Oregon Elevates Natural and Working Lands to Help Slow Climate Change

New state law will advance opportunities to capture and store carbon in farmlands, forests, rangelands, wetlands, and oceans

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Oregon Elevates Natural and Working Lands to Help Slow Climate Change
An aerial view shows a stream running through a verdant wetland, which is tightly bordered by tall conifer trees.
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.
Oregon ShoreZone

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, Governor Tina Kotek signed the Climate Resilience Package (H.B. 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 H.B. 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.

Sylvia Troost, Elizabeth Ruther, and Bobby Hayden work on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. conservation project.

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