Oregon Sets New Goals for Carbon Sequestration

Natural and Working Lands Proposal

Chris Ensminger | Unsplash

Healthy forests, waters, and agricultural lands are vital to Oregon’s economy, culture, and way of life. These natural and working lands often come to mind as vital resources in need of protection from climate impacts, but they are also an essential part of the climate solution. The science is clear: in order to avoid climate catastrophe, we must radically transform the way we use our land — from how we grow our food to how we manage our forests.

Recognizing this need, Governor Brown directed the Oregon Global Warming Commission to work in concert with our state natural resource agencies to develop and propose goals for maximizing carbon sequestration (taking carbon out of the air and storing it back in the soil or in plants and trees) on our natural and working lands. After more than a year of robust tribal and stakeholder input, research, and engagement, the Oregon Global Warming Coalition delivered. 

For the first time in history, Oregon has concrete goals and recommendations for advancing carbon sequestration by Oregon’s forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands, positioning the state as the U.S. leader on climate mitigation.

OEC has been an active participant in the year-long process that involved extensive tribal and stakeholder input, research, and state and federal contributions. In total, the OGWC heard from more than 1,000 individuals and organizations who provided recommendations on both the goal itself as well as specific policy, practice, and investment strategies for achieving the sequestration targets.

OEC advocated for strong outcome-based goals for increasing carbon sequestration. The final report recommends Oregon sequester at least an additional 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year in Oregon’s natural and working lands and waters by 2030, and at least 9.5 MMTCO2e by 2050. This is like eliminating emissions from 2 million gas-powered cars for a year. Importantly, these sequestration goals are separate from and in addition to Oregon’s emissions reduction goals. 

If Oregon is able to achieve the sequestration goals proposed in the report and meet our 2035 and 2050 emission reduction targets, we could achieve net zero emissions by 2040.

What’s Next?

While the goals themselves are worth celebrating, there is a long road ahead for Oregon to begin the work of achieving the recommendations set out in the report. This will require the state to adopt climate-smart management practices, significant investments in technical assistance, incentives, data, research, and new rules and regulations. The OGWC identified four broad strategies with ten supporting elements to achieve the ambitious outcome-based goals:

  1. Position the state to leverage federal lands and investments in climate-smart natural and working lands practices.
  2. Investigate options and create a sustained source of state funding to increase sequestration in natural and working lands.
  3. Fund and direct the agencies to take actions to advance natural and working lands strategies.
  4. Invest in improvements to Oregon’s natural and working lands inventory.

Photo | Adobe

OEC will continue to advance the implementation of these strategies through our state and federal advocacy work. In recent months, OEC has been advocating for bold investments in climate and equity through the federal Build Back Better Act, which could result in $30 billion in investments for regenerative agriculture, farmland conservation, organic farming, resources for marginalized farmers, and agriculture and climate research and development. The proposal also includes $80 billion for climate resilience, the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to support climate resilience and mitigation, and other lands protections. 

At the same time, OEC continues to advocate in the legislature for strong state funding and support for Oregon’s departments of agriculture, forestry, and water resources. Importantly, there will be a bill during the 2022 short legislative session that would set the stage for the implementation of the recommendations in the OGWC’s report. Working with the agencies themselves, we advocate for programmatic requirements that ensure the implementation of essential work to promote carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reductions. 

Who’s Doing What?

Photo | Jeff Brittain

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), responsible for distributing funds aimed at watershed restoration and protection, has hired a water and climate coordinator position. This position will help ensure that the grant funds distributed by OWEB for projects across the state have significant and measurable climate impacts and sequestration co-benefits as part of their required watershed enhancement goals. OWEB has also established a climate committee to support and guide that work. Many of the grants made by OWEB act as a state match for federal programs.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) works closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to support funding and technical assistance for practices that improve soil health, sequester carbon, and protect water quality through partnerships with the state’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs). As federal funds are channeled into existing incentive programs, these technical assistance providers will help get real results on the ground.  And again, state funds are essential for providing the required match to the federal program.

2022 Legislative Session

Photo | Jeff Brittain

In the 2022 session, we will be supporting a $5M funding request from the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program to be used as a match for federal dollars to implement agricultural easements with willing landowners.  The easements remove development rights from working lands, ensuring the lands remain in production. An acre of farmland produces 58-70 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than an acre of urban land and provides more opportunities for activities that sequester carbon, protect soil and water quality. State funds are essential for providing the required match to federal programs.

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