U.S. Department of the Interior Climate Change Strategy
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Posted byRachel Gregg
The U.S. Department of the Interior undertook several climate adaptation measures between 2009–2015. One such example is the creation of a department-wide strategy to address climate change that established an Energy and Climate Change Council to oversee the establishment of regional Climate Science Centers and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives intended to coordinate climate research and management responses. In March 2017, several of these efforts were halted or terminated in favor of energy development on federal lands by Executive Order 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. In January 2021, EO 13783 was replaced by EO 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.
The U.S. Department of the Interior and its associated bureaus and offices are primarily responsible for the management of the country’s land, water, and wildlife. Climate change has been recognized as a threat and the Interior made strides between 2009–2015 to establish department-wide mitigation and adaptation strategies. Under the Department’s purview are the Bureaus of Indian Affairs, Land Management, and Reclamation; Minerals Management Service; National Park Service; Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and U.S. Geological Survey. These agencies are responsible for managing approximately one-fifth of the land in the country. Executive Order (EO) 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change, called for the creation of agency-wide climate adaptation strategies, and was supported by the Department of Interior’s guidelines established in Secretarial Order 3289.
In September 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order No. 3289, establishing a department-wide climate change strategy to ensure that every bureau and office “consider and analyze potential climate change impacts when undertaking long-range planning exercises, setting priorities for scientific research and investigations, developing multi-year management plans, and making major decisions regarding the potential use of resources under the Department’s purview.” This included the creation of an Energy and Climate Change Council and the development of Climate Science Centers ( known as Climate Adaptation Science Centers [CASCs] since March 2018) and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). The Council was the primary vehicle for agency coordination to address climate change impacts internally, and to collaborate with other federal agencies such as the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council on Environmental Quality.
The CASCs are regional hubs of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National CASC (formerly known as the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center). The realignment of these hubs as CASCs under the Interior was intended to support the broader base of the Department’s bureaus and offices and enhance cooperation and management. The centers facilitate scientific research, modeling, forecasting, and monitoring of climate impacts on the nation’s resources and serve as information centers for stakeholders in eight U.S. regions: Alaska, North Central, Northeast, Northwest, Pacific Islands, South Central, Southeast, and Southwest. The CASCs collaborated with the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, a network of 22 collaboratives across the country intended to coordinate management responses to climate change across federal, tribal, state, and local governments, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and other interested parties. The 22 LCCs established were Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands, Arctic, Western Alaska, Northwest Boreal, North Pacific, California, Southern Rockies, Desert, Great Basin, Plains and Prairie Potholes, Great Northern, Great Plains, Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Big Rivers, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, North Atlantic, Appalachian, Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks, Gulf Coast Prairie, South Atlantic, Peninsular Florida, Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.
Outcomes and Conclusions
EO 13653, which mandated climate adaptation action by federal agencies, was revoked in March 2017 by EO 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, and Secretarial Order 3289 was rescinded by Secretarial Orders 3349 and 3360. As a result, a number of efforts undertaken by the U.S. Department of the Interior were significantly altered or defunded. For example, an Interior website dedicated to climate change that noted concerns about increasing air and water temperature, precipitation changes, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, and provided links to relevant resources and tools no longer exists as of August 2018. The 2018–2022 Strategic Plan removes all mention of climate change as a priority issue. While the CASCs continue to operate in partnership with regional universities, the LCCs have largely been eliminated or placed on indefinite hiatus since 2017. Some LCCs continue to function with the support of external funding. For example, the California LCC now operates as the California Landscape Conservation Partnership and continues to coordinate climate science and adaptation projects with funding from the state.
The Biden Administration released Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, in January 2021. The order requires each agency to submit climate action plans for review by the National Climate Task Force, White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Office of Management and Budget, and to report on implementation progress annually. On October 7, 2021, 23 agencies released adaptation and resilience plans to guide federal action on climate change, including the Department of the Interior. The 2021 adaptation plan commits the department to:
- Use best available science and traditional knowledge in decision-making;
- Mainstream adaptation into policies, practices, and programs;
- Directly address inequity and environmental justice issues;
- Build diverse partnerships with public and private groups;
- Increase climate literacy within and beyond the agency;
- Leverage ecosystem- and nature-based solutions; and
- Practice adaptive management to evaluate whether and how actions are achieving their desired outcomes.
Executive Order 13653
Secretarial Order 3289
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs)
Executive Order 13783
Secretarial Order 3349
Secretarial Order 3360
DOI Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2018-2022
California LCC Projects
Gregg, R. M. (2021). U.S. Department of the Interior Climate Change Strategy [Case study on a project of the U.S. Department of the Interior]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated October 2021)