GAO Chides Government on Warming

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The federal government needs to do a better job addressing how climate change is transforming the hundreds of millions of acres under its watch, according to a Government Accountability Office report to be released today.

The 184-page report, which Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) requested in 2004, highlights the extent to which global warming is already affecting the nation's parks, forests, marine sanctuaries and monuments.

Looking at agencies ranging from the U.S. Forest Service to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, GAO officials gathered reports of dramatic changes across the nearly 30 percent of U.S. land that lies under federal control. Since 1850, the glaciers in Glacier National Park have declined from 150 to 26; climate-triggered coral bleaching in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is eroding the area's tourist appeal.

For the most part, the men and women overseeing these 600 million acres of land and 150,000 square miles of protected waters have little direction on how to respond to these shifts, according to the report. It states that these managers "have limited guidance about whether or how to address climate change and therefore, are uncertain about what action, if any, they should take. . . . Without such guidance, their ability to address climate change and effectively manage resources is constrained."

In addition to NOAA and the Forest Service, the GAO examined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

Interior Department spokesman Chris Paolino said he could not comment on the GAO report because he had not read it, but he noted that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne established "a department-wide task force" on climate change this spring and is awaiting a final report from the panel next month. Kempthorne instructed the task force, Paolino said, "to look at the potential impact of climate change on Interior Department lands and to develop procedures and policies to proactively and reactively respond to those impacts."

Forest Service spokesman Joe Walsh said that although he could not comment, "our research and development folks have been working on climate change for years and years, and will be eager to look at the report."

-- Juliet Eilperin

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