Climate Change: BLM's Response

Mosaic of images featuring land uses and land issues of, clockwise from top left, a wildfire in the Lower Snake River District of Idaho, conservation in Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona, wind turbines in California, and a botanist examining plants in the Seward Peninsula in Alaska.

Clockwise from top left: BLM/Idaho; BLM/Arizona;BLM/California;BLM/Alaska

The Bureau of Land Management's response to climate change is multi-facted and includes controlling wildfires in the Lower Snake River District in Idaho, conserving resource values in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona, developing wind energy in California, and monitoring vegetation changes in the Seward Peninsula in Alaska.


An Influence on the Land

Climate change is influencing western lands and resources in many ways. As average temperatures rise, droughts are increasing, snowpack is declining, and water supplies are diminishing in key areas. Arctic permafrost is thawing. Wildfires have become larger and more frequent. Noxious weeds and invasive species are crowding out native plants and wildlife (see USGCRP findings below).

These changes undermine the ecological health of BLM-managed lands and impact our quality of life. Healthy public lands produce vital water supplies and natural resources for energy, food, and shelter. They also provide valued recreation opportunities, and places of solitude and beauty, which nurture and replenish our spirit. These core values and benefits are threatened by the environmental changes underway. 

The BLM is undertaking two connected initiatives to understand, anticipate, and respond to the effects of climate change on the public lands. These initiatives are Rapid Ecoregional Assessments (REAs), which are currently being prepared, and a proposed landscape approach for managing public lands.

The purpose of these initiatives is to help BLM managers and public land stakeholders understand environmental conditions and trends from a broader landscape perspective, and to use this information to inform, focus, and coordinate management efforts on-the-ground. The REAs and proposed landscape approach offer a way to integrate the BLM’s conservation, restoration, and development programs in a cohesive manner. These efforts will help sustain important public land values and meet the Nation’s energy needs in an era of climate change and other profound environmental challenges.

In addition to developing strategies for adapting to climate change, the BLM is working to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is being accomplished in three ways: 1) by siting and developing renewable energy on public lands in an environmentally responsible manner; 2) by exploring the potential to sequester carbon dioxide in geologic formations beneath public lands; and 3) by designing and retrofitting BLM facilities to conserve energy. Taken together, the BLM’s climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts provide a constructive framework for addressing climate change and the environmental challenges of the 21st Century.

The United States Global Change Research Program, a Federal program that integrates U.S. climate change research, provides these key examples of the effects of climate change in the western U.S. (USGCRP, 2009):  
  • Recent warming in the Southwest has been among the most rapid in the nation. This is driving declines in spring snowpack and Colorado River flow.

  • Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States over the last 50 years. Insect outbreaks and wildfires in Alaska are increasing with warming, lakes are declining in the area, and thawing permafrost is damaging roads and infrastructure.

  • In the Northwest, higher temperatures are causing more winter precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow and are contributing to earlier snowmelt. Further declines in snowpack are projected, leading to reduced summer streamflows.
  • In many areas of the West, increasing temperatures, drought, wildfire, insect outbreaks, and invasive species will accelerate transformation of the landscape.


 


Links to climate information at partner agencies:

 

U.S. Department of InteriorU.S. Geological SurveyNational Park ServiceU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceU.S. Forest ServiceNational Academy of SciencesNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration