An Audacious and Timely Conservation Challenge

We should all applaud President Biden’s executive order calling for conservation of 30% of the U.S. land base by 2030. This bold “30×30” vision is firmly rooted in science, given that protected land is key to a healthy and secure future for all Americans. It provides pure drinking water, healthy food, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to reflect, recreate, hunt and fish. Conserved land also provides protection from natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, and absorbs and keeps carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere.

The president’s vision also recognizes that land conservation is not keeping pace with growing threats to our lands, waters, wildlife and ways of life. Every 30 seconds, the United States loses a football field of natural lands to roads, houses, pipelines and other development. Since 1970, North America has lost 3 billion birds — 29% of its avian population. Forty acres of farmland in the United States are lost to development every hour.

Given these facts, the audaciousness of the president’s conservation goal is right for this moment. And this “moon shot” for nature is necessary for more than just environmental reasons: Land — and the public’s desire to conserve it — provides one of the few opportunities to reduce political polarization and build social cohesion among a deeply splintered American populace. This was demonstrated most recently in the strong bipartisan consensus last Congress that led to the permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In particular, land conservation that takes place outside of the government sphere — through community-based, nonprofit organizations known as land trusts — provides a means for Americans of all backgrounds to save the places they need and love through personal initiative, landowner empowerment and charity. By finding common ground around these core American values and the lands we cherish, we can regain a sense of shared purpose and help heal a fractured nation. To put it in terms used by President Biden in his inaugural address, America’s farms and forests, its rivers and coasts and its mountains and meadows are “common objects of our love.” Conserving these places through citizen-led community efforts can bring us back together.

Photo Credit: Tila Zimmerman/TNC 

Most Americans are unaware that land trusts — powered by more than 200,000 volunteers and almost 5 million members of all political stripes — are working in almost every community in the United States to protect important lands. Likewise, few know that the nation’s land trust community has conserved approximately 60 million acres over the past 40 years — an area larger than all the land contained in America’s National Parks.

President Biden’s executive order tacitly acknowledged that to reach the 30×30 goal, we must rely on and bolster this community of nonprofits.

In short, we cannot achieve the 30×30 goal only by adding to the federal estate; we must empower private landowners to conserve their natural and working lands at a much greater pace and scale. Land trusts are uniquely qualified to make that happen and, importantly, they can do so in an inclusive and equitable way.

On behalf of the 1,000 land trusts my organization represents, I pledge that we will conserve at least another 60 million acres by the end of this decade. To do so, we need the help of the federal government. I call on President Biden and leaders in Congress to provide increased support to land trusts and the private landowners with whom they work. This includes protecting the integrity of the federal tax incentive for conservation easement donations; increasing mandatory funding for Farm Bill conservation programs that maintain viable working farms, ranches and forests; and creating mechanisms to compensate landowners when they increase the capacity of their lands to absorb and store carbon.

Through his executive order, President Biden adds credibility to the 30×30 goal, reveals the urgency we face in saving America’s undeveloped lands, and gives us a vision that can inspire and challenge us. Let us find a way to unite around this cause, garner the necessary resources both inside and outside government and get on with the essential task of conserving our natural heritage for the benefit of all Americans. The health of both our environment and our body politic depends on it.

This post was originally written for the Land Trust Alliance’s blog, The Dirt.

Andrew Bowman is president & CEO of the Land Trust Alliance.

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.