Drought Assessment Wins 2016 Chief’s Award from U.S. Forest Service

December 15, 2016

Contact: Tim Lucas, 919/613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

DURHAM, N.C. – A report, edited in partnership with Duke University, assessing the impacts of drought associated with climate change on the nation’s forests and rangelands has received a 2016 Chief’s Award from the U.S. Forest Service.

Chief’s Awards are among the highest honors the Forest Service bestows in recognition of research and scholarship that contributes to better management practices and improved sustainability for U.S. public lands.

“While the effects of drought have been most pronounced in the West, our assessment finds virtually all U.S. forests and grasslands are now experiencing some degree of change and are vulnerable to future declines,” says James S. Clark, Nicholas Professor of Environmental Science at Duke, who was one of the report’s lead editors.

The report, “Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis,” was released in February 2016 and is intended to help the Forest Service better manage lands impacted by climate change, Clark says.

Seventy-seven scientists from the Forest Service, other federal agencies, and research institutions and universities across the United States contributed to the assessment.

Clark edited the report with Jim Vose, project leader of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Center for Integrated Forest Science; Charles Luce of the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station; and Toral Patel-Weynand of the Forest Service’s Washington, D.C. office.

Major findings include:
* Drought projections suggest that some regions of the U.S. will become drier and that most will have more extreme variations in precipitation.
* Even if current drought patterns remained unchanged, warmer temperatures will amplify drought effects.
* Drought and warmer temperatures may increase risks of large-scale insect outbreaks and larger wildfires, especially in the western U.S. Since 2000, fire seasons have grown longer, and the frequency, size and severity of wildland fires have increased.
* Drought and warmer temperature may accelerate tree and shrub death, changing habitats and ecosystems in favor of drought-tolerant species.
* Forest-based products and values – such as timber, water, habitat and recreation opportunities – may be negatively impacted.
* Forest and rangeland managers can mitigate some of these impacts and build resiliency in forests through appropriate management actions.

“Among the many benefits of having this solid baseline data is the improved ability to identify where restoration work can help forests adapt and prosper while minimizing the threat and impact of future wildfires," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Our forests and rangelands are national treasures, and because they are threatened, we are threatened," Vilsack says. “This report confirms that every region of the country is impacted by the direct and indirect effects of drought conditions and volatile weather patterns. Sixty million Americans rely on drinking water that originates on our 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands. They support 200,000 jobs and contribute over $13 billion to local economies every year."