Pastures at dusk ringed by forested hills by Nolan Calisch.
Ecotrust envisions a future in which the worst consequences of climate change are averted, due in large part to better management of natural capital, and that the inevitable impacts of climate change are met with solutions that are equitable and regenerative. Temperate rainforests, fertile agricultural lands, massive coastal estuaries, and urban environments all have strong potential to help mitigate the effects of the present and future climate crisis. Policy is an indispensable part of making this happen.
In response to a request for expert insight from the US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate, Ecotrust provided the following recommendations based on our work in agriculture, forests, public lands, resilience and adaptation:
Policies that are focused solely on maximizing sequestration or reducing emissions do not necessarily lead to more resilient landscapes. We recommend focusing on incentivizing changes in land management, as opposed to short-term mitigation through problematic offset programs.
Forests lie within the USDA’s definition of agriculture, and privately-held forests represent significant opportunity for drawdown.
Through a carbon incentive program targeted at private forest lands and modeled after the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Grassland and Wetland Reserve Programs, we could achieve quantifiable increases in carbon sequestration and storage on private lands.
We also fully endorse the NRCS’s Healthy Forest Reserve Program and strongly recommend that its geographic scope and funding be significantly expanded so that the thousands of interested landowners who are currently unable to participate in the program could enroll their forests.
Regenerative and soil-building agricultural practices have the potential for promising gains in drawing carbon down from the atmosphere. And the retention of carbon in our soils will be a deciding factor in the rate of future climate change. There is good evidence supporting regenerative practices as a tool for mitigation, but more studies are needed to better understand where and how carbon sequestration happens in soil and in particular, how management practices impact carbon drawdown and retention in specific soil types.
Future policies must consider the impact to small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers who play an important role in their local communities and regional economies. For example, current carbon pricing policies that generate offset opportunities for agricultural producers can only be exploited at economies of scale because of the relatively large amounts of land required to capture carbon at a scale that would compensate the costs to verify, validate, and monitor carbon for offset markets. Rather, all agricultural producers regardless of scale should be incentivized to build and retain soil organic matter.
A key advantage of regenerative and soil-building agricultural practices is that these practices both mitigate climate change and help farmers and ranchers be better prepared for the inevitable impacts of climate change. For example, debt relief structures that support land managers in transitioning away from conventional agriculture could help support farmers’ ability to deploy regenerative practices. We also recommend policies that support collaborative and community ownership of farmland, creating more opportunities for regenerative practices to be implemented and lowering barriers to farming for individuals that may have important land-based knowledge regarding adaptation, but not the access to land or capital currently necessary to put these practices into action.
The laws that govern federal lands should be updated to specifically prohibit the harvest of old growth forests, including in Alaska. These laws that guide forest management on federal lands should also increase buffers around streams, wetlands, steep and unstable slopes, critical biodiversity habitat, drinking water source areas, and other High Conservation Value areas as compared to common practice.
We also strongly endorse the co-management of federal lands and waters by American Indian tribes. As the traditional users and stewards of terrestrial and marine resources, American Indian tribes are particularly important to successful management programs. Agencies should seek out and financially support co-management agreements and prioritize building trust with tribes. Additionally, as many Native American communities are facing serious impacts of climate change, co-managing resources provides opportunity for innovation and adaptation.
Some of the best recommendations for building resilience and developing adaptive responses to climate change have been provided by community-based organizations led by and representing Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities and low-income communities that are facing the direct impacts of pollution and climate change. Ecotrust supports shifts in policy that direct resources and restructure decision-making so that these communities can drive policy.
Tribes in the Pacific Northwest have been national leaders in addressing climate change impacts on their communities and homelands. We strongly support the comprehensive recommendations provided by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI). This set of recommendations is based on lived experience and emphasize a reasonable, multi-level approach of policy and action.
In our 2017 Jobs and Equity in the Urban Forest study with PolicyLink, we examined the economic, ecological, and social impacts of existing community-based urban forestry investments designed to benefit low income communities and communities of color. The study identified policy recommendations that can be more broadly considered in the development of green infrastructure and the initiation of urban restoration projects—both areas of increasing need due to climate change. These policy recommendations emphasize making equity a component of all programs and implementing an all-inclusive approach to address disparities.
Download the complete text of our recommendations to the House Select Committee on Climate.