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The city hosted three virtual information sessions this summer, each with the goal of deepening the community’s familiarity with city climate work and inspiring collective action. The third session focused on an emerging field in environmental action called natural climate solutions. Here are five takeaways from the conversation.

1. We need to prepare for the impact of climate change. Natural climate solutions can help.

Policy Advisor Brett KenCairn began the session by acknowledging the changing world around us. “Climate change is a reality that we’re going to have to live with, with increasing regularity,” he said.

But we can slow these trends by working with nature. “The good news is that we can work with the living world in ways that improve our resilience to the disruptive forces of climate change,” said KenCairn. This approach is called natural climate solutions.

KenCairn pointed to the city’s work in its open space forests. By thinning forests, the city has improved their health, and importantly, made them more resistant to forest fires. When the NCAR fire threatened South Boulder earlier this year, work to reduce fuels prevented the blaze from spreading throughout the forest. “You’ll notice that the forest is not completely destroyed. That’s not a coincidence,” said KenCairn.

2. Natural climate solutions are new and historic.

While natural climate solutions are a growing area of focus for the city and community, its principles align with strong values held by generations of Boulderites, explained KenCairn. He noted that natural climate solutions are an intuitive next step in our community’s journey to become more sustainable.

“This area of work really grows out of our community’s connection to its living world,” said KenCairn. “We’ve been on the leading-edge of finding ways to take care of these places in ways that they can take care of us.”

3. The biodiversity crisis is as urgent as the climate crisis.

Natural climate solutions address both emergencies.

The world is facing two, interrelated challenges, said Senior Ecologist Rella Abernathy: the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis. While the world warms and weather patterns change, plants, animals and fungi face existential threats. Many of these species are going extinct.

Locally, the biggest threat our ecosystems face is land degradation and fragmentation, said Abernathy. In response, community members are stepping up to create contiguous habitats in their own neighborhoods. Goss Grove resident Andrea Montoya is leading community efforts to create connected, pollinator pathways to support native insects and birds.

What we plant and how we control pests in our community matters, said Montoya. “By planting plants that are native to our area, we can attract native insects that evolved with them.”

Community members are protecting biodiversity one garden at a time and, in turn, are preserving healthy soils that absorb carbon, hold water and help regulate our local climate.

4. It’s time to pay attention to our trees and soil.

Lauren Kolb, the soil health coordinator for the city, will tell you that healthy soils are the foundation for vibrant local ecosystems. “When we have healthy soils, we have a wide array of ecosystem benefits that come along with it,” said Kolb. They absorb more water, preventing flooding and runoff; support healthy plants; absorb carbon from the atmosphere; and are less likely to erode, keeping our air and water cleaner.

Kolb described the city’s work to improve soil health on 16,000 acres of city-managed land, like open space and urban parks. These efforts include bringing in local compost, reducing soil disturbance, increasing plant diversity and incorporating livestock when appropriate.

Trees deserve our attention too, says local arborist Josh Morin. “The survival of our species – in many ways – depends on the ecosystems that trees are major players in.” Morin encouraged community members to find ways to get involved with protecting and planting trees in Boulder. “Any way that you can get into relationship with trees and plants – start there.”

5. Community action matters.

Regenerating the living world must be a community-wide undertaking. Fortunately, there are countless organizations in our community bringing people power to this effort. KenCairn outlined the city’s work to organize a broad group of partners under the banner of Cool Boulder, a community-led campaign to regenerate local soils, trees and habitats.

Launched this spring, Cool Boulder has tapped into the resources of groups like Eco-Cycle, the Tree Trust, the Butterfly Pavilion and over 25 other organizations to mobilize around three action areas:

  1. Connected Canopies
  2. Pollinator Pathways
  3. Absorbent Landscapes

Cool Boulder is just getting started. Learn more and find ways to get involved on the campaign's website.

Marti Matsch From Eco-Cycle

Hi, I'm Marty Matsch. I'm the Deputy Director at Eco-Cycle, and Eco-Cycle is a homegrown Boulder County nonprofit organization. Founded in 1976, we made Boulder one of the first communities in the nation to offer curbside recycling to its residents. And we are now one of the oldest and largest nonprofit recyclers and zero waste organizations in the US, and we have now an international reputation as a leader and innovator in resource conservation. Our mission is to innovate, implement and advocate for local and global zero waste solutions to foster a more regenerative, equitable and climate resilient future. Eco-Cycle is proud to be a part of the Cool Bolder program, and one of the many ways we're partnering in the effort is by engaging our network of more than 1000 volunteer Eco-Leaders. The volunteer Eco-Leader network has long been the backbone of Eco-Cycle and how we are able to create change.

These volunteers go through a series of trainings with us at Eco-Cycle to become the local person-in-the-know and a resource for all things zero waste so that they can turn around and share their zero waste knowledge with their social networks, in their neighborhoods, in their workplace, their clubs and places of worship. Their superpower is that they are helping to create change right where they live and everywhere they go. Our Eco-Leaders care deeply about natural resources and climate, and they want to do everything they can to both mitigate climate change and to adapt our communities to be more resilient in the face of climate change. In 2018, we engaged this network in a three year pilot program to help with what we call our Community Carbon Farming Campaign, where volunteers trial the use of compost and other compost products in their backyards, applying these to their soils, to determine whether we can use urban landscapes, particularly yards to help draw down and sequester carbon safely and beneficially in the soil.

Now that we've closed out the carbon farming trial, that three year period has come to a close, these volunteers are ready to share what they've learned with the whole community, and it ties in beautifully with what the Cool Boulder program is trying to do. Eco-Leaders are ready to share what they know about carbon farming on urban landscapes to build healthy soils for the sake of creating absorbent landscapes. These volunteers are also lining up to help with Bool Boulder projects, like heat mapping throughout the community and for helping to generate and distribute compost that they themselves generate for the purposes of sharing with their neighbors and networks. The goal of the Cool Boulder program is that it truly be a community-based effort, and the engagement of the Eco-Cycle Eco-Leader network is a great way to really make change with trained community members working backyard by backyard and neighborhood by neighborhood.

Morgan Crowley from Wildlands Restoration Volunteers

My name is Morgan Crowley. I am the Habitats and Invasive Species Program Manager for Wildlands Restoration Volunteers. We focus on doing ecological restoration projects, primarily, that engage volunteers with our land management partners all over the state. Our work takes us from like the prairies, all the way up into high alpine environments, doing work that can be anything from collecting native seeds to removing invasive species, improving trails for sustainability, closing old four wheel drive roads, and then you know, doing a lot of restoration following floods and wildfires. Our projects can range from like an afternoon maybe collecting native seed nearby to an urban center – and those are a little bit more accessible and open to families and younger volunteers – to anything from like three or four days in a backcountry setting moving rocks that are a bit more technical and physically demanding.

One of the things that I'm really most excited about in partnering with Cool Boulder is, you know, I think we're trying to find some opportunities to bring some of our – what WRV has been doing with wet meadow restoration kind of more in Western Colorado, we're going to try to bring that to the Front Range. So to give you a little bit of a background in what we've been doing out West, WRV initially became involved with this kind of work back in 2014, when we were invited to partner with the Gunnison Climate Working Group to try to address critical habitat loss for the federally threatened Gunnison Sage Grouse. So they had brought in this stream restoration expert Bill Zeedyk, who developed these really innovative methods for restoring and reversing erosion in dry or arid landscapes. So, that's pretty much all of Colorado. People commonly call them Zeedyk structures, because they're named for Bill.

The structures themselves are mostly really simple and relatively small rock structures, which is great because that makes them very well suited for volunteer work. They're designed to do a variety of things from stopping erosion from advancing, slowing down water and trapping sediment so that they can build eroded creek beds back up. So these structures really work to retain moisture in the landscape. We run probably 200 to 250 volunteer events every year. All of these opportunities are easy to find on our website wlrv.org. You know, especially now when there are so many challenges facing us, it really gives people a way to concretely give back and bring some more hope into the picture.

Did you miss the event? Catch the replay:

Check out the city's natural climate solutions guide to learn more.

Catch Up on Past Climate Conversations

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  • Circular Economy

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