National Forests and “private working lands” are prominently featured in the new U.S. Department of Agriculture five-year strategic plan released last week. The plan contains strategic objectives for National Forests to restore ecosystems and watersheds on both private and public lands. It also contains objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and develop climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for National Forests.
One of the four strategic goals for the Department of Agriculture (besides assistance to rural communities, promoting agriculture production, and nutritious food for kids) is goal #2: “Ensure our National Forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.”
The plan calls for a collaborative “all lands” approach to bring public and private owners together across landscapes and ecosystems. “Private working lands” are defined to include farms, ranches, grasslands, private forest lands, and retired cropland. The plan is intended to coordinate National Forest System programs with other USDA programs for private lands.
Restoration of watershed and forest health is intended to be a core management objective of the National Forests and Grasslands. Objective 2.1 is to “restore and conserve the Nation’s forests, farms, ranches and grasslands.” The plan calls for a 13% increase in forest lands that are restored or enhanced each year.
Objective 2.2 calls for efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It sets an 8% increase in carbon sequestration on U.S. lands and an 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. All National Forests must have a climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy.
Objective 2.3 calls for protection and enhancement of water resources. It calls for an increase in National Forest System (NFS) watersheds at or near natural conditions from 58 million acres (30 percent of NFS lands) to 62 million acres (32 percent of NFS lands). Acres of restored wetlands would increase from 2.1 million acres per year to 2.3 million acres per year. There would be an $0.5 billion increase in flood prevention and water supply projects. Nine million acres of high impact targeted practices would be implemented to accelerate the protection of clean, abundant water resources.
Objective 2.4 calls for a reduction of the risk of catastropic wildfire and restoring fire to its appropriate place on the landscape. It sets a desired condition within the natural (historical) range of variability of vegetation characteristics, increasing the cumulative number of acres from 58.5 million to 61.5 million acres. It calls for an increase from 10,000 to 18,000 communities with reduced risk from catastropic wildfire, and an increase from 41 percent to 55 percent of acres in Wildland-Urban Interface that have been treated.