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Project Summary

In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service released a Planning Rule requiring the integration of climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation into revisions of forest management plans. Between 2012 and 2016, the Francis Marion National Forest undertook the forest plan revision process, relying on the evaluation of changes that have occurred since 1996 as well as outcomes from public meetings and other outreach efforts. The initial revision was released in August 2016 and the final revised forest plan is effective as of May 2017.

Project Background

Every national forest is guided by a land and resource management plan (commonly known as a forest plan) – a document that sets forth guiding management principles on a 10-15 year time horizon. Since 2012, the Francis Marion National Forest in coastal South Carolina has been undergoing a forest plan revision, and its revised plan is incorporating climate change considerations and promoting hydrological restoration. The 1996 Francis Marion Forest Plan focused largely on helping the forest recover from hurricane impacts, while the revised forest plan shifts management emphasis to ecological restoration of longleaf pine and isolated wetland ecosystems and using restoration to contribute to the economic and social sustainability of the region. Wetland restoration will benefit wildlife habitat, as well as help capture and hold stormwater, increasing flood protection for adjacent communities and helping recharge groundwater. In addition, restoring the natural hydrology of the forest’s wetlands may help mitigate some of the salinization occurring in nearby coastal communities, many of which are experiencing saltwater intrusion into drinking water wells.

Project Implementation

In developing the plan, the forest engaged in several public outreach efforts between October 2012 and September 2013 to identify core themes to guide the revision process. Six themes emerged, including:

  1. Maintain or restore the forest’s unique landscapes and features;
  2. Improve the quality of life and health for the public;
  3. Respond to key challenges, such as maintaining fire-adapted natural systems, responding to climate change and natural disturbances, reducing non-native invasive species, controlling the impacts of disease and insect outbreaks, and managing increasing demand for recreational opportunities;
  4. Maintain existing and develop new collaborative partnerships to share operational and planning resources;
  5. Develop a monitoring strategy and rapid response framework; and
  6. Integrate and coordinate resource management for multiple uses.

Increasing pressures on the forest, such as a growing regional population, increasing urban development, and invasive species establishment, are compounded by a changing climate. As directed by the 2012 USFS Planning Rule, this Forest Plan revision explicitly incorporates climate change. In developing the plan, the Forest Service used TACCIMO (Template for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Management Options) to evaluate climate impacts in the region. Warming temperatures, rising sea levels, severe tropical storms, flooding, and droughts are projected to negatively affect the region. In collaboration with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, the forest also identified broad-scale adaptive management strategies to help increase ecosystem resilience to climate change.

Project Outcomes and Conclusions

The plan emphasizes restoring and maintaining ecosystems that are resistant to change, and creating migration pathways and enhancing habitat connectivity to allow for species migrations in response to climate change. Aquatic connectivity is of particular concern for the Francis Marion National Forest, but sea level rise combined with extensive ditching and dikes on the landscape increases the extent that saltwater can penetrate inland freshwater courses. Increasing saltwater extent may reduce the range of freshwater species and/or increase invasive species risk. For example, lionfish can decimate local aquatic populations and are thought to have a high tolerance for low salinity, and may move further inland as sea levels rise. To monitor these types of impacts and to promote resilient management, the Forest Plan encourages adaptive management and lays out a specific monitoring framework, including a metric that evaluates how climate change impacts (drought, sea level rise, and storms) affect restoration success.

The plan was initially released in August 2016. An updated revised plan and associated Final Environmental Impact Statement was released in January 2017, and went into effect on May 1, 2017.

Recommended Citation

Gregg, R.M., & W. Reynier (2017). Integrating Climate Change into Plan Revisions at Francis Marion National Forest [Case study on a project by the Francis Marion National Forest and the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/integrating-climate-change-plan-revisi... (Last updated December 2017)