NEW YORK (June 3, 2021) – A new report from the National Audubon Society shows that habitats that are important for birds now and in the future are also critical to reducing greenhouse emissions given their ability to naturally store and sequester carbon. This means that maintaining and restoring these landscapes through incentives for management and conservation are important strategies in our collective challenge to stabilize climate change.
“Birds are telling us that both their survival and ours depends on ecosystems with the ability to filter our air and water in key landscapes around the country,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation at the National Audubon Society. “The scale of climate change has disrupted these natural processes, but with the right incentives for management, our forests, grasslands, wetlands, and urban green spaces can play a role in reducing harmful emissions while protecting the birds we love.”
Audubon scientists studied ecosystems across the country that are critical to both carbon storage and to birds, both now and under future climate change, and found that these regions often overlapped. Combined, the priority areas studied already store over 100 billion tons of carbon, and, if climate-smart strategies are implemented, have the potential to sequester up to twice as much carbon annually as they do currently. The report found that by conserving, managing, and restoring these priority areas, the U.S. could realize up to 23% of its Paris Agreement commitment to reduce emissions.
"Our previous research showed that what's good for birds when it comes to addressing climate change is also good for the communities they share their habitat with,” said Brooke Bateman, director of climate science at the National Audubon Society and one of the authors of the report. “The priority areas highlighted in this report have the added benefit of being prime natural climate solutions. Management of these areas to drawdown emissions while simultaneously supporting efforts that help both birds and people is a win-win-win."
Much of the land in priority areas is privately owned, so while management of public lands will play an important part, policies must also respect the role that landowners and producers play in maximizing the conservation and climate mitigation potential of the nation’s key landscapes.
“Working with private landowners and incentivizing voluntary climate-smart practices can increase resilience to climate change, drive investments into local communities, and help protect some of the country’s most important habitats for birds,” said Melinda Cep, vice president of natural solutions and working lands at the National Audubon Society. “Public lands also present ample opportunity to maintain and restore natural climate solutions and create a cleaner future for all.”
The report authors identified the following ecosystems as beneficial both to bird habitat and natural carbon storage:
- Forests: Currently, forests keep more carbon out of the atmosphere than any other habitat, especially in Alaska. Our report identifies 538 million acres of priority forest. Natural forest management, avoided forest conversion, and reforestation are three of the most eﬀective ways to store carbon, and forests are also home to the greatest diversity of breeding birds across the country, including vulnerable birds like the Wood Thrush.
- Grasslands: More than 333 million acres of grasslands and rangelands represent priority areas to maintain, and more than 243 million acres of degraded grasslands represent priority areas to restore. By maintaining existing grasslands, restoring native grasslands, and supporting conservation-focused ranching, we can capture a considerable amount of atmospheric carbon. And because grassland birds, like the Lesser Prairie Chicken, are among the most threatened in North America, restoring grasslands to capture more carbon will also mean that grassland-dependent birds have a more promising future.
- Wetlands, including coastal and interior freshwater and saline environments, provide critical breeding habitat to many species like the threatened Piping Plover, and capture and store carbon at a high rate per acre. Our analysis identified 24.7 million acres of priority coastal wetland habitats. While degradation and conversion of wetland habitats can release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, management and restoration can allow these areas to become effective carbon sinks.
- Well-maintained green spaces in cities and suburban areas have a role to play, too. These places provide homes for migratory and local bird species like the American Goldfinch, critical outdoor space for millions of city dwellers, and can also help keep air clean, cool down cities, and manage urban ﬂooding. More than 38 million acres of urban and suburban systems represent priority areas to maintain, and more than 55 million acres of degraded urban and suburban systems represent priority areas to restore.
The report also contains policy recommendations to not only maintain, manage, and restore these ecosystems, but to encourage innovation and research. Although natural climate solutions can help meet emissions reductions goals to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, investments must also be made to decarbonize every sector of our economy, including electricity, transportation, and industry.
“We must trust the science and take action to support natural solutions to climate change for the benefit of both people and wildlife,” said Greenberger. “From cleaner air for all city communities, to voluntary programs that will help private landowners, to ensuring that traditional and Indigenous land stewards have a say in the decision-making process – our policies must reflect equity, fairness, and respect for everyone.”
Audubon’s Survival by Degrees report, released in October 2019, indicated that future climate change will put two-thirds of birds in North America at risk of extinction due to projected range losses. Of the 604 species analyzed, none were projected to remain untouched by either climate-driven range loss or extreme weather, sea level rise, or other climate change-related threats.
The natural climate solutions report can be found at: https://nas-national-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/audubon_naturalclimatesolutions_june2021_hi_res.pdf
Additional information can be found at: https://www.audubon.org/conservation/climate/naturalsolutions
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.
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