Tim Sullivan for Steamboat Pilot & Today | January 11, 2021

As we begin the new year, we see hope on the horizon for one pressing global challenge in the vaccine for the coronavirus. This year can also bring big new steps to tackle the global crisis of climate change.

Later this month, the state of Colorado will release its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, outlining actions to help the state meet its ambitious climate targets. Also, this spring, Routt County, along with the city of Steamboat Springs and the towns of Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa, will release their Climate Action Plan.

Both the roadmap and the action plan will include many actions to address greenhouse gas pollution that can also help create jobs and more resilient communities. One such set of actions that both documents will highlight are investments in nature, often called natural climate solutions.

Natural climate solutions are proven ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing them in the world’s forests, grasslands and wetlands. This includes actions like reforesting lands that have lost trees due to wildfires or past forest clearing; restoring wetlands along our rivers and in forests; and building carbon in our agricultural soils.

According to recent research, lands in the U.S. currently absorb about 11% of all our greenhouse gas emissions. And with investments in restoration and protection, we could capture as much as 18% of the remaining emissions. Simply put, we cannot meet the emission reductions that scientists say are needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change without natural climate solutions.

Just as important, investing in restoring and protecting land can have many other benefits. Healthy forests and wetlands can help offset the impact of drought and reduced snowpack. More trees can lower temperatures in our communities and in the Yampa River. And connected and resilient lands create critical habitat for wildlife.

As we look to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, we can also create new economic opportunities for landowners and a new workforce through programs to restore and protect our lands. Global studies have shown that for every dollar spent on nature restoration, at least $9 of economic benefit can be expected. In the U.S. alone, ecological restoration is a $9.5 billion industry. Including land restoration as part of economic stimulus post-pandemic can help us both recover from the economic downturn and help address climate change in a way that provides immediate benefits.

The opportunity to advance natural climate solutions in Routt County is significant given the extent of our natural lands. Let’s make 2021 the year that we recognize the role these lands can play in addressing climate change and building a more sustainable future for all.

To learn more about natural climate solutions and their opportunities for the Yampa Valley join Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s virtual community meeting from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday. Register at yvsc.org to attend.

Tim Sullivan is the natural climate solutions director for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.