Stories in Oregon

4 Ways We're Using Nature to Fight Climate Change

During a time of unprecedented change to our global climate, it can be convenient to think of nature as a victim. But science shows nature is poised to play a significant role in much needed efforts to both store carbon and reduce emissions. In fact, restoring, protecting and harnessing the power of our forests, grasslands and wetlands will provide at least 30% of the reduction in greenhouse gasses needed for a prosperous, low-carbon future.

We call these opportunities Natural Climate Solutions and they are among the most effective and cost-efficient strategies available to address climate change. Here are four examples of Natural Climate Solutions projects The Nature Conservancy is leading right here in Oregon.

Forest Fire Management

Many forests, such as those found in central and southern Oregon, are adapted to regular low-intensity fires. Historically, these small fires would burn low along the ground and eliminate overgrowth and other “fuels.” Longer, drier summers brought on climate change and century of human efforts to stop these small fires has left these forests out of balance and at high risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfire. In places like Ashland and Bend, we’re leading efforts to use controlled burns to clear out small material and help the larger trees, and the communities that rely upon them, thrive. In addition to community safety, it’s a double-win for carbon reduction—saving the trees themselves, but also keeping forests hard at work cleaning the air.

Coastal Wetlands Restoration

Tidal marshes, seagrass beds and other “blue carbon” ecosystems store vast amounts of carbon, drawing it in while growing and later transferring it to the rich soil held by their roots. Left undisturbed, this carbon will remain in the soil for thousands of years. The Nature Conservancy is working to restore tidal wetlands along the Oregon Coast that have been converted to agriculture or impacted by transportation. In addition to recent efforts at the Kilchis River Estuary and at Winter Lake near Bandon have returned these critical habitats to their historic function. The need for restoration is greater than any one organization, which is why we are a part of the Tillamook Estuary Partnership, a unified “nursery” effort by many conservation groups to grow native plants near the coast exclusively for use in wetland restoration projects. 

Replanting

Globally, reforestation is the single largest nature-based climate opportunity we have. In addition to providing clean water, clean air, flood control, more fertile soil and sustainable wood products, healthy forests inexpensively sequester tons of carbon dioxide. Many of our restoration projects include massive plantings. Recent efforts at our Willamette Confluence Preserve included planting more than 300,000 native trees and shrubs—creating a new forest where a gravel mine once operated.

TNC ranch hand Tyson McLaughlin moves cattle between paddocks on TNC's Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, Oregon.
TNC ranch hand Tyson McLaughlin moves cattle between paddocks on TNC's Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, Oregon. © © Aaron Huey

Avoiding Grassland Conversion

When natural grasslands are tilled, nearly half of the carbon stored in the soil is lost to the atmosphere. Yet, they are among the most imperiled habitats on Earth. Globally, an area of natural grasslands larger than the state of Connecticut are converted for agriculture. Here in the United States, 77% of land converted to agriculture between 2008 and 2012 was from grasslands. Thankfully, due to decades-long efforts by The Nature Conservancy and other conservation partners, Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oregon is home to the largest native grassland prairie of its type in North America. Working with our ranching neighbors, we’re developing new methods to intensify sustainable grazing across the prairie. 

Infographic

The Green Path to
a Stable Climate

we must cut 30 gigatons a year of carbon emissions by 2030 if we are to keep global temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius, (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Nature can reduce more than one-third of the emissions needed to hit this goal if countries invest in carbon-storing forests, grasslands, wetlands and farmlands.

we must cut 30 gigatons a year of carbon emissions by 2030 to keep the climate stable. Nature can deliver more than one-third of this goal.

Weighty Matters

A gigaton equals 1 billion metric tons —the equivalent of about 3,000 Empire State Buildings. Carbon figures below are in millions of metric tons.

Click here to see the infographic

19 gigatons

Clean energy

Earth

Nature

11 gigatons

Of the 30 gigatons of excess carbon in the atmosphere each year, 11 gigatons could be removed using nature itself.

Weighty Matters

A gigaton equals 1 billion metric tons —the equivalent of about 3,000 Empire State Buildings. Carbon figures below are in millions of metric tons.

Protect
3,994
Manage
3,696
Restore
3,631
Protect Forests
 
Protect Wetlands
 
Protect Grasslands
 
Manage Timberlands Better
 
Manage Croplands Better
 
Manage Grazing Lands Better
 
Restore Forests
 
Restore Wetlands
Protect
Forests3,007
 
Protect
Wetlands952
 
Protect
Grasslands35
 
Manage Timberlands Better1,275
 
Manage Croplands Better1,936
 
Manage Grazing Lands Better485
 
Restore
Forests3,037
 
Restore
Wetlands594
Protect
3,994
Protect Forests
 
Protect Wetlands
 
Protect Grasslands
Protect
Forests3,007
 
Protect
Wetlands952
 
Protect
Grasslands35
Manage
3,696
Manage Timberlands Better
 
Manage Croplands Better
 
Manage Grazing Lands Better
Manage Timberlands Better1,275
 
Manage Croplands Better1,936
 
Manage Grazing Lands Better485
Restore
3,631
Restore Forests
 
Restore Wetlands
Restore
Forests3,037
 
Restore
Wetlands594

The Time to Act is Now

Add your voice to the 7 out of 10 Oregonians who support a Cap-and-Invest Policy and take a small step that will make a big difference in the fight against climate change.