Chris Wood, TU's Chief Operating Officer, testified on Wednesday, November 18 at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The hearing was held to discuss the Administration’s response to climate change as it pertains to management of federal forest land.
His testimony is as follows:
Chairman Wyden and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to be here to provide Trout Unlimited’s views on managing public forests in response to climate change.
Public lands are crucial sources of drinking water for more than 60 million Americans. They provide vital habitat for fish and wildlife, and a host of other social and economic benefits. And these lands can play a key role in preparing natural resources and human communities for the impacts of climate change.
Others here today, and my written testimony, cover how climate change is likely to impact our National Forests and nearby human communities.
I’d like to spend my time describing a policy framework within which these problems can be solved – if we act quickly.
A healthy watershed performs three basic functions. It catches, stores, and slowly releases water over time. Healthy watersheds are better equipped to withstand the predicted effects of climate change—increases in severe fires, prolonged drought, and more intense floods. The problem is that many of our lands and waters are already stressed.
Climate change adaptation may be simply defined as repairing the damage, and helping the land recover its natural resiliency.
Former Forest Service employee, Aldo Leopold, once described the oldest challenge in human history as to live on a piece of land without spoiling it. Leopold’s challenge became a motivation for the wilderness movement, and much other public lands advocacy. The effects of climate change challenge these traditional methods of land protection—as fires, floods, and drought will not stop at wilderness boundaries.
Agencies such as the Forest Service and the BLM must develop integrated landscape level strategies to protect, reconnect, and restore resilient landscapes for the benefit of human communities and natural resources.
First, we must protect the highest quality lands and waters. In a warming climate, national forests, and particularly roadless areas, are thermal refuges. Protecting these lands protects fish and wildlife, maintains groundwater recharge, and reduces the costs of filtering and treating water for downstream communities.
Second, reconnect landscapes. Because it is not enough to manage protected lands as museum pieces, we must reconnect them to lands lower in the watershed. Protecting instream flows and important wildlife corridors, and allowing rivers to access floodplains is not only good for fish and wildlife; it’s good for human communities. A connected watershed will recharge and replenish underground aquifers that supply municipal drinking water, minimize the potential for downstream flooding, and improve soil productivity for farmers and ranchers.
Third, engage communities in restoration. Restoring the ability of watersheds to withstand the effects of climate change is essential. Thinning bug killed forests nearby communities, for example, can protect communities from fire while providing high paying, family wage jobs in rural areas.
This model of protecting, reconnecting, and restoring landscape and watershed health should be used to guide development of the Forest Service’s proposed new planning rules. It should provide the rationale for protection of roadless areas. It should drive thoughtful siting of new transmission lines for renewable energy development, and reform of outdated oil and gas regulations. And it should drive implementation of Farm Bill conservation programs on privately-owned forests.
I’d like to close with an on-the-ground example of how this approach can improve the resiliency of a watershed. In 2009, thanks to your leadership, Mr. Chairman, 15,000 acres of the headwaters of the Elk River in southwestern Oregon was designated as wilderness.
The Copper Salmon wilderness will protect one of the strongest runs of salmon in the lower 48. However, more than a mile of spawning and rearing habitat in Blackberry Creek, a tributary to the Elk River, is currently limited by an impassible culvert
Inadequate funding has prevented the Forest Service from replacing the Blackberry Creek culvert. Plugged culverts are like ticking time bombs across many national forests, and must be repaired.
Implementing the actions needed to enable fish, wildlife and human communities to adapt to changes in climate will require funding. Dedicating five percent of the total allowance value of revenues under climate change legislation to natural resources adaptation is important.
The actions described above are not inexpensive. But they also create jobs and have a very high likelihood of success. The time to act is now. Our public forests are national treasures that are irreplaceable in our lifetimes.