The Department of the Interior Goes All in on “Nature-Based Solutions”

There are many new readers to TSW, so I will tell this story again.  After I retired from the Forest Service, I spent a few months working as the Catholic Channel administrator for a for-profit company called Patheos.  My job was to post snippets of blogs written by our writers .  As part of that job, we had training that it was important to tie the blog topics to current events, even if it was quite a stretch, so that they would get more clicks and hence revenue.

Well, we definitely see that with the COP.. there’s been a plethora of what I call COPaganda and COProphilia.  I see that as the context for this Interior Department press release. I have to wonder about 70K people traveling using fossil fuels, to a meeting in a country that produces fossil fuels, to decry fossil fuels.

The announcement comes as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz wraps up her trip to the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai,

I wonder how many people the US Government sent to this meeting from how many different departments and agencies?

Anyway, the Department is going to go with “nature-based solutions”:

“Investing in nature is investing in ourselves. By employing nature-based solutions, land managers and decision makers can restore and sustain healthy ecosystems that in turn support healthy communities and economies,” said Assistant Secretary Estenoz.

Nature-based solutions use or mimic natural features or processes to improve biodiversity, strengthen resilience for disaster and hazard-risk management, support climate adaptation, and address carbon management to offset greenhouse gas emissions, while also benefitting both people and nature. These can include green infrastructure, natural infrastructure, and natural climate solutions.

The Department today also announced a new policy that will strengthen the Department’s ability to meet its mission in the face of a changing climate by prioritizing nature-based solutions across bureaus and offices. The policy will provide land managers and decision makers with guidance on using nature-based climate solutions, and will center collaborative partnerships, equity, environmental justice, and the use of the best available evidence. This new policy compliments the announcement in September 2023 of new policies to strengthen climate adaptation and resilience efforts, including the first-ever effort to factor the climate crisis into all operations.

The Department is prioritizing high return nature-based investments that connect lands and waters, promote cross-bureau collaboration, and leverage partnerships. By implementing these innovative strategies, our efforts also aim to ensure climate security, improve equity and address environmental justice, incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into decision making, and apply evidence-based scientific approaches to predict, monitor, and assess implementation effectiveness.

It sounds like all the great things that they were already doing, but now they are “innovative strategies”.

Now some of us have been through “sustainability” and the Montreal Process; “ecosystem health”; biodiversity; ecosystem management, ecosystem services, ecological integrity, climate resilience and probably other abstractions over time. In my paid career, each one of these had their own cadre of experts, and we would attend meetings and listen to them. At the end of the day, though, for federal land management agencies (and noted that Interior does many other useful things), we are discussing the exact same things that we were 50 years ago- grazing, the timber industry, how to manage wildfires, infrastructure projects (renewable or other energy, transmission) and mining. We have a mass of interlocking disciplines that work with each of these kinds of uses- wildlife biologists, fisheries folks, hydrologists, foresters, fuels folks, economists, social scientists, NEPA practitioners and so on.

I’m a bit leery of the USG going to outside sources (including NGOs and universities) when they usually have more experts in-house, but OK, let’s look at the forest section. I think, to be fair, that the NBS idea makes more sense for riparian and coastal management; maybe it’s just same-old for forests.
Forest restoration is the process of returning a forest to its healthy state; this can include a variety of actions such as prescribed burns, reforestation, controlling invasive species, and pruning competing underbrush (American Forests 2023). Forest conservation as a management practice is the maintenance of forested areas for both people and the environment. Both
conservation and restoration are essential to forest management (Pawar and Rothkar, 2015).

Forest conservation and restoration approaches vary based on the goals of the particular manager or management agency. Goals typically include both ecosystem and socioeconomic outcomes (Stanturf et al. 2017). When considering forest conservation and restoration, it is crucial to evaluate the trade-offs of timber production and ecosystem values (University of Cambridge 2022). Some primary forest conservation and restoration methods are as follows:
• Fuels management: Fuels management is a priority for many forests as a method to mitigate the harmful effects of wildfires, invasive species, and other disturbances. Within forests, fuels management often consists of prescribed burning and mechanical thinning (USFS 2021).
• Reforestation: Reforestation is one of the main practices for forest restoration.
There are three main reforestation methods: natural regeneration, assisted natural regeneration, and planting (USFS 2022).
• Natural regeneration: Natural regeneration allows regrowth to occur naturally. Depending on the project, natural regeneration can provide the most cost-effective reforestation method. It is essential to be aware of the species that will likely grow in these areas to ensure they will meet project goals (Chazdon 2017).
• Assisted natural regeneration (ANR): ANR is a method requiring less labor and funding than planting, but aims to accelerate a forest’s natural regeneration process. ANR can be achieved by improving soil, removing competing species, and mitigating disturbances (Ciccarese et al. 2012).
• Planting: Some forest restoration projects require systematic planting of native species, with the best results coming from species-diverse planting projects (Ciccarese et al. 2012).
• Controlling invasive species: Another crucial management approach to forest restoration is invasive species management, including prevention, early detection and rapid response, long-term control, and monitoring. In long-term, large-scale forest conservation and restoration projects, prioritization is critical to ensure cost-effective management. Native tree species resistant to invasive pests can be planted to aid in stand reestablishment (NPS 2022).

Here are some forest examples (I circled the lessons learned that I thought we already knew, plus the AS duration is perhaps incorrect (if not, please let us know more!):

So I guess they are saying that all these things (BAU) can be put under the new umbrella of “nature-based solutions.”


Several barriers are common across many of the nature-based solutions strategies; these are described in more detail in Section 1 of the Roadmap. Additional notes about the barriers specific to forest conservation and restoration are included here.
Expense: Lack of funding is the primary obstacle forest restoration practitioners report (Cook-Patton et al. 2020). Forest restoration costs on a landscape-scale level can be in the billions of dollars. While the economic investment is high, forest conservation and restoration should be considered socioeconomic and environmental investments for the future (Wu et al. 2011).
Capacity: Certain methods of forest restoration have high labor requirements, which can be a constraint in implementing these projects (Ciccarese et al. 2012).
Public opinion: Public support is crucial for forest conservation and restoration on public lands. It is important to educate about the importance of the conservation and restoration work (USFS 2012).
Conflict with other land uses: Forest land conversion is one of the primary causes of forest loss. This land is typically converted into development or agriculture. With the growing population, deforestation is estimated to exceed 50 million ac by 2050. Forest land conversion has lasting socioeconomic and ecological effects, and it is important to find integrated ways to sustain the growing population while still prioritizing forest conservation and restoration (Alig et al.)
Regulation: Forest restoration projects can be delayed by regulatory requirementssuch as fulfilling National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and endangered species consultation requirements. However, in some cases, categorical exclusions can exempt a particular project from NEPA requirements (Fretwell and Wood 2021).
Legal and administrative constraints: Forest restoration is not currently occurring at the desired rate, often because of funding, legal, and organizational constraints and barriers (Jones et al. 2021).
Species-poor plantations: Forest conservation and restoration may create singlespecies tree plantations, which do not provide the same ecological benefits as speciesdiverse forests (Aerts and Honnay 2011).

1 thought on “The Department of the Interior Goes All in on “Nature-Based Solutions””

  1. “It sounds like all the great things that they were already doing,”

    That is the bureaucratic response to any new initiative (in my experience).


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