Experienced Coalition Builders Represent Hunters and Anglers in the Fight for Natural Climate Solutions

Molalla River Ore, Photo Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

As an organization that was created specifically to find common ground and solve complicated conservation issues, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership knows a thing or two about the value of collaboration.

In the late 1990’s, though species-specific conservation groups had been successful at bringing fish and wildlife populations back from the brink, it seemed like we were fighting each other for the attention of decision-makers in Washington, D.C. Our late co-founder, Jim Range, recognized this and formed what was to become the TRCP to fill that gap.

Now, we are the largest conservation coalition in the country, carrying on Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy of safeguarding habitat and quintessentially American access to the outdoors.

Almost 20 years later, we are proud to forge new alliances within the U.S. Nature for Climate coalition, where the TRCP brings the collective voice of our 60 organizational partners, 100,000 individual advocates, and dozens of corporate partners to the fight for meaningful Natural Climate Solutions.

Our members may not look like the typical climate activists, but it would be a mistake to assume that American sportsmen and sportswomen are not engaged in this essential work. For one thing, we are on the front lines of climate change, witnessing firsthand the impacts on wildlife and habitat—from altered migration patterns to longer wildfire seasons. As temperatures spike, warming trout streams, we lose access to fishing opportunities. As invasive grasses consume the landscape, upland birds and other game lose critical forage. As summers lengthen, ticks take down big game animals before we get our shot in the fall.

Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Hunter and angler participation is also critical to conservation funding in the U.S., where hunting and fishing license sales and excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, boat fuel, and other essential equipment go directly to state fish and wildlife management agencies. These dollars benefit all species, not just those that are pursued as game.

This is why the TRCP is focusing its efforts on advocating for Natural Climate Solutions—many are habitat improvements that hunters and anglers already want. Besides our participation in USN4C, we are a part of several climate-focused working groups and we lead our own 41-group effort within the hunting and fishing space.

There’s an additional layer of value in nature-based infrastructure solutions that can restore fish and wildlife habitat while storing or sequestering carbon. So we’re educating decision-makers and our members on the benefits of natural infrastructure across all of our campaigns.

There may be no better time to advance Natural Climate Solutions with these win-win propositions: The stresses of the pandemic have driven more Americans to find solace in—and appreciation for—the great outdoors, but our nation is also still in the midst of the economic fallout from COVID restrictions. We need bold investments in conservation, including Natural Climate Solutions, to put Americans back to work, just as we have in past economic crises.

The ripple effects of decisive action now will be felt by generations to come—those who, as Theodore Roosevelt famously said, are “still in the womb of time.” If we meet our goals, they will experience more abundant fish and wildlife habitat, cleaner air and water, and the protection of resilient coastlines and functional wetlands. It’s why we do what we do, as both a partner and a partnership.

To learn more about the TRCP’s mission, watch this video.

Christy Plumer is the chief conservation officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and a member of the USN4C Steering Committee.

Investing in America’s Urban Forests

People wait to cross a tree-lined street in Park Slope (Brooklyn), New York. Photo Credit: Diane Cook and Len Jenshel/The Nature Conservancy.

Trees provide numerous benefits in cities, storing carbon, reducing temperatures, improving air and water quality, mitigating stormwater runoff, encouraging outdoor recreation, and improving human health and well-being. In the United States, urban forests provide estimated annual benefits of about $18.3 billion in air pollution reduction, carbon sequestration, and lowered building energy use and power plant emissions.

Urban trees are responsible for nearly one-fifth of America’s captured and stored carbon emissions. In addition to providing critical ecosystem services and climate mitigation benefits, urban forestry programs create thousands of good-paying jobs and new opportunities for young people. Career opportunities include urban foresters, arborists, tree trimmers, pruners, pesticide applicators and more.

Despite the many benefits that trees provide, research suggests that tree canopy is unequally distributed in U.S. cities with low-income neighborhoods and communities of color often having less tree cover. The inequitable distribution of urban trees furthers social inequities and has serious implications for the health, wealth and resiliency of people living in cities. Two of U.S. Nature4Climate’s coalition members are tackling the issue of urban tree cover head on, taking slightly different approaches to this work. Taken together, these two studies highlight the important role urban forestry programs can play in slowing climate change, reducing social injustices, creating economic opportunities, and making communities more livable.

The Nature Conservancy – The Urban Tree Cover Disparity in US Urbanized Areas
Tree planting at Garden Place Academy in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood.

The Nature Conservancy conducted the first national survey of tree inequality, mapping urban tree canopy and temperature across 5,723 cities and towns in the U.S. The main goal for this study was to analyze tree cover and temperature inequality for the 100 largest urbanized areas in the country, housing 167 million people (nearly 55% of the total US population). The data was developed from high-resolution aerial imagery, summer temperatures, and census demographics. The study focused on tree cover inequality relative to income and race.

The research shows that inequality in tree cover between low- and high-income neighborhoods is widespread in the United States, occurring in 92% of the urban areas studied. On average, there was 15.2% more tree cover in high-income areas than in low-income areas. The average surface temperature differential was roughly 3⁰F, but in more than a dozen cities the differential exceeded 5⁰F.  Patterns regarding race were similar, with neighborhoods of predominately people of color having lower tree cover and higher surface temperature in most U.S. cities.

The greatest tree inequality was found in the Northeast of the United States, where low-income neighborhoods in some urbanized areas have 30% less tree cover and are7⁰F hotter compared to high-income neighborhoods. Even after controlling for population density and built-up intensity, the link between income, race, and tree cover was significant. Cities with greater income inequality had greater differences in tree cover between high- and low-income blocks. Another important variable in explaining variation in tree cover was population density, with urban areas with higher median population density, such as New York City and Philadelphia having lower tree cover, presumably because there is simply less area to fit trees into more densely developed areas.

The Nature Conservancy found greater disparity in tree cover in the suburbs in low density areas compared to the urban core. Greater inequality in tree cover in suburban areas could be due to the relatively greater importance of actions on private land. It may be that low-income households are less able to afford the cost of planting and maintaining trees. Additionally, low-income households are more likely to be in rental units and are thus less involved in making decisions about land management, while owners are primarily interested in reducing maintenance costs and thus may have less of an incentive to plant and maintain trees. This finding has important policy implications since currently most of the funding and resources for urban forestry programs are directed to major metropolitan areas. Increasing tree planting and maintenance in suburbs could more effectively address tree cover disparities since there is less pavement and density allowing for more room to plant trees.

Overall, The Nature Conservancy’s findings illustrate that inequality in tree cover is widespread and pervasive in American cities and deserves policy attention. Tree planting will need to occur through public sector investment and maintenance on publicly owned land. Increased investment could be more strategically applied if government agencies responsible for urban forestry actively partnered with public health agencies to maximize benefits for both people and nature.

Additionally, tree planting needs to occur on private land and incentives and regulations must be enacted to motivate the private sector to engage in tree planting. The good news is that several programs like this already exist, such as tree protection ordinances, green area ratios in planning codes, and incentives for tree planting from electric utilities. In addition to establishing new trees, it will be critically important to maintain and care for existing trees, particularly mature trees that provide ecosystem services and benefits to communities.

American Forests – Urban Trees Help Slow Climate Change and Advance Tree Equity

When thinking about how to advance Tree Equity and mitigate climate change, it is important to consider projected changes to urban tree cover. The fact is, we are losing tree canopy in cities. And it’s not a problem that is going away. American Forests’ new report on Climate Change and Urban Forests found that in U.S. urban areas, we are losing one tree for every two trees planted or naturally regenerated. There are several factors that contribute to tree loss including, natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, insects, and diseases), urban expansion and development, improper planting practices and attrition. American Forests projects that 8.3% of existing tree canopy will be lost by 2060.

American Forests looked at county-level data nationwide across different scenarios for both existing urbanized areas and the projected expansion of these areas by 2060 to determine what it would take to achieve to increase tree canopy by 10 percent. To sustain urban tree cover through 2060, they found that about 25 million trees would need to be planted annually. On average, this planting equates to a national rate of one new tree annually for every 3 acres of urban land. However, maintaining existing tree canopy will not be enough.

A 10 percent increase in tree cover is needed nationwide to meaningfully advance Tree Equity and address climate change. This will require planting 31.4 million trees every year and an investment of at least $8.9 billion in urban forestry in the U.S. every year. If we are successful, trees would cover 43.3 percent of U.S. urban areas on average. In addition to planting more trees, it is necessary to increase investment in efforts to monitor and take care of existing trees, which are often larger and more established than planted trees. Scaling up urban forestry efforts would also support more than 228,000 jobs and store almost a billion metric tons of carbon – the same impact as removing nearly 200,000 cars from the road each year. And there would be a savings of nearly $1.6 billion a year from things like avoided asthma-related emergency room visits.

American Forest’ research can help guide decisions about how many trees we need to plant in the United States and the required investment to successfully manage our urban forests.

Key Takeaways

We need a multiplicity of voices advocating for urban trees and working to advance science, policy, funding, and collaboration around urban forestry. Studies like those conducted by The Nature Conservancy and American Forests should inspire conversation among environmental organizations, local government and municipalities, policymakers, health advocates and local communities to determine how to best address equity needs in cities and avoid devastating tree loss.

Caity Varian is the Digital Communications Manager for U.S. Nature4Climate.

Ambitious Climate Legislation in Massachusetts Sets the Bar for Other States

Bass Hole boardwalk in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Katherine Gendreau.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Its impacts can be seen clearly as sea levels continue to rise, heat waves become more frequent and storms intensify. To help avoid some of the worst impacts yet to come, immediate action is needed to not only stop further greenhouse gas emissions, but also to remove the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is already in the air.

In March, Massachusetts passed An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, a groundbreaking and ambitious law that sets a net zero emissions goal–the new global standard–and requires the Commonwealth to decarbonize our economy by decreasing our use of fossil fuels and harnessing nature to draw carbon from the air.

“The new law reflects Governor Charlie Baker’s and the state legislature’s recognition that climate change impacts are touching down in the Commonwealth’s communities today, and we need to address the causes and effects to protect our future,” says Steve Long, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Massachusetts. “Once again, Massachusetts policymakers have modeled bipartisan collaboration and leadership to address climate change that should serve as inspiration for policymakers on the national stage.”

The law also provides a robust toolkit of policies and strategies—such as requirements and incentives to reduce emissions from energy production, transportation, and buildings—and ensures accountability by setting goals for interim carbon emissions reductions between now and 2050.

TNC hosted a Natural Climate Solutions briefing for legislators at the Massachusetts State House in 2019. From left to right: Emily Myron, Laura Marx, State Representative Smitty Pignatelli, State Representative Bradley Jones, State Senator Bruce Tarr, Kurt Gaertner of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Steve Long. Photo Credit: Loren Dowd/TNC

TNC led the advocacy for the inclusion of Natural Climate Solutions in the legislation. As the bill moved through the Senate and House of Representatives, we heard bipartisan support for the benefits of Natural Climate Solutions. During Senate floor debate, Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton) said, “We will not achieve the reductions we need without carbon sequestration and storage. It is our Commonwealth that has the lungs of New England.” And House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) noted that, “A comprehensive, multi-faceted approach is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Using forests and other natural and working lands to promote carbon sequestration is one of the most effective ways for the state to achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.”  

Natural Climate Solutions are strategies that protect, restore, and better manage natural and working lands—such as forests, farms, and wetlands—to remove carbon from the air and store it long term. We believe this law is the first in the nation to require the state to set goals for both reducing emissions from and increasing sequestration by natural and working lands, and to create a plan to achieve those goals.

Northampton Tree. Photo Credit: Lauren Owens Lambert.

Massachusetts’ forests currently remove the equivalent of nearly five million metric tons of CO2 from the air each year, an amount equal to nearly seven percent of our carbon emissions. Natural Climate Solutions have the potential to remove an additional one to two million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year across the state—about the same amount of carbon as is emitted by 435,000 cars annually.

In addition to capturing carbon, implementing Natural Climate Solutions can bring communities many other benefits, as well. For example, protecting forests and wetlands helps clean our water and air and provides habitat for wildlife. Better managing farmland ensures healthy soils and can increase agricultural yields. And restoring wetlands and salt marshes helps reduce flood risks and enhances our fisheries. In urban areas, tree planting and creating green space can reduce the heat island effect, lower energy use in nearby buildings and reduce air pollution to improve public health.

As we move forward, it is also critical to ensure a just transition to a decarbonized economy and address the disproportionate impacts of climate change felt by underserved and overburdened communities. The new law includes important environmental justice provisions designed to enhance review of the health and cumulative impacts of projects proposed in communities with environmental justice populations and to ensure that residents have reasonable access and information to meaningfully engage in the public processes concerning those projects. TNC was proud to support environmental justice partners in advocating for these protections.

“The requirement in the new law that cumulative impacts be considered reflects the reality that the health and well-being of our communities and our environment are inextricably linked,” says Eugenia Gibbons, Massachusetts director of climate policy at Health Care Without Harm. “The environmental justice protections mark an important step towards ensuring that communities historically excluded from decision making that has left them burdened by environmental harm have reasonable access to information and an opportunity to engage meaningfully going forward.” 

At the same time TNC was advocating for the climate legislation, they led a working group on the state’s climate council to inform the science and policy recommendations for natural climate solutions in the Commonwealth’s 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan. The plan prioritizes the state’s action for the next ten years and will guide implementation of strategies to meet emissions reductions targets in the law. TNC collaborated with climate justice partners to jointly develop a policy framework and recommend Natural Climate Solutions strategies for equity and justice. 

Governor Baker signing Next-Generation Road Map legislation.

“The legislation signed by Governor Baker is supported by a comprehensive, science-based analysis with significant stakeholder input that took place over a two-year period, culminating with the Administration’s 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap and Clean Energy and Climate Plan,” says Kathleen Theoharides, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary for Massachusetts. “As we move toward implementing this nation-leading legislation, including important provisions around natural working lands and protecting our environmental justice communities, the Baker-Polito Administration remains committed to achieving our climate goals in an equitable manner that protects our most vulnerable residents.”

TNC in Massachusetts could not have realized our accomplishments without a team effort that provided an effective combination of policy and science, which included Steve Long, Laura Marx, forest ecologist and Emily Myron, policy manager.

An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy is formative legislation that could be emulated across the U.S., bringing people together across the aisle and leading to important and impactful changes for the future of people and nature.

Loren Dowd is a Marketing and Communications Manager at The Nature Conservancy.

It Starts with a Seed: Producing High Quality Native Seed for Restoration in the Willamette Valley

Oregon iris production field. Photo Credit: Institute for Applied Ecology.

Historically, the Willamette Valley of Oregon was lush with fields of purple camas (Camassia quamash) and rosy seablush (Plectritis congesta) in the spring and western goldenrod (Solidago lepida) highlighted by the last rays of sun in the fall. Today this prairie habitat is among the most endangered ecosystems in North America with over 90% of upland and wet prairie habitat converted to other uses. Consequently, there has been a drastic decline of native plant and wildlife species dependent on these habitats. Conservation practitioners have been actively restoring this critical habitat for decades but have been challenged to find high quality, diverse native seed for their projects.

Grassland restoration provides a whole suite of benefits for both people and nature. Grasslands provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, and they improve water quality and stabilize soil, which reduces runoff and erosion. Grassland restoration is also an important nature-based solution for addressing climate change by storing carbon in soil and root systems. Recent research indicates that restoring 5 million acres of marginal cropland to grasslands has the potential to store an additional 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent of removing 1.9 million cars from the road each year.

In 2012 the Willamette Valley Native Plant Partnership was created to help solve this problem. The Partnership was formed by 21 restoration organizations and native plant producers who had a vision to create a partnership that would cooperatively fund and produce plant materials for use in restoration, revegetation, and mitigation throughout the region. The main goal was to create a supply of seed that was genetically diverse and ecologically appropriate. Research shows that using genetically diverse, locally sourced native plant materials increases establishment and overall success of restoration projects.

To achieve this goal, the approach taken was to collect seed from many source populations throughout the Willamette Valley to capture a broad genetic base for each species. This seed was then used to establish farm fields of high priority native species so partners could purchase seed for use in their restoration projects. Within its first year the Partnership built an organizational infrastructure, hired a seasonal seed collection crew, and entered its first two species into production – slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) and western goldenrod (Solidago lepida var. salebrosa).

Restored prairie at Herbert Farm just outside of Corvallis. Photo Credit: Institute for Applied Ecology.

Since its beginnings nearly a decade ago, the Partnership has been striving to represent the vision of the Plant Conservation Alliance Native Seed Strategy – “the right seed in the right place at the right time”. Over six seasons, crews have collected 72 pounds of seed from 27 native species from hundreds of wild populations scattered throughout the Willamette Valley. Now, 21 species have been put into production which has resulted in a yield of over 3,100 pounds of native seed. Approximately two-thirds of this seed has been distributed to partners and spread in prairie habitats throughout the ecoregion. These native seeds will grow into mature plants and help in restoring function to these endangered ecosystems.

Programs like the Willamette Valley Native Plant Partnership play a key role in advancing these restoration efforts. Ensuring that landowners and managers working to restore grasslands have access to “the right seed at the right place at the right time” significantly increases the chance of achieving successful and enduring outcomes. This, in turn, helps unlock the carbon storage potential of these restored grasslands, while also ensuring the newly established plants are resilient to changes over time resulting from climate change.

Lessons for Reforestation Programs

According to a new study released by The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service, academic researchers and American Forests  , an ambitious program to reforest lands that were historically forested in the U.S. will require 3 billion tree seedlings a year – a 2.3-fold increase in the number of seedlings currently produced. This will require new investment in collecting and storing a broader diversity of genetically appropriate seeds, increasing nursery capacity to grow seedlings, and in the development of a trained workforce to collect seeds, plant seedlings and ensure their successful growth.

The approach taken by the Willamette Valley Native Plant Partnership offers a good model for providing the market certainty to diversify the seed stock for reforestation and spur new investments in nursery capacity. By identifying sources of genetically appropriate seeds, hiring and training workers to collect and sort seeds, and providing nurseries with the seeds necessary to support reforestation efforts, we can increase the chance that these efforts will succeed.

This article was adapted from an article that first appeared on the Pacific Birds website.

Alexis Larsen is the Native Seed Partnership Coordinator at the Institute for Applied Ecology.

Roadmap to a Solar Energy Future on Long Island

Mid- to large-scale solar arrays, like the one at the H. Lee Dennison County Center in Hauppauge, Long Island, offer a host of benefits. Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

As seen from above, the solar carport at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, Long Island, twinkles in the sun. Since 2011, the solar canopies there, laid out in rows above the parking spaces, have generated shade in the hot summer months and carbon-free electricity all year round, along with a multitude of other benefits: improved air quality and improved public health; jobs that pay above the national average; reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and income for Suffolk County, which has leased the parking lot to the array’s developer. 

The even better news about this solar project and ones like it—mid-to-large-scale arrays of at least 250 kilowatts—is that they can play a pivotal role in meeting New York State’s nation-leading climate and clean energy goals. In fact, these arrays, also called commercial- and industrial-scale solar, have the potential to generate more electricity than Long Island uses each year—enough to power 4.8 million homes. And, according to a new report, they can do it without negatively impacting many of the places Long Islanders hold dear—the region’s farmlands and forests, its cultural heritage sites and open spaces. 

The Long Island Solar Roadmap explores how to advance solar development on the country’s most populated island while safeguarding the landscapes people value most and expanding access to clean energy, especially for low-to-moderate income residents and people of color. Funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife, and informed by a consortium of 38 local stakeholders, the Roadmap offers a first-of-its-kind online mapping tool that identifies areas for responsible solar development and lays out clear strategies for lowering barriers to the clean energy technology. 

“This report shows that in scaling up solar, we don’t have to choose between one ‘green’ good—clean energy—and another—undisturbed forests, open spaces, and farmland….With the right approach, we have room for it all.”

– Jessica Price, New York Renewable Energy Strategy Lead

Mapping Opportunities for Solar Development

Photo Credit: Ruslan Dashinsky/iStock

Like so much other work at The Nature Conservancy, this project got its start with the awareness of a problem. In 2016, several proposed large solar projects on Long Island were very publicly shot down because they would have required clear-cutting forests. “I was having lots of conversations with folks about where solar projects shouldn’t go,” says Jessica Price, The Nature Conservancy’s New York renewable energy strategy lead. “What I was really interested in talking about was where they should go.” 

To help figure that out, The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife brought together utilities, municipalities, solar developers, commercial property owners, farmers and community groups to talk about what they valued and how those values could be used to inform decisions about solar siting. The team also undertook an ambitious effort to digitally map Nassau and Suffolk counties, creating new computer tools to identify the types of land that should be off-limits to solar development and the areas where solar could be prioritized.

What they found, Price says, was a major opportunity: “Even though we don’t have large swaths of undeveloped land on Long Island, we have plenty of parking lots, warehouse roofs, brownfields, capped landfills and other areas already impacted by development.” Support for solar sited in such places is plentiful, too. Public opinion research conducted as part of the project found that 92 percent of Long Islanders surveyed endorse the use of mid-to-large-scale solar, and the technology is especially popular when sited on parking lots and rooftops and when projects are developed and installed by local companies. 

Ramping up Solar and its Many Benefits

The report also explores the impacts that scaling up solar could have on reducing carbon emissions and improving public health. Installing just one-quarter of the solar potential identified in the project could cut carbon pollution equivalent to removing more than 700,000 cars from Long Island’s roads. And over 20 years, that amount of solar could improve air quality enough to save 36 lives and prevent as many as 28 hospitalizations. Ramping up solar to that degree could also create thousands of local jobs and improve the access of low-and-moderate income residents and people of color to clean energy. 

Now, Price and others will take the map on the road or, for the time being, to virtual meetings with local officials and others interested in advancing mid-to-large scale solar on Long Island. “Solar power offers incredible benefits,” says Price. “This report shows that in scaling up solar, we don’t have to choose between one ‘green’ good—clean energy—and another—undisturbed forests, open spaces, and farmland. Even on densely populated Long Island, with the right approach, we have room for it all.”

Download the Long Island Solar Roadmap Report.

Liz Galst is a Communications Manager for the New York division of The Nature Conservancy, focusing on Long Island. 

New research shows the incredible potential of America’s agricultural soils to combat climate change

Photo Credit: American Farmland Trust

Rebuilding carbon stocks in agricultural soils is not only crucial for the continued productivity of our nation’s farmland and livelihood of its farm families, but also necessary to combat the impacts of climate change.  

Despite a recent uptick in soil health practice adoption, fewer than a third of the 260 million U.S. acres in row crops are managed with no-till, and less than 5% use cover crops. By increasing the use of just these two practices, U.S. farmers have an unparalleled opportunity to combat climate change, improve water quality, and build on-farm resilience and profitability. 

American Farmland Trust’s new report, “Combating Climate Change on U.S. Cropland,” focuses on the significant potential of no-till and cover crop practices to increase soil carbon sequestration and reduce nitrous oxide emissions for a net reduction in GHG emissions. 

While it is unrealistic to expect farmers to make management changes overnight, increased and sustained use of no-till/strip till and cover crops is achievable with current technology, rendering these practices readily available to offer immediate climate solutions.  

As part of its report, American Farmland Trust (AFT) evaluated a near-term scenario focused on row crop acres in selected corn belt and southeast states. It found that acres in the study region using cover crops and/or no-till are already reducing net GHG emissions by 67.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year. If rapid adoption of these two practices in the next 3-5 years happens in the study area, then net GHG emissions can be reduced by an additional 29.6 million metric tons of CO2e per year, for a total of 97 million metric tons of CO2e per year.  

Bottom line – if farmers on a fraction of U.S. cropland rapidly increase adoption of cover crops and no-till in line with AFT’s scenario analysis, the total acreage of these two practices will sequester the equivalence of removing 21 million passenger cars from the road for a year or growing 1.6 billion tree seedlings for one year.   

U.S. farmers could deliver these benefits in the next three to five years if federal and state governments provide additional support, prioritize financial and technical assistance programs, and develop innovative incentives. 

Diagram depicting a basic soil carbon cycle. When the amount of organic carbon added to the soil is protected and exceeds the amount that is lost, soil organic matter increases, leading to long-term carbon sequestration

While 100% adoption of no-till and cover crops is unrealistic, these two practices are just a starting point, and the implementation of additional synergistic practices on cropland and grazing land could significantly combat climate change through reductions in GHG emissions and increased soil carbon sequestration. 

Even greater climate benefits beyond the near-term scenario in AFT’s report could be realized by expanding the technical, financial, and social support for farmers and ranchers. Agricultural soils have significant potential to capture and store soil carbon—but only when we give our farmers the support they need.  

For this reason, AFT is encouraging the Biden Administration to act now by prioritizing the protection of America’s most threatened working lands and the broad implementation of conservation practices in the attainment of their ambitious 30 x 30 goals of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030

For more information on the role farms and ranches can play in combatting climate change, visit www.farmland.org/climate.  

Brennan Hafner is a Writer and Editor at American Farmland Trust.

As Stewards of the Land, Farmers and Ranchers Proud to Join U.S. Nature4Climate

Photo Credit: Alex Snyder/The Nature Conservancy

Every day I see how our farmers and ranchers steward the land in the face of ever-mounting environmental and economic challenges. For them, the greatest reward is not only pursuing a livelihood they love, and have often carried out for generations, but in sustainably producing the food, fuel and fiber that our country needs to thrive.

Our farmers and ranchers see the potential of the land every time they prepare the ground for a new planting or gather a new harvest. It’s a potential that extends beyond food production to contributing to solutions for our planet and future generations. And one of the most profound ways the agriculture sector can make a difference is through natural climate solutions. More and more of our farmers are using climate-smart agriculture practices that protect our vital soil and its huge potential to store carbon. In fact, U.S. soils store 100 times more carbon than total U.S. emissions in a year. Deploying climate-smart practices is an effective solution to not only eliminate the sector’s own carbon emissions but that of other sectors as well.

That’s why we are so proud to have joined U.S. Nature4Climate, a forward-thinking coalition of conservation, environmental and sustainable business organizations committed to ensuring our forests, farms, ranches, grasslands and wetlands are a vital part of the strategy to combat climate change.

At U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA), we believe that our working lands and the amazing folks who steward them have incredible potential to contribute to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as our recent report in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development made clear.

Our farmers and ranchers know first-hand that nature-based solutions to climate change are powerful, but often overlooked, and that sustainable stewardship of the land can positively impact other critical environmental, social and economic factors. Through their own resilient practices, stewards of the land can unleash nature’s own healing and restorative potential.

Photo Credit Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

Agriculture is truly the one sector that has stood up in a profound way to enable the United States to commit to climate action and to act meaningfully on the SDGs and to transform our rural economies. This is captured in our recently launched Decade of Ag vision for a resilient, restorative, economically viable and climate-smart agricultural system that produces abundant and nutritious food, natural fiber and clean energy for a sustainable, vibrant and prosperous America. 

We’re excited that U.S. Nature4Climate shares this vision, including the huge untapped potential for carbon sequestration in our soils through climate-smart agricultural practices. Through this knowledge-rich organization, and our complementary perspectives, we can learn from one another and be stronger together advancing nature-based solutions to climate change.

Every time farmers and ranchers are part of the conversation to more sustainably steward the land and create the resilient food systems of the future, the greater the chance for success. Every harvest is an opportunity to get it right—but with an eye to achieving the SDGs by 2030, that’s less than 30 harvests. Collaborating with partners like U.S. Nature4Climate is our best bet to make every harvest count.

Erin Fitzgerald is the Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action.