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2021 Year in Review: Addressing Climate Change

As the climate continues to change, land conservation plays an essential role for people and wildlife alike. 

Our forests store carbon in trees and soil, and naturally mitigate the impacts of fiercer storms and rising waters. This year, the lands added to state and national parks and forests by OSI store an estimated 1.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 1.5 million cars. These lands are expected to sequester an additional 225,000 metric tons by 2050, a critical deadline for climate action.

Tennessee's Southern Cumberlands region is a focus area of OSI's new Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund.
Tennessee's Southern Cumberlands region is a focus area of OSI's new Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund.
Photo Credit: Steven Alvarez

To help achieve President Biden’s Thirty by Thirty initiative, OSI this year launched its groundbreaking Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF) to harness land conservation to fight climate change and protect biodiversity. This first-of-its-kind initiative focuses specifically on land protection surrounding the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, which contain the world’s largest broadleaf forest, quietly sequester more of the nation’s carbon than any other region, and provide essential climate refuge for plants and animals.

Just months after the launch of the fund, OSI partnered with Wildlands Conservancy to protect its first project under the ALPF, the 2,700-acre Penrose Swamp Barrens; and distributed $140,000 to support the efforts of 14 organizations across the east to integrate carbon mitigation and resilience into land management and strategic conservation plans.

Building on its dedication to on-the-ground protection for flood mitigation, OSI issued an insightful report, awarded local planning grants, and gave a series of virtual presentations, all around harnessing the benefits of conservation for flooding. As the nation grapples with more severe flooding due to excess precipitation under climate change, which over the past three decades has already caused an excess of $75 billion in damages, the life-saving role of land protection to curb flooding will only grow more apparent.

Expanding upon its track record for making the complex science of land protection accessible and implementable by all, OSI released a policy brief and ”how-to” guide aimed at helping land trusts, policymakers, and public agencies select the properties most likely to effectively fight climate change. The report contains easy-to-use criteria for managing successful land protection efforts for the capture and storage of carbon.

Along the Georgia coast, OSI and partners made historic headway in securing climate-critical lands with the official transfer of the Ceylon and Cabin Bluff properties to the State of Georgia. Together, these properties, at 26,000 acres, represent the largest conservation accomplishment in Georgia’s history and will play a crucial role in storing carbon and buffering the coast of Georgia from future sea-level rise.

Finally, with the publication of the Resilient Landscapes Initiative Retrospective, OSI officially completed an important chapter in its ongoing effort to empower land trusts to mobilize around the protection of resilient lands likely to harbor sensitive plants and animals, even as the climate changes.

From 2013 to 2020, the Resilient Landscapes Initiative provided grants totaling $11 million to conserve some 50,000 acres; integrated climate resilience science, developed by The Nature Conservancy, into 41 conservation plans by land trusts and public-private partnerships; and disseminated training materials and case studies to more than 1,300 practitioners.

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2021 Year in Review: Protecting Land for Wildlife

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