Integrating Climate Change into Plan Revisions at El Yunque National Forest
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. The El Yunque National Forest began the forest plan revision process in 2014. A draft plan to guide forest resource management was released in September 2016; the final plan is expected to go into effect in 2018.
The 29,000-acre El Yunque National Forest in northeastern Puerto Rico is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system. Located in the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, the forest features diverse vegetation types, waterfalls, and pools that provide habitat for over 180 animal and 636 plant species. The mountains are a major water source for the island, supplying more than 20% of the municipal water source with approximately 46 million gallons of water withdrawn per day.
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 2014, the El Yunque National Forest has been undergoing a forest plan revision – the first revision of the original forest plan released in 1997. The original plan focused on conservation to protect the unique biological and ecological diversity of the forest. The revised plan focuses on an integrated approach to ecological, social, and economic sustainability, and addresses evolving forest conditions, issues, and trends.
In developing the plan, the forest engaged in several outreach efforts with other federal, state, and local agencies and public stakeholders to identify core themes to guide the revision process. Five themes were developed, including:
- Promote a stronger regional identity using an “all-lands approach”;
- Provide for healthy ecosystems;
- Incorporate collaborative adaptive management principles;
- Define a new recreation, access, and tourism system; and
- Increase regional environmental literacy and educate local communities.
The forest is subjected to increasing pressures from urbanization, which has resulted in landscape fragmentation. In addition, increasing drought, wildfire, invasive species establishment, and disease outbreaks are all of concern to forest managers. As directed by the 2012 USFS Planning Rule, the revision explicitly incorporates climate change.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The plan emphasizes restoring and protecting ecosystems that are resilient to climate change and other stressors. Desired conditions associated with the forest’s climate change response include enhancing longitudinal landscape connectivity to allow species to move upslope from lowland to upland forests as temperature rise; retaining wetlands and ponds to support cool, moist conditions for species and water supply; and managing invasive species. The plan also prioritizes riparian zones as areas that help maintain critical ecosystem functions and services (i.e. water supply and quality), identifying key management strategies such as the prioritization of riparian zones in major streams for land acquisition. Management strategies associated with water resources in the forest include no further authorizations for consumptive water intakes and protecting surface and groundwater supplies from physical, chemical, and biological pollutants.
The draft plan was released for public comment in September 2016. The final plan is expected in 2018.
Gregg, R.M. (2017). Integrating Climate Change into Plan Revisions at El Yunque National Forest [Case study on a project of the El Yunque National Forest]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/integrating-climate-change-plan-revis… (Last updated December 2017)