On Oct. 8, 2014, the White House Counsel on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a strategy for addressing the impacts of climate change on natural resources as well as the role such resources can play in mitigating the impacts of climate change. This strategy — entitled "Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America's Natural Resources" — is the latest component of the President's Climate Action Plan to be officially unveiled.

The President established the Climate and Natural Resources Working Group (CNRWG) by Executive Order in late 2013. The CNRWG includes the Departments of Defense, Interior and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Over the first six months of 2014, the CNRWG worked to "inventory and assess current policies, programs and regulations." (Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America's Natural Resources. Executive Summary. page 4.)

This inter-agency process identified a broad range of actions that will be taken by relevant agencies to enhance the administration's efforts to adapt our natural resources to the impacts of climate change, and to bolster the use of those resources in fighting it. The strategy identifies four priority tactics for doing so:

  • Foster climate-resilient lands and waters
  • Manage and enhance U.S. carbon sinks
  • Enhance community preparedness and resilience by utilizing and sustaining natural resources
  • Modernize federal programs, investments and delivery of services to build resilience and enhance sequestration of biological carbon

As the Obama administration approaches its last two years in office, its emphasis on climate change — a major legacy issue for the president — will continue. The administration has used its pre-existing authorities in directing Executive Branch agencies to undertake climate mitigation and adaptation strategies for several years, and the release of this strategy makes clear that Executive Branch agencies will be increasing that. Consequentially, increasing amounts of agency resources and manpower will be devoted to fulfilling these objectives.

A range of industries, including the agriculture and timber industries, should familiarize themselves with this plan. The timber industry will want to examine the opportunities available to it under this new strategy, as it puts an emphasis on the need to invest in wood products as well as forest health and restoration. Because of the level of congressional gridlock in Washington, D.C., the administration will have broad leeway in deciding how to proceed on many of the items called for in the strategy. As such, it will be important for stakeholders to engage with the administration and the relevant agencies throughout this process so that they have opportunities to influence the outcomes. Additionally, state and local infrastructure agencies and community/economic development organizations will want to closely monitor several of the initiatives, including funding, that will be made available under this new strategy.