From the Sierra foothills to Malibu, climate change has left its deadly and destructive mark on California.
One month after the worst wildfire in state history, policymakers are beginning to consider solutions and policies to help our state recover and adapt to our climate-changed world.
While there’s no silver bullet, there is a sector whose value as a climate solution has been overlooked.
The Nature Conservancy has spent decades examining how land can be managed in ways that benefit all of us. In recent research done in partnership with Next 10, we’ve found that by focusing on restoration and conservation, we can build our resiliency to what Gov. Jerry Brown aptly called the “new abnormal”—helping to fight climate change and protect communities from increased wildfire severity at the same time.
Through strategic land management, planning, and conservation practices, we can use our natural and working forests, parks, ranch land and farms to store carbon, and help cut greenhouse gas emissions while preparing for hotter, drier conditions.
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Researchers modeling eight land-management strategies widely available to the state found these practices could collectively cut up to 260 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. This is equal to eliminating the emissions from more than 64 coal plants in one year.
Reducing the expansion of homes into wildland fringes will enhance the land’s carbon-capture potential and over time, help to make our state more resilient to fire, reducing associated damages to communities.
We must act quickly and invest adequately. Without swift implementation and investment, climate impacts will likely further reduce the ability of our land to capture and store carbon, leading to even greater emissions and reduced resiliency. The opportunity to harness our land to make a substantial impact on climate change is now. If we wait too long, it will be gone.
Preventing the conversion of land to more intensive uses, such as reducing the conversion of farms and wildland to cities, and curtailing the expansion of new farms into wildland, is particularly critical.
Developing solutions to our housing crisis in ways that don’t promote sprawl will take future homes out of harm’s way as we see wildfire become larger and more severe. Changing the way we manage open space can reduce risk to people and wildlife, and lead to cleaner water and air.
Other land management practices also could help keep communities safer from wildfires by strengthening forest health. Such restoration activities also improve water supply, air quality, and wildlife habitat.
The California Air Resources Board is expected to soon release an implementation plan detailing how the state can cut climate emissions by changing land management practices.
As board members and other bodies develop plans and emissions reduction goals for the state’s natural and working lands, we urge them to dedicate sustained funding for land protection and management that drives climate mitigation and the improves the resilience of these resources.
If we use and manage land strategically, we can deliver cost-effective emissions reductions and help Californians adapt to changing conditions. What’s more, these strategies will provide cleaner air and water and more green space, making us all a little richer.
We live in the new abnormal. Managing our land to help support this new reality will benefit all Californians and the lands themselves.
Noel Perry is founder of Next 10, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization focused on California’s future. Dick Cameron is director of land science programs at the California chapter of The Nature Conservancy. They wrote this commentary for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.