Interior creates regional centers to cope with climate change

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Harry Hamburg/AP

To better coordinate efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar earlier this week signed an order creating eight new regional response centers that will develop broad strategies for managing the Interior Department's natural and cultural resources.

The order is an attempt to put science at the center of all planning related to department missions and to break down stovepipes created by agencies within the department, Salazar said at a briefing on Monday.

The new organizations will be based on science centers now being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey under a $10 million appropriation to provide data and analysis to fish and wildlife managers coping with the ground effects of climate change -- including new wildlife migratory patterns, drought information, increased wildfire risk and the proliferation of invasive plant species.

Interior will request additional funding for the new centers in 2011, Salazar said.

The new centers will have a broader mandate than the science centers had previously and will be responsible for synthesizing an array of data, as well as developing tools for department managers in caring for land, water, fish and wildlife, and cultural resources.

The department's efforts across all mission areas "have to be based on the best science," said Salazar.

In addition, Salazar created within his office a Climate Change Response Council of senior Interior officials to execute a coordinated departmentwide strategy to increase scientific understanding of climate change and its effects on resources. The council is charged with improving the distribution of climate change impact science through, a Web site aimed at giving the public greater access to federal data.

The council will include the secretary, deputy secretary, counselor, assistant secretaries, bureau directors and the solicitor.

The order also established two projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The Carbon Storage Project will explore methods for sequestering carbon emissions underground and capturing them biologically within forests and rangelands, based on USGS data and protocols. The Carbon Footprint Project will develop a departmentwide greenhouse gas emissions reduction program with baseline data and target goals.

"The fact is, all the [department's] bureaus have been addressing climate change in their own way," said David Hayes, deputy secretary at Interior. "They were doing good work but it was uncoordinated."

"Climate change is the challenge of our time," he said, noting it is an organizational challenge for the department as well as a scientific challenge.

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