"Across the country, Americans are experiencing first-hand the impacts of climate change, from growing pressure on water supplies to more intense droughts and fires to rampant bark beetle infestations," said Salazar.
"Because Interior manages one-fifth of our nation"s landmass and 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf, it is imperative that we tackle these impacts of a failed and outdated energy policy," he said.
To coordinate climate change science and resource management strategies, the order sets up a working framework for the Department of the Interior bureaus - the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation, Minerals Management Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A new Climate Change Response Council, led by the secretary, deputy secretary and counselor, will be the coordinating body to improve the sharing and communication of climate change impact science.
"The unprecedented scope of climate change impacts requires Interior bureaus and agencies to work together, and with other federal, state, tribal and local governments, and private land owner partners, to develop landscape-level strategies for understanding and responding to climate change impacts," said Salazar.
The eight regional Climate Change Response Centers - for Alaska, the Northeast, the Southeast, the Southwest, the Midwest, the West, Northwest, and Pacific regions - will bring together existing climate change impact data and management strategies, help resource managers put them into action on the ground, and involve the public through education initiatives.
Trees killed by pine bark beetles in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park increase the risk of wildfires. (Photo by Tim Wilson)
A network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives will engage federal agencies, local and state partners, and the public to create practical, landscape-level strategies for managing climate change impacts within the eight regions.
The cooperatives will focus on impacts such as the effects of climate change on wildlife migration patterns, wildfire risk, drought, or invasive species that extend beyond the borders of any single national wildlife refuge, BLM unit, or national park.
The Climate Change Response Council also will oversee the Carbon Storage Project, through which the Interior Department is developing methods and technologies for the storage of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide both underground and in forests and rangelands.
The council also will handle the department's Carbon Footprint Project, through which DOI will develop a unified greenhouse gas emission reduction program that will set a baseline and reduction goal for the department"s greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
Brenda Ekwurzel, climate scientist at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, praised the government's plan, saying the country "will be much better prepared to respond to the current and coming changes due to global warming."
"This new initiative would allow the federal government to develop floodplain maps that take into account the changes that have already occurred due to global warming and what will likely happen down the road," said Ekwurzel. "This would allow developers to know where it's safe to build, as well as identify the type of infrastructure improvements, for such things as bridges and levees, that protect communities in flood zone regions."
DOI strategies to address the growing wildfire threat in the West could include "reducing rampant bark beetle infestations that kill trees and create a tinder box situation for forests in drought conditions," Ekwurzel said. "The plans also could provide information to state and local governments to identify vulnerable locations most in need of fire breaks and other buffers around homes."
The National Wildlife Federation's John Kostyack, said, "From coast to coast, forests to wetlands, Americans are witnessing the impacts of climate change. The unprecedented threat of climate change requires a response equal in scale. Today marks a first big step in meeting the challenge before us."
"It is encouraging to know we will soon have every bureau at the Department of the Interior working in unison toward a common goal. This level of cooperation is needed at every level of government, with participation from every state and tribe as well as farmers, ranchers and forest land owners," said Kostyack. "Everyone must do their part to ensure future generations of Americans have the same opportunities and benefits that we enjoy today."
"To get the whole job done," said Kostyack, "Congress must pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation that reduces global warming pollution and dedicates funding to safeguard America"s wildlife, lands and waters from the worst impacts of climate change."
The Interior Department supplies drinking water to more than 31 million people and irrigation water to 140,000 farmers, manages wildlife species from the Arctic to the Everglades, and holds trust responsibilities on behalf of the federal government for more than 500 tribal nations.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.