Oregon elevates natural and working lands to help slow climate change

Tidal forested wetlands in South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Charleston, Oregon, are among the natural landscapes that the state will rely on to mitigate the effects of climate change under a new state law. (Courtesy of Oregon ShoreZone, CC-BY-SA)

In a forward-looking move, leaders in Oregon have committed funding to utilize farms, forests and wetlands in the effort to blunt the effects of climate change.

On July 27, Gov. Tina Kotek signed the Climate Resilience Package, House Bill 3409, into law, helping to ensure that the state’s natural and working lands can continue to remove or sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The package establishes a permanent fund for “natural climate solutions”: efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or prevent its release once it has been sequestered—for example, in a forest, farm, or wetland. The law directs funding to facilitate the conservation, restoration, and improved management of such lands and waters.

Though small in size, coastal habitats such as forested tidal swamps and wetlands can store carbon at greater rates than the region’s old-growth forests. And because they sit where Oregon’s forests and rivers meet the sea, healthy estuarine wetlands sustain salmon, birds, Dungeness crabs, oysters, forage fish, cultural resources, and jobs while serving as a buffer to lessen the impacts of storms and floods on coastal communities. That is a particularly valuable service given experts’ predictions that extreme weather—along Oregon’s coast and elsewhere—will become increasingly common.

As part of the effort to inform HB 3409, The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted technical work and provided policy expertise to the Oregon Global Warming Commission and the Oregon state Legislature. This included coordinating a team of experts to develop the first “blue carbon” inventory of Oregon’s coastal wetlands and establish estimates of the climate benefits provided by increased protection and restoration of these vital areas. Blue carbon refers to the natural sequestration and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide in coastal and marine areas.

In addition to the above significant provisions, the new law:

  • Creates a process to engage tribes, which could help to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into natural and working lands management. These additions are especially important given that Tribal Nations are the original stewards of the state’s natural resources and are leaders in habitat restoration. They also hold knowledge that is critical for enhancing carbon sequestration and storage and have suffered the effects of poor coordination by the state’s past climate-related efforts.
  • Establishes the concept of natural climate solutions in state policy.
  • Defines “natural and working lands” and recognizes private lands including approximately 10 million acres of privately managed forests as well as coastal and nearshore blue carbon habitats as important tools for limiting climate change.
  • Establishes a permanent natural and working lands fund, with an initial appropriation of $10 million, to support improved conservation and management practices.
  • Requires the state to develop a natural and working lands carbon inventory across multiple landscapes.
  • Renames the Oregon Global Warming Commission as the Oregon Climate Action Commission and expands its membership, scope, and charge to include natural and working lands.
  • Initiates a study of the workforce and training programs needed to support adoption of natural climate solutions on natural and working lands.
  • Formalizes an advisory committee to advance natural and working lands initiatives.
  • Requires the state to develop goals for using natural and working lands to slow climate change by 2025.

Pew commends Oregon for recognizing the power of nature to help combat climate change.  Robust implementation of this new policy will bring benefits to people, wildlife and habitats and can serve as a model for other states.

This commentary was originally published by The Pew Charitable Trusts and is posted here with permission. 


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Sylvia Troost
Sylvia Troost

Sylvia Troost is a senior manager with Pew Charitable Trust’s conserving marine life in the U.S. project. Her portfolio includes advancing coastal blue carbon management strategies in state climate mitigation and adaptation efforts and helping states leverage the federal Coastal Zone Management Act in support of conservation and resilience goals.

Elizabeth Ruther
Elizabeth Ruther

Elizabeth Ruther is an officer with Pew Charitable Trusts. She analyzes science and policy to conserve coastal habitats, including estuaries and kelp forests, on the West Coast. She also works to elevate the importance of coastal habitats in reducing greenhouse gases.

Bobby Hayden
Bobby Hayden

Bobby Hayden is an officer with Pew Charitable Trusts. He coordinates outreach for Pew’s efforts to conserve ocean and coastal resources on the U.S. West Coast.