A man wearing a hat measures an old-growth spruce in New Hampshire.
Measuring old-growth trees. Conservancy staffer Peter Benson measures an old-growth fir on TNC's Vickie Bunnell Preserve in Columbia, New Hampshire. © Eric Aldrich/TNC

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Five Projects Split $860,000 to Further Grow Natural Climate Solutions in U.S.

Over $2.5 million awarded to 15 innovative natural climate solutions projects since 2018.

Through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, today The Nature Conservancy’s Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator program is announcing the award of $860,000 to be split among five projects designed to help scale climate change mitigation by capturing and storing carbon on natural and working lands in the U.S.  The five recipients are part of the third round of grantees for the Accelerator program, which has awarded over $2.5 million dollars to fifteen climate projects around the country. 

The 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5 degrees Celsius Report provided additional urgent wake-up calls on the need for ambitious and innovative climate action to achieve a low carbon economy and accelerate removal of greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere.

“We are pleased to be able to support these organizations,” said Catherine Macdonald, TNC’s North America Natural Climate Solutions Director, who serves on the Steering Committee for the Accelerator program.  “By funding these innovative projects, we hope to expand the use of promising, cost-effective nature-based climate solutions.”

“In addition to their climate benefits, natural climate solutions can improve life and livelihood, by protecting water supplies, improving soil health and productivity, providing wildlife habitat, buffering flood zones, creating healthier communities, and increasing income for private landowners,” Macdonald explained.

The five recent grant recipients are advancing new climate solutions in forests and agricultural lands across the country: 

The American Farmland Trust was awarded $200,000 to accelerate the adoption of regenerative farming practices and water conservation, such as cover crops and groundwater recharge to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts in Illinois and California’s San Joaquin Valley.  Success in these major, but distinct, agricultural regions has the potential to store a significant amount of soil carbon and could help leverage support for regional and state and federal policy efforts to scale-up regenerative farming practices across America.  Within fifteen months the project anticipates it will improve soil management across 150,000 acres and deliver conservation plans for increasing groundwater recharge potential and water conservation on at least 100,000 acres with 150 to 200 producers.

“The U.S. Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator grant will provide American Farmland Trust the opportunity to accelerate the adoption of cover crops and catalyze cooperation among public agencies and private partners around the efficient use of financial and technical assistance” says Kristopher Reynolds, AFT Midwest Regional Director

“In the San Joaquin Valley of California, funds will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon in soil, conserve precious water resources, increase biodiversity, and protect the nation’s leading farming region,” says Kara Heckert, regional director of AFT California.

The Arbor Day Foundation was awarded $200,000 to develop and launch Reforestation Hubs—public-private partnerships anchored in cities intended to turn wood-waste into valuable resources to be reinvested in tree planting and maintenance. These Reforestation Hubs will create a source of local capital, invest in nursery capacity, and engage local businesses, residents, and policymakers to drive tree planting and maintenance in urban centers and surrounding landscapes. Arbor Day Foundation will partner with Cambium Carbon to will conduct the stakeholder and city official engagement, collect and analyze tree data, and launch projects in 2-4 U.S. cities to improve carbon storage.

“The Nature Conservancy's NCS Accelerator Grant will be catalytic in scaling the Reforestation Hub model. TNC's support will help pilot this model in cities across the US—and provide the runway to build out a broader pipeline of projects in the future” said, Kyle Kornack, Manager of Innovation and Social Enterprise at the Arbor Day Foundation. 

Dovetail Partners, Inc. was awarded $200,000 to quantify the storage potential and opportunity across 1.5 million acres of Minnesota’s school trust lands in partnership with the Office of School Trust Lands. This work will focus on quantifying the potential for improved forest management strategies and seek to identify policy avenues to improve forest management for carbon storage. Up to 60,000 acres will be identified for carbon project development over the course of the project. Dovetail Partners will take the work to a national scale by collaborating with the National Association of State Trust Lands to develop state-specific storage estimates and policy guidance for up to 9 states for a total of 10 million acres.

"Even though forest carbon offset projects have been around a while, we're still seeing barriers to adoption for specific landowner groups," said Kathryn Fernholz, President/CEO of Dovetail Partners, the managing organization for the project. "This project will evaluate carbon project potentials for school trust lands, an important part of our rural land base that has not yet been engaged in these ecosystem market opportunities." 

Aaron M. Vande Linde, Director, Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands added “I recognize the important role Minnesota’s school trust lands can, and will play, in providing ecosystem services benefits like carbon sequestration through improved sustainable forest management practices. These types of mitigation strategies are key aspects of our current work as we look for opportunities to demonstrate that school trust lands can produce both economic and environmental benefits.”  

Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (fiscally sponsored by Oregon-based Wallowa Resources) was awarded $160,000 to advance the use of controlled burning through cooperative partnerships between local partners and the US Forest Service. This effort will develop and promote streamlined partner participation in controlled burns, increasing the use of ecological fire, and reducing the carbon emissions caused by large wildfires. Since 2000, non-governmental organizations have been responsible for a 93 percent increase in successful controlled burns. This project aims to build on that success and formalize avenues for cooperative efforts through federal policy and administrative changes. Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition intends to improve management across 500,000 acres within the next 10 years.

This project is urgently needed. Community-based natural resource organizations have the capacity and skills to increase the use of prescribed fire on our public lands. Our teams are trained, qualified, and ready to share resources with our federal partners - but institutional and cultural barriers stand in the way of these partnerships. This project is a critical barrier-busting effort to leverage local resources, streamline shared stewardship, and expand the natural resource and community protection benefits of prescribed fire where it's most needed” said Nick Goulette, Executive Director, Watershed Research and Training Center.

The Soil Health Institute received $100,000 to train 13,000 Certified Crop Advisors (CCAs) and agricultural retailers across the United States. CCAs and agricultural retailers are uniquely positioned to make soil health management recommendations to farmers to improve carbon storage. Over 15 months, the Soil Health Institute will compile and provide a tailored curriculum to CCAs and agricultural retailers via in-person trainings, podcasts, webinars, and in print materials to award continuing education credits. By developing and providing trainings, the Soil Health Institute believes it can improve soil carbon management across 150,000,000 acres within the next ten years.  

“The benefits of soil health management systems to farmers and the environment are widely recognized. However, to achieve those benefits at scale requires much greater adoption of these soil health practices. Funding provided by the Accelerator program will allow the Soil Health Institute to provide more trainings to Certified Crop Advisors, agricultural retailers, and others to help drive that adoption and achieve the climate, water quality, and other benefits derived from soil health systems,” said Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, CEO of the Soil Health Institute.

Natural and working lands already make an 11 percent reduction in overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018 a TNC-led study found that natural climate solutions—which include reforestation, cover crops, coastal wetland restoration, and other changes in land use and management practices could nearly triple that percentage —the equivalent of removing all U.S. motor vehicles from the road for a year.

Eriks Brolis, Manager for the Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator, noted that there has been strong and growing interest in this grant program.

“We are delighted to have received 87 pre-proposals seeking over $6.7 million in funding during the third request for proposals. The foundational science and community of practice around Natural Climate Solutions is clearly getting stronger every year. Incentivizing practical, innovative approaches to unleash Natural Climate Solutions is a ‘no-brainer’— as they are some of the lowest cost tools in the climate mitigation toolbox. Not only do they help solve the climate crisis, they can also provide cleaner air and water, improved wildlife habitat, and potential for increasing rural income. Those wanting to track the progress of these projects can do so by visiting www.nature.org/NCSAccelerator.

The U.S. Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator is guided by a Steering Committee of leading multidisciplinary experts in their respective fields. Committee members from a range of leading organizations have helped to design the program parameters, select projects and ultimately work with grant recipients to help expand the community of practice around Natural Climate Solutions.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.