MONROE COUNTY - Fred Clark, Executive Director of Wisconsin Green Fire, was the featured guest speaker at the October 7 meeting of the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force. Clark is a former member of the Natural Resources Board, and also previously served as a state legislator.Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel said that most of the task force’s work to date had been focused on their first goal of implementing monitoring devices and warning systems. Having made some good progress on that goal, Micheel said that Clark had been invited to speak to help begin to make progress on goal number eight, which is ‘climate change mitigation.’
State role model
“Monroe County is really modeling for the whole state what needs to happen to create resiliency and mitigate the impacts of climate change in our non-urban counties,” Clark said. “Because of rural counties’ large percentage of land base in either forest or cropland, you have real opportunities here.”Indeed, Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel had explained that the State Land and Water Board has recruited him to help other counties integrate climate change into their Land and Water planning.
Generally, Wisconsin land cover is about 4.5 percent urban/developed; 24.6 percent agricultural; 12 percent grassland; 39.7 percent forest; and 16 percent wetlands. Clark said that Wisconsin’s carbon emissions are estimated at about 100 million tons per year.“If we manage our natural and working lands effectively, Wisconsin could offset an additional 16 million tons of carbon equivalent each year,” Clark explained. “That would be about 20 percent of our annual net greenhouse gas emissions, and a significant contribution to cleaner air and reduced warming.”
Strategies for natural and working lands include:
• protecting the carbon that is already stored by keeping forests, farms and conservation lands intact
• restoring carbon sinks (areas where more carbon is stored than emitted) by restoring forests, conservation lands and trees in our communities
• minimizing emissions from use of diesel for farming or logging, reducing use of commercial fertilizers, and improving handling of manure
• establish policies and tap into markets to reward carbon stewardship“While my area of expertise is more in forestry, my understanding is that right now agriculture is a net source of carbon,” Clark said. “In the U.S., agriculture was responsible for 486 metric tons of carbon equivalent, and in 2013, that had grown to 600 metric tons.”
Of emissions from agriculture, 31 percent is in the form of nitrous oxide from cropland; 28 percent is methane from ruminants; 14 percent is energy use; 13 percent is nitrous oxide and methane from grassland; and 12 percent is from stored manure.
“Employing more climate-focused agriculture in Wisconsin could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 6.1 million tons of carbon per year,” Clark said. “Climate-focused agricultural practices also produce large co-benefits for soil conservation and water quality protection.”
Agricultural carbon strategies include:
• reduce soil disturbance
• cover crops/alternative crops
• improve nitrogen fertilizer management
• improve ruminant diets
• reduce pesticide use
• farm energy use
• improve manure management
• plant more acres in perennial vegetation
• plant trees for windbreaks or silvopasture
As far as policies that Wisconsin Green Fire recommends for agriculture and carbon, they include:
• pay farmers to increase soil carbon in agricultural and working lands
• expand the Farmland Preservation Program and Agricultural Enterprise Areas
• tax credits for climate-friendly land use
• increase support for farmer-led watershed groups• prioritize managed grazing with additional technical support and education
Carbon as forest product
Clark said that the Governor’s Climate Change Task Force is about to have their last meeting before publishing their report. He said it is widely expected that defining carbon both as an agricultural and a forest product is expected to be featured in the task force’s recommendations.
“As far as forest carbon strategies, the main thing is to keep existing forests as forests,” Clark said. “Then, other strategies include reforestation of marginal agricultural lands, riparian buffers, and more; improved forest management; and promoting building with wood.”
Clark said that applying climate-focused forest management could increase carbon storage by as much as 3.4 million tons of carbon per year. As an outgrowth of making these management shifts, landowners would also see improved forest resiliency, and prepare their forests for the effects of a changing climate.
The forest carbon policies recommended by Wisconsin Green Fire include:
• define carbon as a forest product
• continue research and development to promote climate-focused forest management
• expand current use property taxation for forests and conservation lands
• a carbon incentive tax credit designed and administered by state agencies
• expand funding and incentives for reforestation• support building with wood and woody biomass for heat and energy
Clark said that U.S. urban forests store 90 metric tons of carbon equivalent, and account for about 10 percent of current land carbon storage. In addition, urban trees provide temperature moderation, improved air quality, noise reduction, improved public health, increased property values, and create more livable communities.
“Trees and parks are one of our best indicators of community livability,” Clark said. “Communities with more trees and greenspaces are significantly more likely to be healthier, safer, more prosperous, and offer a higher quality of life.”
Urban forest climate strategies put forth by Wisconsin Green Fire include:
• increase tree canopy and greenspaces in parks and streets
• increase tree cover at homes and businesses
• emphasize ‘tree equity’ to address needs in under-served and low-income communities• use trees and green engineering for shade, wind protection, air quality, noise reduction, flood abatement, and snow barriers
Prairies and wetlands
Clark explained that prairies and wetlands have always been a conservation priority, and remain so. He said the best thing to do to support conservation in these areas is to support the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Fund.
He explained that currently, carbon losses from the loss of wetlands, prairies and conservation lands in Wisconsin, is as high as four million tons of carbon per year. He emphasized that protecting conservation lands also helps with storing floodwater, filtering nutrients and protecting soil.
“For most of us, tapping into carbon markets for conservation land use has been on the distant horizon,” Clark said. “But that is changing rapidly.”
He said there are currently two kinds of carbon markets – compliance and voluntary. The best example of a compliance or ‘regulatory’ carbon market is in California, where regulations have caused massive investments in carbon offsets in Wisconsin and elsewhere. The best example of a voluntary carbon offset market has been in some major industries, like the airplane industry, which is looking for ways to offset some of its activities.
“Currently, Indigo Ag and Ecosystem Services Market Consortium are active in the agricultural sector, though neither of these options is currently available in Wisconsin,” Clark said. “In forestry, a major barrier is making carbon offsets available for smaller tracts, and this work is being accomplished through a pilot program of the American Forest Foundation, called the ‘Family Forest Carbon Program’.”
The Family Forest Carbon Program is a joint project of the American Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. The pilot is focused on a practice-based approach for specific forest management practices; lowering transaction expenses to landowners by 75 percent, while providing fixed payments; and having the risks assumed by the project program operator.
In other business
In other business, the Monroe County Climate Change Task Force:
• learned that with current funding available, two flood monitoring stations had been ordered for the Little LaCrosse River Watershed, and three for the Kickapoo River Watershed.
• learned that Fishers & Farmers Partnership Grant paid $9,123 for the Little LaCrosse stations. This will pay for two stations with water level and rain gauge
• learned that the purchase of three stations for the Kickapoo River Watershed have been funded by a Kickapoo Valley Association check from various donations of $5,450; an American Family Insurance grant of $2,500; a Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve donation of $1,000; and a contribution from the Monroe County Land Conservation Department of $2,400. This will pay for three stations, which will include one station with water level and camera sensors; one station with a water level sensor; and one station with a rain gauge sensor. The station with water level and camera sensors is planned for the Village of Wilton; the rain gauge station is planned for St. Mary's Ridge, and the third location is TBD.
• heard a report from Micheel that his department plans to hold some kind of event to announce the installation of the monitoring stations, and to thank the donors.
• were informed by Micheel that he will likely be appointed to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts sub group on agriculture.
• heard that Micheel highly recommends everyone see the new movie available online called ‘Kiss the Ground,’ which is about regenerative agriculture. The movie is produced by and features actor Woody Harrelson, and well-known regenerative agriculture advocates like Ray Archuleta and Gabe Brown.• decided that their next meeting will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 2, starting at 9 a.m.