There are three ways that conservation can help address the climate crisis. Conserved natural lands can help mitigate climate change by absorbing greenhouse gasses from the air. Conservation can help humans and wildlife adapt to climate changes that are already underway. And parks and greenways can help shape more densely populated, energy-efficient communities. This tripartite approach–mitigation, adaptation, and climate-smart communities–is at the heart of TPL’s own Climate Conservation Program.)
Natural lands conservation along the Gulf Coast offers a chance to use several of these approaches at once, according to Don Morrow, one of TPL’s most experienced project managers in the Southeast. I had a chance to talk with Don this morning in connection with a story I am working on for the spring issue of TPL’s Land&People magazine.
Several years ago, Don began working on a project at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Louisiana, where in the 1930s and 40s much of the native hardwood forests were stripped to grow cotton, soybeans, and other crops. The goal was to reforest this land for addition to the wildlife refuge. And because rich, swampy bottomland is an ideal place for growing trees, a lot of carbon would be absorbed from the atmosphere and locked up in the forests as they grew–more than 3 million tons over seventy years. Some of the money for the project came from electric utilities that purchased carbon credits to be used in any future carbon market. An article in the fall 2007 issue of Land&People described this work in more detail.
Now Don is exploring similar work around Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, near Franklin, Louisiana, which TPL helped to create in 2001. The primary purpose of that refuge is to conserve habitat for the endangered Louisiana black bear. TPL hopes to enlarge this habitat by replanting forests long ago cleared to grow sugar cane and adding them to the refuge. Like the project at Tensas, this one will absorb significant carbon. But because Bayou Teche is right on the coast, the work will also help reduce the effect of coastal storms associated with a warming climate.
“Trees grow relatively quickly in this climate, so we get good carbon numbers that make it financially viable to sell carbon credits,” Don says.
But at Bayou Teche, the work will also be about conserving the coast from wind and water. “Open salt marsh doesn’t stop those,” Don says. “But if you put trees into the equation, it all changes. Trees slow the wind and soak up the storm surge.”
Across coastal Louisiana, clearing of land and loss of forests has exposed natural and human communities to a kind of terror from the sea such as was experienced during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Replanting those forests will not only help mitigate for climate change by absorbing carbon, but will help protect the land from future storms made more powerful by a warming climate.