Setting The Path For Natural Climate Solutions In Washington

by Jamie Robertson, Conservation Geographer

This April, I stood atop a stump cresting a 1,400-foot high ridge in southwest Washington, the view open on all sides, stripped from a recent clearcut. To the west, this spot overlooks the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and the mouth of the Columbia River at the Pacific Ocean. To the east, a short way down the open slope, the clearcut abruptly switches to vast forests of the Ellsworth Creek Preserve.

I was there to measure newly planted Douglas Fir and Hemlock saplings with my coworker, Michael Case, Forest Ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. This was part of Michael’s new study comparing the resilience of different genetic lines of those tree species for restoring forests in our changing climate. It will be a long-term study but is part of a suite of research The Nature Conservancy and partners are doing to inform climate-related decisions now and in the future to slow the rate of global warming while also providing resiliency in our ecosystems and our communities. These are the goals of climate change pathways called Natural Climate Solutions, or NCS.

Natural Climate Solutions are strategies for reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by restoring, avoiding conversion of, and improving management of our ecosystems. In Washington and Oregon, our major NCS pathways are in forests, croplands, and estuaries.

Last summer, we hired four graduate interns from the University of Washington to help us learn more about the potential costs and benefits of NCS in Washington: Juliana Tadano and Pascale Chamberland of the Evan School of Policy, and Lizzy Matteri and Chase Puentes of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. They searched for literature, noted patterns in research, and reported their findings to staff prior to starting their school year in the fall. Graciously, these interns have provided writeups here to describe their assigned NCS pathways and findings.

Through studies by our team and partners, we know that the greatest NCS potential in the Pacific Northwest is via improved forest management, strategically thinning dense forests and letting trees grow longer before harvesting for timber. However, economic and political challenges hinder implementation of this and the other pathways, particularly when done solely for the sake of mitigating climate change.

New science at The Nature Conservancy is looking at how NCS pathways can reap multiple benefits, not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but sometimes more notably to allow people and nature to thrive as cli

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