Increase Funding and Resources for Farm Bill Conservation Programs
The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for private-land conservation. Farm Bill programs provide financial and technical assistance, cost-share agreements, easements, and land-retirement options for landowners to protect and enhance natural spaces on their property. These programs have caps on funding or acreage enrolled, but remain popular and oversubscribed. Audubon supports doubling Farm Bill conservation programs, as well as prioritizing projects that increase bird habitat, benefit underserved farmers and ranchers, and result in high carbon sequestration and increased resilience.
Create New Incentives for Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Practices
In order to adopt new climate-smart practices, landowners often need access to capital and protection from financial risk. Congress and state agencies have the opportunity to invent new programs that provide direct payments or tax incentives to reward landowners for implementing climate-smart management practices, or make it easier for private landowners to access voluntary carbon markets that can supplement the cost of management changes that sequester or store additional carbon. Programs must have proper safeguards to ensure ‘additionality’ and permanence of carbon sequestration, and to prevent leakage. New programs could also incentivize sustainably-sourced wood products such as cross-laminated timber, which could also serve as replacements for energy-intensive construction materials such as steel and concrete.
Restore and Expand Our Forests
Forests hold great potential to store carbon while protecting habitat lies in forests—specifically in improved forest management, reforestation, mitigation of fire risk, and reduction in land conversion. Management changes, including increasing species and structural diversity and lengthening timber-harvest schedules, enhance forest regrowth, storing more carbon and supporting more biodiversity than manually planted tree farms. Many landscapes also need reforestation due to damage from wildfires, disease, and pests. The U.S. Forest Service has a backlog of at least 1.3 million acres that must be addressed. We must invest in nursery capacity to ensure there are enough saplings of native and ecologically appropriate trees species. Protection of old-growth forests, like the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, is important because they hold massive amounts of carbon, especially in their deep soils, and have larger trees more resistant to fire. It is also crucial to invest in urban forestry because of trees’ capacity to cool cities, create important stopover sites for migratory birds, and better distribute green spaces more equitably across neighborhoods.
Create a National Strategy to Protect and Restore Grasslands and Sagebrush
Native grasslands and rangelands have become some of the most reliable and resilient carbon sinks because of their ability to store carbon in their extensive root structures, but have dwindled to just 40 percent of their historic range. Despite their ecological importance, there is no national strategy to combat grassland conversion, decline, and encroachment of invasive species like cheatgrass. Audubon supports a national prioritization of native grassland conservation, efforts to avoid conversion (including easements and the USDA Sodsaver program), financial and technical support for innovative projects that test new management strategies, and management for ecosystem health on public grasslands used for grazing. Sustainable ranching can be also part of the solution, and Audubon supports the creation of market signals that reward ranchers who adopt regenerative grazing approaches and manage their rangelands to improve bird habitat, such as through Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative.
Deploy Natural Infrastructure to Sequester Carbon and Increase Resilience
Our built environment is increasingly at risk of flooding as a result of sea-level rise, rainfall, and development of natural floodplains. Threats from rising seas and rivers, and efforts to protect existing development using seawalls and levees, are squeezing coastal and river habitats important for birds and degrading natural flood protections. Natural infrastructure—including wetlands, oyster beds, sea grasses, reactivated floodplains, and mangrove forests—can reduce flood risks, provide natural water storage, reduce stormwater pollution and runoff, and sequester carbon in urban and suburban environments. Audubon supports efforts to fund and create incentives for using natural infrastructure, especially when rebuilding after or preparing for natural disasters.
Expand Research, Development, and Innovation of Natural Climate Solutions
More scientific research is needed to accurately quantify current and potential carbon sequestration, understand how different landscapes and projects can meet environmental and climate goals, and determine which practices are most effective for preserving and restoring carbon sinks. Audubon supports increasing funding for relevant government research arms—including the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—as well as for programs that provide funding for independent entities to drive on-site research, such as the Conservation Innovation Grants program. Without a comprehensive national program, many states have created their own innovative programs that improve landowner access to financial and technical assistance to implement NCS. Where possible, the federal government should support this innovation and help successful programs become more widespread.