How is climate change impacting the land you love?
Climate change is a global event, but its impacts are very local. For example, in Colorado, milder winters may be encouraging the pests that have caused the dramatic die-offs of lodgepole pine forests. In New England, the predominantly maple-beech-birch forests famous for their fall color may give way to oak-hickory forests. Coastal communities are increasingly hard hit by severe storms, from Katrina to Sandy. Coastal areas are are also threatened by sea level rise that could wipe out homes, businesses, and natural habitats. Floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires are becoming more severe across the country. These changes create serious problems for farmers and ranches. Wildlife are also struggling to adapt.
It’s important to call attention to the local impacts of climate change in ways that will engage people in your community. Understanding local impacts also helps you to plan for conservation that will increase your community’s resilience. Use our Climate Change Toolkit to:
- Learn how climate change will impact your region.
- Plan for change and resilience
- Adapt management practices for agriculture and wildlife habitat
- Inspire your community to take action
How land conservation reduces climate change
The rapid climate change we are experiencing today is caused by greenhouse gases released by human activity. In the atmosphere, these gases trap heat from the sun, essentially over-insulating the Earth. But forests and other undeveloped lands can absorb greenhouse gases, keeping them out of the atmosphere.
Forests, prairies, farmland and other natural habitats absorb approximately 15% of the U.S.’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a huge benefit — but one that we stand to lose it if we keep converting open land for development.
In fact, land conservation offers a double benefit for the climate. It not only helps absorb greenhouse gases; it also prevents significant greenhouse gas emissions that would result from development — including deforestation, construction, and the additional driving required by poorly planned growth.
Because of these major benefits, the Alliance advocates for climate change policies that will promote and fund land conservation. The Alliance also helps to educate land trusts about opportunities to finance conservation through growing carbon markets.
A new conservation priority: climate adaptation
Climate change is happening and it’s going to accelerate. Although we can still prevent the most severe impacts, we can’t stop climate change. Even if we eliminated all climate-changing emissions tomorrow, the greenhouse gases already in our atmosphere would continue to change the climate. Since we can’t stop climate change, we need to prepare for it. For land trusts, this means rethinking how we approach land conservation.
For example, in 50 years, a property that is a coastal marsh today might be underwater. To preserve this habitat, a land trust might prioritize properties that are just upland, so the marsh can move inland as sea levels rise. Conserving land for the marsh could help both human and wild communities adapt to climate change. For example, it could buffer a nearby neighborhood from heavy storms, reducing loss of life and property. It could also replace lost habitat for plants and animals or form part of a corridor so they can migrate to new habitat.
In an era of rapid climate change, strategic conservation planning is complex — but more important than ever. Fortunately, conservation organizations have developed sophisticated frameworks that land trusts can use to assess vulnerability, identify priorities for resilience, and adapt to change.
How will you respond to climate change? Check out our resources below.