Growing Trees, Growing Jobs

Tahoe Center California Conservation Corps members shape rocks to create the siding for an ADA accessible trail at Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville, Calif. Photo Credit: California Conservation Corps.

“Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more!”

On its face, the California Conservation Corps’ motto might seem like more of a warning than a recruiting tool, but for thousands, it represents a promise: new skills, entry to a career, even a bit of an adventure.

And it fairly describes the work of roughly 3,400 young people the state agency trains each year for jobs in forestry and other conservation fields.

Planting tree seedlings on steep hillsides on hot summer days and thinning forests of dense vegetation so trees already planted there have room to grow is hard work.

Growing and taking care of trees in cities is also hard. Digging large holes for hardy trees that can withstand relatively harsh city environments and climbing trees to prune branches so they won’t fall on cars and houses can be exhausting.

Yet it’s the kind of work we desperately need more people to do as interest in trees as a solution to climate change and social inequity takes off across America.

And, despite how arduous this work is, the opportunity couldn’t come at a better time. As of August, 1 in 10 Americans was unemployed. People from under-resourced communities in cities and rural areas — two places that have the highest potential for forestry jobs — are among the hardest hit by the recession.

Though they might begin in entry-level positions, Zander Evans, the Executive Director of the Santa Fe-based Forest Stewards Guild, says that people in forestry can soon find themselves running drones, doing mapping and even communicating with residents about prescribed burns.

“There is a career ladder,” he says. Making sure that ladder is accessible to those who need it most is more important than ever. One of the best ways to do that is through job training programs such as the California Conservation Corps, which focuses much of its Corps member recruitment on under-resourced communities.

Growing up in a low-income family in a Los Angeles suburb, Luna Morales’ main exposure to nature was a yearly trip to a state park.

After two years in the California Conservation Corps, Luna Morales, now a crew leader, can fell trees with a chainsaw and has helped reroute creeks. Photo Credit: California Conservation Corps.

After two years in the California program, Morales, now 21, can fell trees with a chainsaw and help reroute creeks. She was promoted to crew leader and is working toward her associate’s degree. “With the background I came from,” Morales says, “I never would have expected to be here.”

“The Cs,” as its members call it, was created by the state of California in 1976. Modeled loosely after the national Civilian Conservation Corps that put 3 million people to work during the Great Depression, it is a state agency and a model American Forests and others believe could be replicated during the current recession.

Corps members receive a $1,905 monthly stipend while getting on-the-job training in everything from building and clearing trails to cutting down dead trees and responding to natural and manmade disasters. American Forests works with the group on a number of planting and shrub-clearing projects.

Workforce development programs are also key in urban areas — especially low-income neighborhoods and some communities of color, which tend to have fewer trees and the highest unemployment. The need for people who can plant, trim and prune trees in cities is expected to grow 10% by 2028.

That’s why American Forests works with job training partners in several cities to support and increase capacity for urban forestry programs, through its Tree Equity: Career Pathways Initiative. They have also developed a guide for creating entry-level urban forestry career pathways programs that target people in communities who could benefit most from entering the field.

“It’s definitely a moment where we’re crystal clear about the cost of inaction on our forests, and we are crystal clear about the coordinated effort that it’s going to take to actually make significant change,” says Sarah Lillie Anderson, senior manager of American Forests’ Tree Equity programs.

Rucker is hiring others from The Greening of Detroit, one of American Forests’ partners, to work for his own landscaping business because he says the program ensures they are qualified and dependable. Photo Credit: The Greening of Detroit.

Take William Rucker of Detroit, for example. He had never held a job outside of prison, which he was released from in 2019. He enrolled in an urban forestry training program offered by The Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit that plants trees and provides education and workforce development for people from under-resourced communities, many of them formerly incarcerated.

Rucker has since been hired by “The Greening,” one of American Forests’ partners, and also started his own landscaping business, serving about 30 houses a day. He plans to expand soon and put others to work.

“I’m hiring people from The Greening because I know they’ve been taught, they have qualifications and I can depend on them to show up for work every day,” he says.

Besides forestry skills training, the organization provides a range of support services, helping participants with transportation and housing, as well as basic training about being on time for work. These “wraparound” support services have contributed mightily toward the program’s 87% job placement rate, says Vice President Monica Tabares.

“Rarely have we had an opportunity to address two huge crises, climate change and the economy, at the same time,” says Jad Daley, President of American Forests. “This is the moment to be bold.”

Read the full story about how investing in our forests can help create jobs in American Forests’ magazine.

Michele Kurtz is the Director of Communications at American Forests.

New California Roadmap: A Natural Path to Climate Solutions

Coastline at The Nature Conservancy’s Jack and Laura Dangermond Preserve in central California. Photo Credit: Brandon Flint © The Nature Conservancy

California has long been a place that set trends.  From celebrities to surfing, the nation has long looked West to follow California’s lead.  And, of course, California has also been a global leader in attacking climate change.

Driven, in part, by record-breaking floods and fire seasons, the world’s fifth-largest economy has adopted numerous policies to curb emissions.  In 2006, California adopted its first economy-wide greenhouse gas reduction goal to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which it has achieved.  That initial action has been followed by other policies, including setting a low carbon fuel standard, sustainable communities strategies, a renewable energy portfolio, and mobilizing state agencies in the effort to reach a carbon-neutral economy by 2045. 

California is also well-known for its greenhouse gas emissions trading program, which places a declining emissions cap on major-emitting facilities and allows these facilities to trade emissions permits and invest in a limited amount of emissions offsets to meet reductions goals. 

But what is California’s next climate action milestone?  Using California’s world-class nature to help address climate change. 

That’s why we just published Nature-based Climate Solutions: A Roadmap to Accelerate Action in California, to highlight key strategies that will help California achieve this outcome.

Redwoods at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park in California in United States, North America. Photo Credit: Sandra Howard © The Nature Conservancy

For California to successfully and effectively integrate nature-based strategies into its goal to be carbon neutral, we need to understand their potential contribution to greenhouse gas reductions across the state.  We also need to understand and identify the various policy pathways and incentives, beyond offsets, that could be pursued to support these reductions.  The Roadmap shows how we can accomplish just that. 

Pulling together the science analyses published by The Nature Conservancy and colleagues, we estimate the statewide greenhouse gas reduction potential of thirteen different nature-based climate strategies, ranging from agricultural management practices, to improved forest management and wetland restoration to fire risk reduction and urban reforestation.  We present this in a spatially explicit way that also identifies the opportunities to achieve additional benefits through these actions, including habitat for species, groundwater recharge, and benefits to underserved communities, among others. We then highlight case studies and a policy discussion by region across the state to highlight a number of different policies and incentives that could be scaled up across the state to accelerate nature-based climate strategies. 

While we acknowledge that increased funding for nature-based strategies is critical, we make it a point to highlight additional “non-monetary” strategies that are important to accelerate action, including:

  • Improvements to permitting processes to restore wetlands and reduce fire risk,
  • Land use and conservation policies that could be adjusted to support both avoided emissions from land conversion and reductions in transportation emissions, and
  • Public-private partnerships between public agencies and utilities that could fund urban reforestation at larger scale and reduce the tree canopy gap in underserved communities                 

As discussions regarding how California can reach its carbon neutrality goals continue in the California legislature and Administration, we will continue to use this report to reframe the discussion on the role and importance of nature-based climate solutions, underscore their importance in achieving carbon neutrality, and highlight how we can get there.  While the focus of this report is on California, the issues we face here, and their relevance can extend to other jurisdictions in the United States and globally.     

Michelle Passero is the Director of California Climate Program for The Nature Conservancy.

Partners in Action: The Nature Conservancy Joins Powerful Coalition to Boost Natural Climate Solutions

The USN4C Blog will regularly feature blog posts written by members of the U.S. Nature4Climate Steering Committee highlighting the reasons their organization chose to join the U.S. Nature4Climate coalition.  This month’s post is written by Cathy Macdonald, The Nature Conservancy’s North America Director of Natural Climate Solutions and the Chair of the USN4C Steering Committee.

Cathy Macdonald, North America Director of Natural Climate Solutions at The Nature Conservancy, Chair of U.S. Nature4Climate Steering Committee

Growing up in Oregon, I developed a lifelong love of natural and working lands – from exploring Oregon’s coastal estuaries, rafting Oregon’s many rivers, and climbing Oregon’s iconic Cascade Mountains, to picking strawberries and cherries in summers to earn my first paychecks, and planting trees to help the Tillamook State Forest heal from major wildfires. Working for The Nature Conservancy, I have been able to carry my passion for the outdoors into my career. And in my time working for The Nature Conservancy, I have learned two important lessons.

First and foremost, I know the natural places I cherished as child and have worked to protect these past decades are at increasing risk to due to climate change. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has long recognized the enormous impact climate change will have on our mission – to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.  That is why we support strong, comprehensive action to address the climate challenge.

There is no question that, to avoid the irrecoverable impacts of climate change we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all energy and industrial sectors. But we won’t ultimately succeed unless we also unlock the power of our forests, farms, grasslands and wetlands to naturally remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soils.

Evening paddlers on Sparks Lake along the beautiful Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Bend, Oregon. Photo credit: Paul Carew

Our country’s natural and working lands already reduce total U.S. emissions by 11 percent. By increasing our investment in the protection and restoration of native habitats and managing our country’s forests and farms in ways that store more carbon, we could more than double the contribution natural and working lands make to address climate change.

In addition to their climate benefits, these “Natural Climate Solutions” help enhance soil health and agricultural productivity, improve water and air quality and provide landowners and surrounding communities with jobs and new sources of income.  These practices also help preserve our nation’s rich biological diversity. In short, Natural Climate Solutions help The Nature Conservancy fulfill our vision of a world where people and nature thrive.

The second thing I have learned during my career with TNC is that the best solutions to conservation challenges happen when diverse stakeholders work together. That’s why The Nature Conservancy joined forces with environmental, agricultural, conservation and sustainable business organizations to create the U.S. Nature4Climate Coalition.

The purpose of our coalition is to elevate the role Natural Climate Solutions can play as a critical component of a comprehensive climate action plan for the U.S.  

Despite the enormous contribution Natural Climate Solutions can make to improve our environment, our livelihoods and our climate outlook, the power of natural and working lands are too often overlooked.

Through the U.S. Nature4Climate coalition we can share the best information on the role that natural and working lands can play and use our extended networks to educate others involved in addressing climate change about the untapped potential of Natural Climate Solutions. Our coalition serves as a force multiplier in our efforts to marshal nature in efforts to slow climate change. 

If you are interested in learning more about our coalition, please sign up for our monthly newsletter

Catherine Macdonald is the North America Director of Natural Climate Solutions at The Nature Conservancy and the Chair of the USN4C Steering Committee.

Podcasts Highlight Growing Support for Natural Climate Solutions

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action “Food Farm Facts” Podcast

In November 2020, U.S. Nature4Climate was proud to participate in U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action’s “Food Farm Facts” podcast, which is dedicated to bringing together sustainability thought leaders in the food and agriculture sector, with special attention paid to the farmers and ranchers who are taking action to make U.S. agriculture more sustainable.

The podcast discussed the work U.S. Nature4Climate is doing to facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration to increase support for Natural Climate Solutions.  The episode also featured the perspectives of small forest-owner Rebecca Tuuk and Maryland farmer and Chair of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action Chip Bowling, who discussed how forest owners, farmers, corporations and non-profit organizations are working together to share lessons learned and adopt best practices as landowners. 

During the episode, Cathy Macdonald, the Chair of U.S. Nature4Climate Coalition’s Steering Committee, spoke about the un-tapped potential of Natural Climate Solutions to play a key role in efforts to rein in climate change.

“Unfortunately, natural and working lands are not often thought about by the people that are focused on advancing climate mitigation. Investments in Natural Climate Solutions have been much lower than investments and other important climate mitigation strategies. By being able to pull together a diverse set of organizations and great networks like U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action, we’re hoping we can do more to kind of elevate the importance of natural and working lands,” Macdonald said.

Bowling highlighted why they chose to become involved in the U.S. Nature4Climate coalition: “We knew as an organization and as a board that someone had to take the lead on climate change and how we’re going to change it as agriculture.” 

Bowling sounded a hopeful note about U.S. agriculture’s future role in addressing climate change.  “I think [in five years] we’re in a better place than where we are now because we’re doing practices that are making a difference. We understand now that what we’re doing, we have the data and science tells the truth that how we’re farming and where we’re farming does make a difference.”

Outdoor Industry Association’s “Climate Klatch” Podcast

Another recently launched podcast, the Outdoor Industry Association’s “Climate Klatch,” highlighted the Outdoor Industry Association’s support for Natural Climate Solutions as part of our overall strategy to address climate change.  The podcast featured Amy Horton, OIA’s Sustainable Market Innovation, who highlighted the outdoor recreation industry’s support for natural climate solutions as a key climate strategy.

“We support [carbon] sequestration as part of a comprehensive solution to climate change that also includes reducing emissions,” Horton said. “We’re asking Congress and federal agencies to protect and preserve our country’s lands and waters as Natural Climate Solutions, so the forests, farms, wetlands, grasslands have the potential to absorb more than 20% of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States – equivalent to the emissions from all U.S. vehicles.”

These podcasts highlighted the diverse and growing coalition supporting Natural Climate Solutions – a coalition that includes environmental organizations, farmers, forest owners, sustainability-focused businesses and the outdoor recreation industry.

“There are also some really unique coalitions forming that we in the outdoor industry are participating in alongside your traditional conservation and land groups, the hunting and fishing community, farming and ranchers. We’re all coming together to promote what are called natural climate solutions,” Horton said, mentioning U.S. Nature4Climate and Conservations for Climate Solutions as two examples.

Nathan Henry is the Project Manager for U.S. Nature4Climate.