U.S. Department of the InteriorDOI News Header
Office of the Secretary
May 31, 2007
Joan Moody

New Climate Change Task Force at Interior Department

WASHINGTON-- Today, as President Bush announced U.S. support for development of a new framework on climate change, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne affirmed that the ongoing work of a new Interior Department Climate Change Task Force is essential to ensuring that his department fulfills its mission.
"I recently created the Department of the Interior task force to study climate change because of its possible effects on our ability to be good stewards of wildlife, national parks and other landscapes as well as our responsibility to help moderate greenhouse gas emissions,” the Secretary said. “This is a priority for both departmental leaders and employees in the field."

Headed by Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, the task force involves a hundred individuals including the department’s assistant secretaries and other top leaders as well as career scientists, park superintendents, refuge managers, and others from across the country.

"Interior manages lands that span 12 time zones; our mission reaches pole to pole,” Scarlett said. “To fulfill our mission, we need to understand the effects of a changing climate on water flows, sea coasts and sea ice, wildlife, and vegetation. Our task force is evaluating these changes and identifying strategies for managing lands and waters, protecting wildlife and reducing our own environmental footprint in this dynamic world,” the deputy secretary explained.

Kempthorne and Scarlett noted that the department manages one in every five acres of the U.S. land mass and operates dams and irrigation facilities that provide water to farmers who generate nearly two-thirds of the nation's produce. The department also manages leases from which one-third of the nation's domestic energy supplies are produced. The department’s lands and waters account for significant contributions to alternative energies such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind power.

The task force includes three subcommittees—one on legal and policy issues; a second on land and water management issues; and a third climate change scientific issues specifically related to Interior’s responsibilities.

The task force is examining how possible climate changes would affect disaster management, water resource management and habitat management and devising new management responses for changing landscapes.

For example, many parks, refuges and other conservation areas were created to preserve a specific mix of species within specific boundaries. Is in situ conservation possible within current, fixed boundaries, if species composition is changing or do we need additional conservation strategies? Will we need to change how we define the concept of invasive species if plant and animal species shift on the landscape in response to climate change?

Interior’s presence along the coast is significant, with extensive areas of shoreline managed by parks and refuges. The task force will cover what steps should be taken as freshwater coastal habitats turn more saline if ocean levels rise, how we can help the nation manage its water resources if rainfall patterns change and which streams produce the water that our cities and farms rely on for drinking water and irrigation.

The department will continue to focus on reducing wetland loss, both for the environmental benefits that result and because coastal wetlands and sea marshes serve as "horizontal levees," absorbing and reducing impacts from coastal storms.

Other examples of tasks before the Climate Change Task Force include:

  • evaluating the management of Interior's facilities and fleet to identify additional opportunities for energy conservation and renewable energy.
  • exploring whether global and regional climate modeling can be scaled to the point that it can be used to manage parks, refuges, and dams controlled by the department.
  • examining information needs and whether new types of monitoring might strengthen our understanding of on-the-ground trends in water availability and timing of flows, vegetative patterns, movement of species and other factors.

The task force subcommittee will report their initial priorities and activities to the steering committee by mid-June. These priorities will provide the basis for a longer-term action plan.

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