The Economic Lifeblood of Trees

Photo Credit: Michael Mardon/American Forests.

Suzanne Radford knows the power of forests to help heal the sick and stressed. Those incredible capabilities enabled her to turn a passion for nature into a career. She now guides and coaches people in ways to use the sights, sounds and smells of the woods to create a sense of calm — something referred to as “forest bathing.”

Radford is one of many people starting to realize that trees and, more broadly, forests are an engine for job creation. More than 106,000 people in the United States work directly with forests in jobs, such as conservation scientist, forest manager and logger, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But many more have jobs that are linked to forests in less obvious ways. From science teachers to whiskey barrel makers to artists, people in myriad professions need forests and trees. In cities, park planners design urban oases that revolve around trees and the benefits they provide people. Sculptors carve wood reclaimed from old buildings into beautiful items that can be sold. And what would wildlife photographers do without forests that provide habitat for countless animals and birds?

Forests aren’t just something pretty to look at or walk through. They are the economic lifeblood for an increasing number of people in the United States.

Forest Bathing Guide

Lying on the trunk of an oak tree, Radford listens to a soundscape of birdsong and insects humming. A growing body of research shows that time spent in nature helps boost people’s moods and reduces anxiety and stress. Companies hire her as a nature coach to help their employees manage stress through time spent outdoors.

Photo Credit: Michael Mardon.

Suzanne Radford is a certified forest bathing guide and forest therapy practitioner. She helps people connect to nature through excursions in the Serra de Monchique mountain range of the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Portugal. Years ago, Radford discovered a secret waterfall in a forest she frequently visits. Now she offers her clients a chance to sit beside water, watch its movement and flow and listen as it cascades over the rocks. She encourages forest bathers to imagine the role the waterfall plays in feeding the mountain and surrounding forest, and to let the water wash over their hands and feet.

Production Arborist

Benyah Andressohn was 6 when he started climbing trees. Little did he know he would find his calling up in those branches. In high school he wanted a job that would pose a daily challenge, change the environment and allow him to use his brain. Becoming an arborist made perfect sense.

Photo Credit: Day’s Edge Productions / American Forests.
Photo Credit: Day’s Edge Productions / American Forests

Andressohn works for True Tree Service in Miami, where he is a production arborist, trained to safely ascend and descend trees in order to care for them. Our cities need many more like him. Urban forestry is expected to see a 10% increase in job openings for entry-level positions by 2028.

Park Planner

Once they have identified a site for a park, planners like Clement Lau create a vision for the space. Here is his rendering of a pocket park proposed for Walnut Park, a community in Los Angeles County with very few trees and parks compared to other communities. Once grown, the trees included here will help improve air quality and cool down the neighborhood on hot days. Credit: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

As a park planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, Clement Lau analyzes data, such as demographics, existing parkland, trees and transportation, to determine which unincorporated areas need parks the most. In places like Los Angeles County, parks are considered key infrastructure for quality of life, and trees are a major component of park planning.

 Here, Lau enjoys an afternoon at Arcadia County Park, which he frequents with his family. Photo Credit: Susan Lau.

Wood Sculptor

Canadian-based sculptor Patricia Aitkenhead’s carved animals make popular pendants and totems. But her business started with a classic debate: cats or dogs? As a way to settle the issue, she crafted a chess set comprised of a team of cats and a team of dogs. She chose breeds with traits she thought might fit their position on the board. Here, these pugs are the pawns.

Photo Credit: Patrick L. Whalen.

Barrel Makers

Securing top and bottom barrel heads is one of the last touches in barrel production. Here, an employee at Kentucky Cooperage is placing the head hoop on a barrel.

Photo Credit: Independent Stave Company.

Oak barrels being charred at Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon, Ky. The charred American oak barrel is a cornerstone of American whiskey, and white oaks specifically are used in the aging of bourbon. Barrel makers char spirit barrels to create flavor, color, aroma, a char layer that acts as a filter, and to break down the wood cell walls so the spirit can extract flavors from the oak.

Wildlife Photographer

Richard Cronberg has been photographing wildlife for 40 years and sells his photos commercially in art shows, fundraising events, retail stores and online. Perhaps best known for his bird photos, Cronberg here is capturing a group of Snow and Ross’s Geese taking flight at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in California.

Photo Credit: Russell Cronberg.

Here, Cronberg has photographed a northern pygmy owl, which make their homes in dense forests near streams in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Songbirds are the northern pygmy owl’s favorite meal, so it can often be found near a group of agitated songbirds that gather to scold it. Photo Credit: Richard Cronberg.

The tree swallow, found throughout much of North America, makes its nests in the cavities of trees. But when it emerges, this beautiful acrobatic bird chases flying insects through fields and wetlands. Photo Credit: Richard Cronberg.

This article was originally written for American Forests Magazine.

The Outdoor Industry Aspires to Become Climate Positive by 2030

Climate positive is a summit that very few companies are yet pursuing. Blazing this new trail will not be easy. Yet, if we don’t carve a new, bold path for our industry and others to follow, we will ultimately fail to protect the outdoor experience upon which our businesses and many livelihoods around the globe depend. Our customers, consumers and employees are asking this of us… Now, united around this bold new goal and commitments, the outdoor industry through the Climate Action Corps – is poised to lead by example.

The world faces an urgent climate change problem caused by human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems. The Earth has already warmed by 1 degree since the 19th century, and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Global climate experts agree: if we don’t curb emissions immediately, the results will be catastrophic for life on Earth. To avoid that, the world must cut emissions in half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 (that is, any remaining emissions are neutralized by the equivalent carbon removals).

The bottom line: Every government, business and individual must act. And we believe the outdoor industry must lead.

Climate change is already threatening the $778 billion outdoor industry and outdoor participation everywhere. Ski seasons dwindle and resorts struggle to operate profitably; warmer streams, drought and fire diminish hunting and fishing activity; and kids and families shutter indoors throughout the West as wildfire-polluted skies force cancelled camping trips and hiking excursions, or, much worse – devastate entire communities. Extreme weather-related events are also harming people and communities across the globe that often make our products, while these same events disrupt the supply chains we depend on. With so much at stake, the outdoor industry must be at the forefront of transformation and innovation toward a low-carbon economy. Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), as the North American industry’s trade association with a mission to ensure a thriving outdoor industry for generations to come, has a primary responsibility to support its members and the industry to rise to face this challenge.

The Outdoor Industry’s Opportunity To Lead

As individual companies, the choices we make – from renewable energy to power our operations, to low-carbon materials and production processes to make our products, to enabling the reuse of our gear – can have an impact. But as an industry, we can be a significant force in reversing the impacts of climate change. Our collective efforts can scale innovations, activate millions of consumers, drive policy and create a model for other sectors to follow. Our industry has a history of innovation, leading with our values, and stewarding the planet. We know that our employees and our customers are expecting us to be part of the climate solution. We also have a history of coming together to tackle hard problems.

Many outdoor companies are already taking meaningful climate action – measuring their carbon footprints, setting greenhouse gas reduction targets, and neutralizing the emissions they cannot yet reduce. But we recognize these actions by a few leaders among us is not enough. We can do better. We need to catalyze bold, widespread climate action across our industry and beyond by forging a new path. Rather than simply reducing harmful practices, we can bring forward regenerative ones. Instead of just doing “less bad,” we can create “more good” for society and the environment. We can set aggressive science-based reduction targets that we are not 100% certain how to achieve – acknowledging the “innovation gap” between what can be modeled, and what’s actually required. We can remove carbon from the atmosphere through solutions that also restore and conserve nature, increase outdoor recreation opportunities for all, and build climate-resilient communities. We can advance a just transition to the clean energy economy. In doing so, we go beyond simply decreasing our negative impact to creating positive impact.

For these reasons, OIA created the Climate Action Corps in early 2020, which has since grown to more 100 members representing more than $25 billion in annual sales revenue.

With input from our members, Board of Directors, Sustainability Advisory Council and external experts over the past year, we are excited to announce a new aspiration to become the first climate positive industry by 2030, creating a bold example for others around the world to follow. We chose an ambitious but achievable target because we are leaders in the mountains, in our R&D departments and in the marketplace, and we believe we can reach this summit by working together. To make this an achievable goal for our members, OIA is assembling resources to guide and support each step of the journey.

What Does “Climate Positive” Mean?

Global consensus is still emerging, and we have grounded our own definition of “climate positive” in work being done by climate experts and NGOs and will continue to evolve this working definition as consensus emerges.

Our working definition: Climate positive means to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions in line with a science-based target (SBT) that addresses all scopes, to remove even more GHG from the atmosphere than you emit, and to advocate for broader systemic change.

Climate scientists agree that even with aggressive reductions in emissions, carbon removal—the process of extracting carbon dioxide from the air and storing it—will be crucial to avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. We also believe climate positive brings an opportunity for our industry to promote equity and climate justice. We will continue to seek the input of experts and leaders in carbon accounting, climate science and the climate justice movement – as well as our own member companies – to ensure our approach is bold yet pragmatic, science-based, inclusive and equitable, and drives environmental, societal and business value.

With this bold goal in place and a community of 100+ outdoor companies engaged in the Corps, we are moving quickly to establish a credible, practical pathway, supporting resources, and interim milestones that will guide and accelerate progress and lead our industry to climate positive by 2030.

The Path To Climate Positive

Measure + Plan | Reduce + Remove | Advocate + Engage | Share

Climate Action Corps members commit to the following actions, with a new member requirement as of 2021 to set a science-based target that addresses all scopes within two years of joining:

Measure + Plan.

Build a company-specific action plan. Calculate your entire carbon footprint (accounting for scopes 1-3, as defined by the GHG Protocol). Base your measurements on more and more primary data over time. Set a science-based target (SBT) that addresses all scopes within two years of joining (new requirement).

Society has not yet committed sufficiently to reduce emissions, and science-based targets are the only way to ensure carbon reduction at the individual organization level happens at the pace and scale required to meet the global 1.5 degree warming limit. OIA will release new Guidebook content and training resources to help members tackle challenging “scope 3” measurement in particular, as well as resources to support science-based target setting in line with the Science Based Target Initiative criteria in 2021 (though members will not be required to set SBTi-approved targets, we encourage companies to seek this level of 3rd party validation).

Reduce + Remove.

Take immediate and ongoing action to drive down carbon emissions in line with your SBT. Compensate for remaining emissions by investing in projects with a quantifiable climate benefit (e.g., through direct investment or purchasing offsets) that ideally remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with science is a critical part of any business’s climate strategy – no matter the size or structure. The market will demand our member brands have made meaningful reductions within five years. Because most of our industry’s GHG emissions are in the supply chain, implementing reductions has a long horizon. The Climate Action Corps puts forward these guiding principles for reduction: run cleaner, transport smarter, make better, and grow creatively, and provides resources as well as hosts collaborative projects (“CoLabs”) to drive reductions in accordance with these principles. Work will expand in 2021 to support all Climate Action Corps members to be on track to meet their SBTs by 2025. Changing the methods and materials for making our industry’s products will be challenging. Success will be far more likely working together to solve problems and leverage buying power. OIA is well-positioned to facilitate this kind of collaboration between our member companies, in partnership with on-the-ground organizations and experts.

But reductions alone cannot achieve net-zero or climate positive – and science is also clear that reductions alone will not be enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees by mid-century. We also have to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. Building on its long history of land and water conservation advocacy, the outdoor industry is in a unique position to galvanize investment in nature-based carbon removals or “sinks” – forests, farms, and grasslands – that may also provide recreational benefits for our consumers and economic benefits for landowners, farmers and their communities.

As businesses progress along reduction pathways, emissions that cannot be reduced will remain. We acknowledge these difficult-to-abate emissions have a negative impact on society, the environment, and outdoor businesses – in other words, they have a cost. Therefore, we believe they should: 1) Be priced into doing business – establishing an internal price on carbon creates an incentive for businesses to drive further reductions to decrease cost, and 2) Be compensated for by removing the equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere in the transition to climate positive – nature-based carbon sequestration measures are preferred because they also have the potential to create societal co-benefits that align with outdoor industry values, from creating shade in heat-stressed urban areas to restoring forest ecosystems.

Carbon offsets, or voluntary carbon credits, provide one means to accomplish removals, provided they meet standards for high quality (see Guidebook). Yet, we go into this clear-eyed on the realities and challenges: the carbon removals market is nascent and limited today. We have an opportunity to contribute to growth, rigor and innovation in this space. It’s also important to acknowledge that offsets alone are not an appropriate carbon management strategy and should be used in addition to a science-aligned reduction target and abatement strategy. In other words, a comprehensive climate strategy includes both reducing and removing carbon. Both are challenging, but necessary.

Advocate + Engage.

Advocate for critical, systemic policy change and engage your consumers and business partners. Recognize and reward climate-leading practices with your vendors and supply chain partners.

The systemic transformation required to meet the global targets outlined by the scientific community requires action by all countries, and all levels of government. Climate Action Corps members bring a unique and powerful business voice to the climate policy landscape. OIA and its partners provide advocacy opportunities annually (op-eds, fly-ins, testimony, signons letters, etc.) that advance our climate policy priorities, which include: incentivizing businesses that take bold climate action, accelerating an equitable transition to renewable energy, advancing natural climate solutions and supporting green infrastructure like more parks and paths to build low-carbon, climate-resilient communities.

In addition, our collective millions of employees and consumers have the power through their individual actions to have a remarkable cumulative impact as both citizen advocates and in reducing their own footprints. Trusted outdoor brands can inspire, empower and even enable consumers to take action – from driving to their favorite campsites or ski areas in electric vehicles, to converting their homes to renewable energy, to making their voices heard with policymakers – among other actions.

Last but not least, in addition to driving policy solutions and engaging our consumers, Climate Action Corps members commit to recognizing and rewarding climate-leading actions with their vendors. Retailers have a critical role as “choice editors” in assorting, promoting, and otherwise showing preference toward brands that are progressing in meaningful, measurable ways – bringing more relevant products and innovations to consumers who increasingly demand them.

Share Our Progress.

We use transparency to maintain credibility and drive accountability. Every Climate Action Corps member is required to submit an Annual Progress Report each April to be posted publicly on OIA’s web site, as well as used to aggregate data to demonstrate our collective impact through our annual “Path to Climate Positive” report.

OIA Sustainability Advisory Council Members
Matt Thurston, REI (Chair)
Libby Sommer, Bolt Threads
Guru Larson, Columbia Sportswear
Danielle Cresswell, Klean Kanteen
Theresa Conn, NEMO Equipment
John Stokes, New Balance
Kim Drenner, Patagonia
JJ Trout, PeopleForBikes
Kristen Bandurski, Red Wing Shoe Co.
Alicia Chin, Smarwool
Marie Mawe, W.L. Gore
Jennifer Silberman, YETI

OIA Sustainable Business Innovation Board Committee Members
Cam Brensinger, NEMO Equipment (Chair)
Jonathan Cedar, Biolite
Alison Hill, LifeStraw
Bruce Old, Patagonia
Sean Cady, VF Corp

This statement originally appeared on

Why Greenhouse Gas Inventories Are Important for Natural and Working Lands — and How to Fix Them

This piece was jointly authored by Alex Rudee with the World Resources Institute and Jenn Phillips with the U.S. Climate Alliance and was originally published by the World Resources Institute.

Photo Credit: USDA NRCS Montana/Flickr

Inventories of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a critical tool in the fight against climate change. GHG inventories allow entities like countries, states, cities and businesses to measure how much progress they are making toward meeting emissions-reduction targets, such as those set under the Paris Climate Agreement. Climate policies at all levels of government are also informed by data in GHG inventories. 

The U.S. Climate Alliance has facilitated ambitious state-level action on climate change since 2017, when the United States government announced its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. To support states’ technical needs in building and implementing these climate action plans — including by developing robust GHG inventories — the U.S. Climate Alliance has convened an “Impact Partnership” of nonprofit organizations with relevant expertise, including WRI. Through that partnership, WRI and the U.S. Climate Alliance have published a guide for states to develop and improve their GHG inventories with an eye toward one particular sector that has often been shortchanged: natural and working lands (NWL). But to understand why a state-level guide specific to land-based GHG inventories is needed, it’s important to first know what a GHG inventory is, why inventories are produced and how they are created.

Inventory Basics: What, Why and How

1.    What is a GHG inventory?

An inventory accounts for all human-caused emissions and removals of GHGs associated with a specific entity. The inventory essentially acts as a climate change balance sheet, tracking the total volume of GHG emitted from sources like fossil fuel consumption and agricultural production alongside the volume of GHG removed by sequestration in plants and soils or through technological means. Good inventories transparently report their data sources and methodologies so the calculations and assumptions that underlie GHG estimates are clear. Typically, entities produce GHG inventories annually or on some other regular schedule to monitor changes in their GHG emissions and removals over time.

2.    Why produce a GHG inventory?

As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Measuring GHG emissions and removals through GHG inventories is therefore a necessary first step to manage our collective carbon footprint. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has required participating nations, including the United States, to produce and submit annual GHG inventories since 1997 to measure progress toward international climate goals. In more recent years, many U.S. states have voluntarily published their own GHG inventories to inform development of state climate action plans and provide accountability for their emissions reduction goals.

With the U.S. government and the U.S. Climate Alliance’s recent commitment to reduce collective net GHG emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve overall net-zero GHG emissions no later than 2050, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of these inventories has never been more paramount. Achieving net-zero at both the federal and state levels will require concerted action — not only to reduce emissions throughout the economy, but also to increase carbon removals, including the management of natural and working lands. 

NWL, which include forests, croplands, grasslands, wetlands and urban trees and soils, make up the only sector in the U.S. that removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits, reducing total U.S. emissions by nearly 800 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, or about 12% of U.S. gross emissions. This increase in land-based carbon storage, which overwhelmingly comes from forest growth, offsets the 10% of gross U.S. emissions from agricultural production. Emissions from agricultural production, which includes soil fertilization, manure management, enteric fermentation and other sources related to crop and livestock cultivation, are typically considered separately from NWL in GHG inventories.

With additional investment in conservation, restoration and land management, the amount of carbon removed by NWL in the U.S. can grow significantly, offsetting a greater portion of U.S. gross emissions and moving the U.S. closer to meeting its ambitious GHG reduction targets.

3.    How are Natural and Working Lands included in GHG inventories?

Unlike GHG emissions from fossil fuel combustion, which are easily tracked through publicly reported energy use data, emissions and removals from NWL are more difficult to measure. These emissions and removals are occurring constantly over millions of acres due to farming and forestry operations alongside natural ecosystem carbon cycles, making universal monitoring very challenging. In many cases, scientists are also still refining our understanding of how land management practices like forest restoration or conservation tillage impact GHG flows in those environments. Therefore, GHG inventories typically rely on sample data to estimate the area of NWL within certain classifications and GHG models or approximate “emission factors” to estimate GHG emissions and removals as a function of area. 

GHG inventories typically rely on sample-based measurements to estimate carbon sequestration in forests. Photo by Lance Cheung for Forest Service, USDA/Flickr.

These challenges illustrate why estimates of land-based emissions and removals in GHG inventories are typically much more uncertain than energy emissions. Contributors to the uncertainty include:

  • Timeliness of data inputs (how long ago data were collected).
  • Spatial and temporal resolution of inventory data (how finely data can be mapped over space and time).
  • Gaps in inventory coverage (which sources of emissions and removals are omitted).
  • Error in GHG models and emission factors (how accurately the calculations mirror real-world emissions and removals).

These challenges are compounded at the state level, where most states lack the resources to develop their own inventories and have had to depend on federal data and tools with significant limitations. Many states, for example, use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) State Inventory Tool (SIT), which applies the same methods and data sources used for EPA’s National GHG Inventory at the state level. However, much of the data on land-based emissions and removals used in the National Inventory is not available at the state level, so SIT has relied on older and less accurate data to fill gaps. SIT also does not publish measures of uncertainty. For these reasons, many states have opted to leave NWL out of their GHG inventories entirely, while others that do include SIT estimates for that sector have cautioned against relying on them for goal-setting or policymaking purposes.

How to Improve GHG Inventories for Natural and Working Lands

Fortunately, a mix of current and emerging datasets and technologies can help states improve their estimates of GHG emissions and removals from NWL. These inventory improvement options have the potential to not only address specific limitations of SIT, but could also provide even more accurate and granular information than the National Inventory. More accurate, more transparent and higher resolution estimates of NWL emissions and removals can help state governments set robust climate targets specifically for NWL in addition to measuring progress toward existing goals, informing new climate policies and underlying plans for climate-smart land management.

Most options for states to improve the NWL data in their inventories follow one or both of two strategies. Either the state can collect new field measurement data, for example by adding to the Forest Service’s network of forest inventory plots or by measuring carbon in soil samples; or the state can use remote sensing tools like LiDAR and satellite imagery to complement existing data from field measurements. 

All inventory improvements come with costs, so states will need to prioritize improvements based on their potential impact, policy relevance and feasibility. WRI’s Guide to NWL Inventory Improvements walks states through available options for improving inventory data for each land use type included in a NWL inventory along with factors to consider in deciding where to prioritize limited state resources.

Several U.S. states have already begun to implement innovations in their NWL inventories. In March 2021, Maryland committed to replace forest data from SIT with a new inventory method that uses high-resolution LiDAR and satellite imagery to model forest carbon over time, based on research conducted by the University of Maryland and WRI under a grant from the U.S. Climate Alliance. Across the country, California, Oregon and Washington have all worked with the Forest Service to develop state-specific estimates of carbon in wood products, allowing them to update the decades-old data in SIT. Even farther west, Hawai’i partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to create its first NWL inventory, as most of the federal datasets that underlie SIT did not include data for Hawai’i.

These are just a few of the exciting innovations states are pursuing to improve their inventories. But many other states lack the resources or capacity to take on their own improvement projects and the need for more national coordination and consistent, quality GHG estimation tools and NWL datasets that can be utilized by every state remains. Therefore, it’s clear that federal investment is paramount. Recent federal efforts, like the publication of new Forest Service research in 2020 that quantified forest carbon emissions and removals at the state level, help move the ball forward — but there is still much room for improvement.

3 Ways the Federal Government Can Help Improve State Inventories

The Guide to NWL Inventory Improvements identified three key needs across states, spanning the key NWL systems of forests, agricultural soils and wetlands, where the federal government would be best positioned to lead inventory improvements. With President Biden restoring the United States to a leadership role on climate action hours after becoming president, these opportunities offer common sense steps to advance the role of NWL in climate action plans at all levels of government.

1. Develop a national remote sensing-based forest and land use inventory.

The National GHG Inventory and SIT rely on data from the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory & Analysis program (FIA), which is among the most comprehensive forest monitoring systems in the world, but was not designed to meet current demands for precise carbon data at a variety of scales. Using federal data products like Landsat and GEDI, the federal government could complement FIA with remote sensing data to map and model carbon emissions and removals across the landscape, reducing uncertainty in forest carbon estimates. 

2. Monitor soil carbon through national field networks.

Carbon sequestration in agricultural soils is currently modeled, not measured, to calculate GHG estimates in the National Inventory and SIT, leading to uncertainty of over 1,000% nationally for some soil carbon removal estimates. Regular, systematic collection of soil carbon field measurements through the federal National Resources Inventory (NRI) could help refine models and reduce this uncertainty dramatically. The National Academies of Sciences has estimated the cost of this endeavor at just $5 million per year.

3. Develop a national spatial inventory of GHG emissions in wetlands.

Wetlands are among the least-understood contributors to GHG emissions from NWL. No consistent data on wetland GHG emissions exist at the state level, and even the National Inventory does not account for GHG emissions from most terrestrial, or freshwater, wetlands. The federal government could improve this understanding by creating a high-resolution spatial dataset to monitor changes in wetland extent, vegetation and management, incorporating existing data from the Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) and National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) where relevant, and pairing it with a network of field plots to derive regionally-specific emission factors for different wetland types. 

Helping States Lead the Way on GHG Inventories for Natural and Working Lands

For the last four years, states have been forging ahead with climate action even as the federal government rolled back environmental regulations and withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. States in the U.S. Climate Alliance have led the way in linking land management to climate change mitigation through the NWL Challenge, but they need better data and inventory methods in order to act boldly and effectively. Some states have jumped out ahead by experimenting with new methods for carbon monitoring in NWL, but federal action has the unique ability to “lift all boats” when it comes to data quality and consistency. As it now re-engages on climate change at home and abroad, the federal government has an opportunity to put wind under the wings of state leadership by investing in the tools they need to monitor and manage land for a climate-friendly future.

Alex Rudee is a Manager for U.S. Natural Climate Solutions at World Resources Institute. Jenn Phillips is a Senior Policy Advisor for Natural and Working Lands and Resilience at U.S. Climate Alliance. Both Alex and Jenn serve on the U.S. Nature4Climate steering committee.

Landowners key to restoring the native forests of the Lower Rio Grande Valley

This story was originally written for American Forests magazine.

Betty Perez runs a ranch in La Joya, Texas, that has been in her family for generations. She is helping restore wild areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Credit: James Foguth / American Forests.

In Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley, Betty Perez leans over a tender catclaw acacia in the nursery on her family’s cattle ranch. She’s pleased with the progress of the native plant that she’s growing to help restore her generational family land. The ranch’s future is increasingly threatened by the shifts in temperature and rainfall brought on by climate change.

“It doesn’t bring a lot of money, but it brings a lot of gratification,” she says, referring to her revegetation work. She learned how to grow and plant these native species during her time with Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting and restoring the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges. She was previously the organization’s president and now serves as a board member.

Perez studied botany at the University of Texas before returning to reclaim this piece of family heritage and “to get to know the land,” as she puts it. She sells her native plants, such as yucca, catclaw acacia and wolfberry, to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which uses them to restore swaths of farmland back to this dynamic, but threatened, native habitat.

Less than 10% of the Rio Grande Valley’s native forest ecosystem, Tamaulipan thornforest, remains. Many of Perez’s neighbors have completely removed this habitat from their land, and there are huge pressures to sell what remains to developers who want to put in subdivisions — the most lucrative option. There’s also a movement to industrialize the nearby Gulf Coast to mine liquefied natural gas. And beyond these threats to the native habitat, there is the looming challenge of climate change.

The upshot of all of this? Many native animals dependent on these forests will eventually run out of space and resources. There also won’t be enough trees to help purify the air people in the Valley breathe and the water they drink. Flood risks will be higher. And a major part of the Valley’s natural heritage will be lost.

Mike Heep, a private nursery owner, delivers seedlings to a USFWS site in the Valley. Credit: James Foguth / American Forests.

To address this situation, American Forests founded the Thornforest Conservation Partnership in 2018 to bring together communities, researchers, industry representatives, agencies and private landowners — like Perez. The group develops science-based plans and goals for conserving the region’s thornforest ecosystem in places that make the most sense for both wildlife and people. Reforesting public land is a major component, and Perez and other local nursery owners provide trees for that effort.

The hope is to preserve this unique corner of the U.S., which supports 1,200 plant species, 300 butterflies and more than 700 vertebrates, including the endangered ocelot.

Nearly all “of the original habitat is gone, and yet this is a very biodiverse area, an important area,” Perez notes. One reason it’s important is that several flyways for bird and butterfly migration traverse the Valley, which sits between wintering zones in Central and South America and summer homes in the U.S. and Canada.

Perez is concerned by the pressures the area faces, but she sees many of her neighbors starting to make changes in their land management practices due to a growing awareness of environmental issues and concern with the effects of climate change.

“They’re not clearing the whole land,” she says. “A lot of them are doing really good work.”

Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer specializing in helping mission-driven changemakers like tech disruptors and dynamic nonprofits tell their stories.