The topic of climate change can be overwhelming due to its global scale and goals that often seem out of reach. Because of this, local-level solutions are often overlooked, but are vital to reach global climate goals. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined that global warming must stay below 2° Celsius in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Land trusts such as UP Land Conservancy play an important role in meeting this worldwide goal through the protection of natural landscapes that allow for nature based climate solutions. The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines nature based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature”. These restorative actions have the ability to accomplish a third of the climate mitigation needed to stay below the 2° Celsius limit. Here are some of the ways that UPLC promotes nature based solutions through the management of our properties and easements:
Most scenarios where society is likely to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius include reaching negative carbon emissions, meaning more carbon is removed from the atmosphere than is released . Thankfully, we have awesome natural mechanisms that suck carbon from the atmosphere: trees! Forests owned or managed by UPLC are protected from destructive forms of development or unsustainable timber management. This means that more trees are given space to grow and keep our air clean.
The Vielmetti-Peters Reserve is an example of a property that UPLC manages specifically for sustainable forestry. The management of this forest is focused on rehabilitation rather than increasing profit margins through timber harvesting. Through sustainable management practices, UPLC is able to ensure that there will be healthy, resilient, and diverse trees that have the ability to store and sequester carbon for generations.
Another widely overlooked method of carbon storage is in wetlands. All types of wetlands store carbon, and those in the Upper Peninsula are among the most important. Freshwater inland wetlands are able to hold nearly ten times more carbon than tidal coastal wetlands, and peatlands in the east and upper midwest store nearly half of the wetland carbon in the United States . Despite their important role, 35% of wetlands have disappeared since 1970 according to the UN Environment Programme . When these areas are destroyed, the previously stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere. The permanent protection of wetlands on UPLC properties means they will never be drained or developed, allowing them to continue doing a great job of storing significant amounts of carbon.
Ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water is one of the most challenging concerns related to climate change. Only 0.5% of water on Earth is usable and available as freshwater, however, that small supply of terrestrial water storage has dropped at an alarming rate of 1 cm per year for the last 20 years due to rising temperatures and overconsumption . Already, about half of the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity for at least part of the year, a number that is only expected to go up .
Here in the Upper Peninsula, there is an exceptional amount of clean freshwater that should not be taken for granted. The Great Lakes account for 90% of the freshwater in the United States, on which 40 million residents in the US and Canada depend for clean drinking water . The Upper Peninsula borders three of the five Great Lakes, and holds many more gallons of freshwater in our inland lakes and streams. However, this precious supply is threatened by invasive species, pollution, habitat destruction, and the effects of climate change. UPLC prioritizes the protection of sensitive freshwater resources in order to mitigate threats like these.
The quality of water that comes out of our faucets is intrinsically linked to how land and water is managed regionally. Many of the properties that UPLC has acquired were at high risk for future development, which could destabilize sensitive landscapes and increase runoff into sources of open running water. Our recently acquired Dead River Community Forest is an example of a property that has an important role in the protection of clean water. This property, which would have been at risk of development had it not been acquired, is situated along a section of Dead River, and Midway Creek runs through the bayou parcel of the property. Because this property will be permanently protected by UPLC, steep slopes along the river will be allowed to stabilize and prevent erosion and sediment loading into the river, and soil and vegetation will be allowed to grow and filter runoff from upstream developments for the benefit of communities downstream.
Protecting natural landscapes with a focus on creating ecosystem connectivity can provide critical sources of food and habitat for native plants and animals. The effectiveness of the nature based solutions above is reliant on the health of their ecosystems, which biodiversity is indicative of. Furthermore, changes in climate and land use is one of the largest drivers of biodiversity loss.
One example of how biodiversity benefits both people and nature can be highlighted through insects. Since 1974, we have watched the number of insects on the globe plummet to 55% of their former population numbers– despite the fact that if insects were to disappear completely, humans would only survive a few months ! Without insects, humans would be left without essential pollinators for our food and decomposers for our waste. Research by ecologist Douglas Tallamy has found that introduced or invasive plant species provide about 68% less food for insects than native plant species. Furthermore, 90% of the insects that eat plants can develop and reproduce only on the plants with which they share an evolutionary history, or in other words plants that are native to the same region . For example, native oak trees can support more than 500 species of caterpillars, while a common non-native landscaping tree called ginkgos can only support 5 species of caterpillars. This is a significant difference according to the chickadees, who require over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood . UPLC actively manages our properties to support healthy native plant communities that provide food and habitat for these vital insects by prioritizing planting native species and removing invasive plant species.
It is not feasible to act as if humans and nature exist as separate entities. Instead, we need to prioritize inviting biodiversity into our shared natural spaces. Landowners work with UPLC accomplish this through the establishment of conservation easements; legal agreements between landowners and UPLC that place permanent restrictions on land use in order to protect conservation values.
It is without question that in order to create a sustainable future we need to become better stewards of the land that surrounds us. Nature based solutions are a way local communities can build resilience in the face of changing weather patterns, drought, declining air quality, and other climate related changes we are already experiencing here in the UP. When paired with effective global agreements, local nature based solutions that store carbon, clean water, and protect biodiversity can help us ease the impacts of global changes. The work that UPLC does is a bridge from local action to global impact.
You can help UPLC make an even greater impact in nature based solutions by contributing to our Accelerating Conservation Campaign. Thanks to the extraordinary commitment of our generous challenge grant donor, The Carls Foundation, every dollar donated to UPLC will be matched on a 1:1 basis if we reach our goal of $120,000 by the end of 2023. Consider how your contribution will help play a role in the legacy of conservation in the UP!
References and Further Reading
Tallamy, Douglas W.. Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. Portland, Oregon, Timber Press, 2019.