among scientists and resource specialists is needed to better inform natural resource management practitioners, and to avoid potential conflicts among single-resource strategies.
  • Wildfire management is central to integrated adaptation strategies. The size, frequency, and intensity of wildfires have increased to the point where they are profoundly influencing the success of adaptation strategies to sustain, biodiversity, wildlife, water, carbon stocks, and other resources. In the altered climate of the Anthropocene historical challenges are magnified. Many parts of the country—not just the West—are expected to see a 50-100 percent increase in extraordinarily large and intense fires over the next century, with significant, long-lasting impacts that are economic, social, and cultural as well as environmental.
  • Wildfire policy must undergo a social as well as political transformation. Over the past century, our relationship with wildfire has evolved from an emphasis on resistance, in which all wildfires were suppressed , to an emphasis on restoration of fire to its natural ecological role, to the present day emphasis on strengthening resilience to speed ecological and economic recovery from wildfires that largely can be neither predicted nor controlled. This is resulting in a de facto shifting of risks and costs within society that can be both economically and politically disruptive. A truly cohesive strategy—one that integrates the socioeconomic as well as environmental changes that are propelling the Anthropocene—will be critically important to learning to live with fire as a force on the landscape, and to preparing the natural resource infrastructure to be as resilient as possible to the many-layered effects of climate change.
  • Institutional and policy changes are gradually getting under way. The enabling framework of laws, regulations, and policies is beginning to align to the needs of natural resource managers on the ground, but the pace of change that is expected in the field will require stronger and more focused support. Federal land management agencies have taken important actions that are within their authority, such as the development of revised federal regulations to guide land and resource management planning on the National Forests, and the development of agency-level climate change “roadmaps.” The importance of regionally-specific strategies based on close interagency and intergovernmental coordination is reflected in the development of the “climate hubs.” Crucial changes in the statutory enabling framework have been slower to develop. The Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (or FLAME Act), the authorization of Cooperative Forest Land Restoration Program pilot projects, and the permanent authority for stewardship contracts on Federal lands after more than a decade of testing, are all steps in the right direction. But for any of these statutory changes to be effective as a basis for the needed acceleration in forest restoration and wildfire risk reduction, Congress and the Administration will need to provide a stable, reliable, increased level of support for timely action on the ground.
  • Clear, consistent federal policy direction is needed regarding carbon management in forests. The Administration’s most recent Climate Action Plan outlined a three-part strategy for managing forests and related natural resources to mitigate and adapt to climate change: (1) reduce the current high rate of net loss of forests, largely on private lands (2) accelerate forest restoration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires, largely on public lands, and (3) substitute wood biomass residues for fossil fuels wherever practical and sustainable, from forests on both public and private lands. Stronger Administration and Congressional support for existing land conservation programs such as Forest Legacy and the Land and Water Conservation Fund are essential to achieving the first goal. As noted above, a stable increased level of support is critical to reducing wildfire emissions, especially on federal lands, but also on state, tribal, and private lands will be important to reaching the second goal. To achieve the third goal, consistent and stable federal policy is needed regarding the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from wood and other types of biomass, as compared with those from fossil fuels, to serve as a basis for investments in wood bioenergy facilities that are well-suited to contributing to the broader portfolio of renewable energy, and also serve as a net positive influence on the sustainable management of forests for water, wildlife, biodiversity and other public values.
  • Wilderness management policies and principles must be reconsidered. Climate change presents a major challenge in the management of protected areas, parks, and especially wilderness. These areas are managed to minimize human influence, a mission made exceedingly difficult by the pervasiveness of the indirect effects of human activities, whether it be climate change or the presence of introduced invasive species of plants or animals. The increased frequency of climate-induced wildfires, especially crown fires that have extraordinary ecological impacts even in fire-adapted ecosystems, is prompting a review of long-standing policies against resource management interventions in these natural areas. Federal agencies that manage protected areas and parks, or segments of the 109 million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System, are considering significant changes in these policies, in cooperation with a diversity of scientists, protected area management specialists, and stakeholders. At stake are fundamental concepts of “wildness,” the value of protected areas as benchmarks against which to assess changes in more human-dominated landscapes, and other principles that have long defined the basic purposes of protected areas. These dilemmas will become the focus of important policy debates in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 2014, and the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016.
  • Improving forest governance and sustainable use is still the key to future conservation gains. Similar issues are being faced by natural resource management agencies in many parts of the world. Where there is meaningful progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from forests, whether tropical or temperate, it is being accomplished in large part through the sustainable management of forests for a wide variety of resources, serving as the basis for stable community economic development. Land clearing for industrial agriculture is still the largest single driver of deforestation in many parts of the world. Where this is being successfully controlled, security of land tenure, forest governance, and law enforcement remain major factors, in ways that people in developed countries like the US tend to take for granted. Further progress is needed in the establishment and conservation of natural areas to protect unique cultural as well as ecological values, but a much larger area of the world’s forests will be conserved through poverty alleviation based on the sustainable use of local natural resources. There is a critical need for timely technical assistance in areas such as sustainable sourcing and supply chain development, as well as appropriately-scaled local forest management. Focusing international aid programs on this kind of assistance is likely to have the greatest long-term positive effect on sustaining forests.
These topics are more fully explored in the presentations by several individuals who gave brief presentations to introduce new ideas and insights, and stimulate questions and discussion among the nearly 200 participants in the webinar. Each slide presentation can be viewed and/or downloaded from the links below.

Al Sample, President, Pinchot Institute (Download presentation)
  • The need for an integrated natural resource management approach to forest conservation in the Anthropocene era
  • The central importance of wildfire management in adaptation strategies for a diversity of forest resources and values
  • Climate-driven need for institutional, legal, and policy frameworks that are not only new, but much more dynamic than in the past
David Cleaves, Climate Change Advisor, US Forest Service (Download presentation)
  • Meeting environmental with institutional change – unfolding new and more resilient arrangements for sustainability – President’s Climate Action Plan and Nov 2013 Executive Order o From actionable science to science in action – regional science coordination systems and science/management partnerships
  • Connected risks – stressors intensified and connected by climate and social change - risk management at the landscape scale
  • Ecosystem service values in management decisions – integrating carbon sequestration (mitigation) with other services in flux (adaptation).
  • Realigning institutions - Implementing a new land management planning rule and supporting restoration for resilience.

Carlos Carroll, Science Advisor to Wilburforce Foundation; Klamath Conservation Research Center (Download presentation)
  • Resilient sites as strategy for conserving biodiversity resources in western US and Canada
  • Characterization of resilient sites, followed by identification/mapping, and conservation planning

Stephen Pyne, Professor, Arizona State University; author of Fire in America (Download presentation)
  • Historic wildfire policy/management and evolution as it relates to climate change
  • What we can learn from the past in a no-analogue future

Chris Topik, Director, Restoring America’s Forests, The Nature Conservancy (Download presentation)
  • Collaborative, science-based forestry to accelerate forest restoration and enhance resiliency
  • Enhancing community and agency capacity to work with fire and changing environments
  • Broadening coalitions to increase the federal and non-federal funding base for active forestry

Beth Hahn, Wildlife Ecologist, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute (Download presentation)
  • Impacts of climate change on wildness concept and values
  • Rethinking naturalness and management intervention in wilderness, protected areas, parks

Steve Hamburg, Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Role of forests in climate change mitigation (emissions reduction, sequestration);
  • Forest land conservation on private lands; maintaining forest carbon stocks
  • Optimal role of wood bioenergy within broader sustainability/climate strategy

Carlton Owen, President, US Endowment for Forestry & Communities (Download presentation)
  • “Moving the needle”; big-picture, long-term strategies to make meaningful progress in sustaining forests for water, wildlife, wood, biodiversity, renewable energy
  • Active management of public and private forests; stable community economic development based on sustainable use of natural resources

Sally Collins, Co-Chair, MegaFlorestais; Rights & Resources Initiative
  • This century will bring unprecedented changes to the world’s forests. Public forest agencies can positively influence this future or be casualties of it.
  • Regardless of the differences in public forest agencies around the world—institutional age, organizational structure and even the political system in which they operate—some principles are emerging that can help guide the future of effective forest governance in the twenty-first century

Peter Pinchot, President, EcoMadera; Director, Milford Experimental Forest (Download presentation)
  • Community forestry in the agricultural frontier: Rural development and reducing emissions.
  • Industry and government role in reforming commodity supply chains to conserve tropical forests.
A Landmark Policy for Restoring Federal Forests: Permanent Authorization of Stewardship Contracting in the Farm Bill
Brian Kittler

The effects of climate change are playing out in the western US before our eyes. California is having its worst drought in recorded history, and it is merely the epicenter of a much broader drought impacting the entire West (Pugh, 2014). In mid- January, with wildfires even burning in what are normally soggy Oregon Coast Range forests this time of year, it appears like the 2014 fire season could very well be longer and more intense than any before. In light of these and related pressures, restoring the resilience in western forests has become a rallying cry for a diverse set of constituencies.

A Need for Increased Stewardship of Federal Forests
According to the USDA Forest Service as much as 43 percent, some 65—82 million acres, of the National Forest System (NFS) is in need of restoration treatments via mechanical thinning and prescribed burning. Of this stated need, 12.5 million acres require mechanical treatment, essentially removing small diameter trees, as a necessary component of restoring resilience in these fire adapted ecosystems (Forest Service, 2012). In 2011 and 2012 restoration accomplishments via burning and mechanical thinning amounted to about 4.65 million acres per year, equating to an annualized restoration rate of about 6 percent of the total need (Forest Service, 2012). Of this, mechanical treatments remained a small component— 203,350 acres, meaning that mechanical treatments were implemented with an annualized restoration rate of about 1.6 percent of the total need in recent years.

Thinning on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest yields marketable timber while improving habitat for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker
As the implications of climate change acting on landscapes with severely altered disturbance regimes comes into focus, many are suggesting that this rate of restoration is out of step with the threats facing forests of the Anthropocene (Sample and Bixler, 2014). The Forest Service is committed to increasing the annual restoration rate of mechanical treatments by 20 percent (Forest Service, 2012). Even with this increased rate it would still take several decades before the backlog of restoration activity would be complete.

Accelerating the pace and scope of restoration treatments will require a social license to enhance the capacity of environmental analysis and landscape prioritization required to enable active forest management. Such a strategy is incomplete without significant public-private partnerships with non-profits, state agencies, and others to more effectively leverage resources beyond federal appropriations. Finally, a critical element for the agency will be the effective use of the restoration tools at their disposal to harness a local workforce with capacity to collaboratively design, implement, and monitor holistic restoration projects. Thankfully, stewardship contracting, one of the most powerful restoration tools available to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was recently given permanent authorization in the 2014 Farm Bill. Having previously operated under a 10-year authorization, what will permanent authorization mean for these agencies? How can stewardship contracting be used to accelerate the pace and scope of restoration?

Flexibility of Stewardship Contracting Authorities
The authorizing legislation allows the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to use special authorities in projects focused on road and trail maintenance or obliteration, maintenance of soil productivity, habitat and fisheries management, prescribed fires, vegetation removal, watershed restoration, and control of invasive plants. However, the real innovation of stewardship contracting is not as much in what it, as an implementation mechanism is intended to do, but rather how it accomplishes it.
  1. Enhancing the pace, scope, and financial feasibility of restoration projects. For example, the authority has allowed the agencies to make multi-year awards that can be critical to establishing and maintaining necessary infrastructure to do stewardship work, treating hundreds of thousands of acres, while providing local communities with a steady program of work. As of late 2013, the Forest Service now has more than 10, 10-year stewardship contracts, many of which are part of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program. Designation by Prescription has been very effective at reducing the prep-time and thus the cost of performing restoration treatments. In places with a high degree of trust and high capacity contractors (as often is determined using best-value criteria) the agencies can advance the pace of restoration through this authority. Exchanging goods for services is the most often used stewardship authority and allows the agencies to offset the cost of service work by packaging stewardship work in a way that contractors bid on both a set of services and timber. The retention of excess receipts allows the agencies to use the proceeds of merchantable timber harvested during the project locally to advance additional stewardship activities. These funds are destined to support restoration activities locally and are not sent to the US Treasury, agency staffing, or county governments, as is the case with timber sales.
  2. Harnessing collaborative engagement in federal lands management to build trust and a social license to accomplish stewardship activities. The Forest Service handbook suggests, “Collaboration must be a part of Stewardship Contracting project planning and continue throughout the life of the project” (Forest Service, 2008). Stewardship authorities that advance this include best value contracting. Sometimes, best-value criteria are explicitly used to awarded contracts to firms with a strong foothold in local communities. Collaborative groups, especially those across much of the West have used multi-party monitoring processes to observe,measure, and otherwise track project accomplishments and outcomes, to better inform their own collaborative prioritization around future projects. The agencies gain trust in allowing outside groups to monitor stewardship projects. While multi-party monitoring is approved as an activity for funding with stewardship receipts, this rarely happens, as implementation activities take precedence. Increasingly popular, stewardship agreements allow the agency to partner strategically with outside organizations, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and The Nature Conservancy, to leverage non-federal resources to accomplish critical stewardship activities, such as wildlife habitat creation or enhancement. For instance, non-agency participants provided funding in 40 percent of stewardship projects active from 2010–2012, with the majority of this match coming through stewardship agreements with non-profits and other entities.
A Look Back at the 10-Year Authorization for Stewardship Contracting
Growing out of early experiments with collaborative forest restoration in the late 1990s, stewardship contracting was introduced as a pilot program from 1999–2002. The program concluded early when 10-year authority was granted in 2003. The 10-year authorization came in part as a response to a particularly virulent fire season that included: the Hayman Fire, which burned 138,577 acres and impacted Denver’s water supply, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which burned 192,970 acres in Arizona, and the Biscuit Fire that burned nearly half a million acres of forest in southern Oregon (Williams, 2007).

Legislators were looking for ways to help, and extending Stewardship Contracting authorities was among the actions they took, independent of whether or not all knowledge gained from the pilot program could be effectively integrated into widespread deployment. Many of the 84 pilot projects were recognized as being highly collaborative in nature, receiving financial and technical assistance from the agency to implement multiparty monitoring of project activities. However, when the pilots ended such resources also ended. Some in retrospect have expressed that ending the pilot program early was a mistake.
Figure 1

During the 10-year authorization, the Forest Service initiated 1,511 stewardship projects over hundreds of thousands of acres. The BLM awarded 421. Since 2010 the Forest Service has awarded an average of 215 contracts or agreements each year, with stewardship agreements with wildlife conservation NGOs becoming increasingly popular (see Figure 1). The downturn in BLM projects is related to an overall decrease in appropriations for the BLM forestry budget. This trend is indicative of the fact that while the goods for services and retained receipts authorities offer ways to package projects that implement service work with timber receipts, appropriated funding is still very much essential, especially when timber markets are not favorable as is the case for a majority of BLM comprised of Pinyon and Juniper of very low merchantable value. In many instances, less funding means less stewardship.

While the number of projects originating in 2013 dropped for the Forest Service as well, the agency accomplished more stewardship contracting acres than it has in any year prior, at just more than 171,000 acres. Since 2011, the annual acres implemented by the Forest Service via stewardship contracts and agreements have increased by approximately 71,000 acres (see Table 1).
Table 1

Despite this consistent growth, the level of implementation by the Forest Service in 2013 was still short of a goal it set for itself in 2012 by 129,000 acres. This 129,000 acre figure is itself an amount that is larger than the agency typically implemented during most years during its 10-year authorization (Forest Service, 2013). Is the current scope and pace of restoration forestry going to leave our federal forests in an acceptable condition for future generations living through the Anthropocene? Now that the agencies have permanent authorization will the use of this tool, and the overall rate of restoration treatments increase?

Collaborative Community Engagement in Stewardship Contracting
Since 2005 the Pinchot Institute has systematically monitored 25 percent of active stewardship contracting projects for the BLM and the Forest Service. Over this time the Institute and its partners have completed more than 100 sets of interviews with agency and non-agency persons involved in BLM stewardship contracts or agreements and more than 340 sets of interviews with agency and non-agency persons involved in Forest Service projects. Some regions have been quicker to adopt stewardship contracting and projects in some regions tend to be more collaborative than others (see Table 3).
Table 2  Table 3
This is no doubt in part due to cultural variance region to region but leadership has a big role to play as well. Some National Forest districts practice a system of stakeholder engagement that may result in successfully implemented projects, while doing little in the way of building trust beyond those directly involve— the agency, a contractor, and perhaps an adjacent landowner. In these projects, engagement often centers exclusively on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review process related to specific proposed actions rather than on ongoing collaborative processes focused around a broader set of land management issues. These projects tend to focus almost exclusively on hazardous fuels reductions in the wildland-urban interface and many remain of limited scope and scale.

Still, on the balance, collaborative processes involving multiple stakeholders and meetings were used in 72 percent of stewardship contracting projects nationwide in 2010, 2011, and 2012 (Pinchot Institute, 2014). Overall, the trend is toward more collaboration on the federal lands. Certainly this is evidenced by the growth of the CFLR program, but it is also the case with many stewardship contracts and agreements.

The permanent authorization of stewardship contracting in the 2014 Farm Bill may well turn out to be a milepost in a new era of collaborative stewardship of our federal forests. The fiscal efficiencies offered by stewardship contracting, such as the ability to match private funding in stewardship agreements, have grown in popularity, as has the collaborative nature of many stewardship projects. These are clearly elements of stewardship contracting that are deemed attractive across the political spectrum, as was evidenced by a strong push to provide permanent authorization. The Forest Service itself has stressed the importance of stewardship authorities in CFLRP projects (Forest Service, 2013), a program on which the agency is banking much of its future.

Achieving permanent authorization is an important moment, but given the gap between current levels of implementation and what is needed, significant challenges to accelerating the pace and scope of restoration remain. A necessary next step is to combine the use of stewardship authorities with adequate levels of funding—both public and private— for planning, implementation, and monitoring. There is also a significant need to provide enhanced training and technical assistance to agency and non-agency collaborators seeking to use stewardship contracting authorities.

Despite the stark realities facing the forests of the Anthropocene, there remains hope for transforming century- old landmanagement institutions to be more adaptive, collaborative, and necessarily responsive to the threats of climate change. The creative use of stewardship contracting authorities and a full embrace of the philosophy underpinning collaborative stewardship represent a critical opportunity for such a transformation to occur. Indeed this is not just an opportunity, but rather a responsibility we owe future generations who will inherit our shared legacy—the public lands.
Brian Kittler is a Project Director at the Pinchot Institute in Portland, OR.

Works Cited
Mattor, K.M.D. 2013. Evolving Institutions of Environmental Governance: The Collaborative Implementation of Stewardship Contracts by the USDA Forest Service. Doctoral Dissertation. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.

Pugh, B. (2014, February). US Monthly Drought Outlook. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sample, V.A. and Bixler, R.P. (eds.). 2014 [forthcoming]. Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene. General Technical Report. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Williams, G. W. (2007). The Forest Service: Fighting for Public Lands. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Pinchot Institute (2014). The Role of Communities in Stewardship Contracting: FY 2013 Programmatic Monitoring Report to the USDA Forest Service. January 2014. Pinchot Instutute for Conservation. Washington, DC.

USDA Forest Service. (2008). FSH 2409.19 Renewable Resources Handbook, Chapter 60 Stewardship Contracting. Washington, DC:

USDA Forest Service. USDA Forest Service. (2012). Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job Creation on Our National Forests. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service.

USDA Forest Service. (2013). Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Justification. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service.

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