by Steve McNulty
I have given hundreds of presentations to land managers over the years related to climate change impacts and management options. Almost without exception, someone from the audience will approach me after a talk and say, “I don’t know if I believe in climate change, but I really enjoyed your talk.” I don’t focus my talks on “climate change,” rather in the important impacts of climate change, such as drought. Not all land managers are convinced of the reality of human-caused climate change, but I have yet to find a land manager that does not believe in drought. A newly-released Forest Service drought report, like my lectures, does not focus on climate change, but instead on climate variability, on which there is universal agreement.
No single environmental factor can more significantly and negatively impact working land productivity and sustainability like drought can. Whether it’s short-term drought that can reduce agricultural crop yields per acre, or longer-term droughts that can lead to increased wildfire risk, drought is a major concern. This new, national scale report highlights regional and national drought impacts. More importantly, the report begins to address adaptive management practices that can be used to reduce drought impacts. Changes in tree plantation spacing or changes to more drought-tolerant tree species such as longleaf pine are just a couple of ways that foresters can take preventative measures against future drought losses in productivity and the reduction of wildfire risk.
The weather service may not be able to tell exactly when the next drought coming, but as a land manager you know it’is only a matter of time. The information regarding impacts and adaptation found in the new drought report will be useful for your working lands. In the coming months, SERCH will use this report as the basis for developing new regional guidelines and tools, like this two-page summary for the Southeast, to help working land managers — and that you can believe in.
Photo credit: USDA Flickr, Cynthia Mendoza