Natural solutions make nature and communities more healthy and resilient. Protecting and restoring healthy systems such as salt marshes, oyster reefs, seagrass meadows, forests and wetlands can enable habitats and wildlife to ride out changes in our climate, while helping guard communities against flooding, erosion and similar hazards posed by rising seas and extreme storms.
Investing in Natural Solutions
While change may be our new normal, we have practical, cost-effective options at hand to protect our investments in Virginia’s lands, waters and wildlife. Across Virginia, we are implementing a diversified portfolio of natural solutions to climate change — protecting and restoring habitats and entire systems. Not only do healthy natural systems have a better chance of survival in a changing world, but habitats such as marshes and oyster reefs can help shield coastal communities.
Additionally, many of the habitats we are restoring capture and absorb carbon to help reduce climate impacts in the first place. Forests are a well-known ally in curbing carbon, though recent evidence suggests that “coastal blue carbon” projects, such as the world’s largest eelgrass restoration — going strong for more than a decade at our Virginia Coast Reserve — can be just as effective. Studies even suggest that coastal wetlands can store three to five times more carbon than a same-size tropical forest, according to NOAA.
Conservation Forestry Earns Carbon Credits
In 2015 our Clinch Valley Conservation Forestry Program became the Conservancy’s first forest management project to be issued regulatory offsets from California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. Under California’s program, companies can purchase carbon credits from anywhere in the country to offset their emissions.
Conservation Forestry entered the marketplace with a total of 50,366 earned offsets, which is equal to the carbon generated by using 5.6 million gallons of gasoline. “Our average acre of forest stores about two tons of carbon a year,” says Conservation Forestry director Greg Meade, who is now advising colleagues across the country on carbon credits.
Enhancing Carbon Storage on Public Lands
In an extension of our partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help restore the “natural plumbing” of Great Dismal Swamp, we are also supporting the Great Dismal Swamp Carbon Project. A primary goal of the research, which is being led by the U.S. Geological Survey, is to learn how we can manage public lands to capture even more carbon, while also quantifying the trade-offs with other natural benefits, such as wildfire prevention.
The number crunching relates directly to our restoration work, says Brian van Eerden, our southeastern Virginia program director. “Part of what we’re looking at is how re-wetting the swamp can make conditions ripe for capturing even more carbon,” Brian says. “It’s carbon science in action, influencing land management at a scale of 100,000 acres.”