Original Post by Andrew Mengel:
Issues such as climate change that affect a multitude of agencies who all have different management objectives could be a potential challenge to the current institutional landscape. Our group covered agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). All of these agencies have programs and policies that could affect how issues like climate change are handled, and many have cooperative programs that are administered by multiple agencies. One example of this is the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force which was established in 1998 and is co-led by DOI and NOAA (DOI, n.d.) and works to protect coral reef ecosystems.
However a significant challenge to agency cooperation for issues as large as climate change is both the statutory authority that these agencies have as well as what their expectations are for how natural resources under their jurisdiction are managed. Some agencies are in a much better position to take action on an issue like climate change than other agencies. As an example, the Bureau of Land Management has responsibility for 245 million acres and more than 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, on which oil and gas leases are issued (BLM n.d.). From a programmatic perspective BLM is in a better position to act on climate change than an agency such as the National Park Service (NPS) which seeks to preserve resources under their jurisdiction and keep manipulation of habitat and landscapes to a minimum (Sparling 2014, 147).
Many agencies have inherently less ability to act on these types of issues due to the limitations of their mission statement, empowering legislation, and associated programming. The Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will primarily seek to conserve and protect fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. While reforestation efforts may seem at first to align with these goals, it has been reported that 45% of reforestation projects consist of monoculture plantings of fast-growing trees (Pearce 2019). This strategy is an effective response to climate change by quickly creating a carbon sink, but this type of reforestation would not meet the requirements of the USFWS to conserve habitat and restore ecosystem health.
For this to change, I think that action needs to take place at the legislative level. The agencies that our group discussed are already engaged in important work that I don’t necessarily think should be distracted from by giving an overarching climate change mandate. Action to address climate change should come from a regulatory level rather than having an expectation that actions on public lands will be sufficient to address the crisis.
Sparling, Donald W. 2014. Natural Resource Administration: Wildlife, Fisheries, Forests and Parks. San Diego: Academic Press.
Fred Pearce. “Why Green Pledges Will Not Create the Natural Forests We Need.” Yale E360. April 16, 2019. Accessed January 24, 2021. https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-green-pledges-will-not-create-the-natural-forests-we-need.
“Interagency Partnerships.” U.S. Department of the Interior. November 30, 2020. Accessed January 21, 2021. https://www.doi.gov/ocean/interagency-partnerships.
“About: What We Manage: National: Bureau of Land Management.” National | Bureau of Land Management. Accessed January 24, 2021. https://www.blm.gov/about/what-we-manage/national
Excellent acknowledgement of the National Park Service’s limitation. Congress created the National Park Service in 1916 with the enactment of the Organic Act. As referenced in your post, it is understood the Organic Act requires the Park Service to maintain conditions that are consistent with those present before European contact with the Americas and to emphasize hands-off, passive management to achieve the goal (Biber and Esposito 2016). Examples of passive management for climate change adaptation in National Parks include acquiring additional land to provide a wider range of habitat or migration corridors (Biber and Esposito 2016). Given the large-scale impacts climate change imposes on park ecosystems, maintenance of pre-contact conditions will require massive human intervention (Biber and Esposito 2016). However, active management strategies tend to be more controversial (Biber and Esposito 2016). Managers and scholars have raised questions about whether the Organic Act gives the Park Service sufficient authority to undertake the steps necessary to adapt to climate change (Biber and Esposito 2016). It is also argued the Organic Act does impose some necessary constraints on agency decision-making, constraints that prevent inappropriate development projects and that require thoughtful decision-making to minimize the risk of unintended management consequences (Biber and Esposito 2016). Moreover, the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan instructs agencies to avoid maladaptive actions intended to reduce vulnerability to climate change that negatively impact or increase the vulnerability of other systems, sectors or social groups (Biber and Esposito 2016). That said, it is interesting to consider the DOI’s outlook on the matter considering the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the DOI issues oil and gas leases on its 245 million acres and more than 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate. It reveals, perhaps, a strong influence of stakeholders in determining the power dynamics between agencies.
Biber, Eric and Elisabeth Long Esposito. 2016. “THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ORGANIC ACT AND CLIMATE CHANGE”. Natural Resources Journal. 56(1): 193-245.