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Oregon commission approves ‘carbon capture’ fund for state’s natural and working lands

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The Oregon Climate Action Commission on Friday approved $10 million in investments with the goal to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Oregon’s natural and working lands – which includes forests, grasslands, rangelands and farmland – produce a variety of environmental benefits, including the opportunity to capture and store carbon to reduce the state’s carbon gas emissions.

Oregon’s natural and working lands – which includes forests, grasslands, rangelands and farmland – produce a variety of environmental benefits, including the opportunity to capture and store carbon to reduce the state’s carbon gas emissions.

Tracy Robillard / Oregon Natural Resources Conservation Services

The Natural and Working Lands Fund is part of the much broader Climate Resilience Package, House Bill 3409, signed by Gov. Tina Kotek last year. The mix of more than a dozen bills has a focus on clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and other initiatives to reduce climate pollution.

Catherine Macdonald, the commission’s chair, said the discussion of state investments in Oregon’s working and natural lands dates back to 2018.

“Plants are our best technology for capturing and storing carbon,” Macdonald said. “And how we manage crops and soils, rangelands, forests and natural lands can make a big difference in how much is sequestered.”

The commission includes 35 members — 13 voting members designated by the governor — and is charged with recommending ways to coordinate state and local efforts to reduce emissions in Oregon.

Through the investments approved by the commission, a handful of state agencies, such as the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, will receive funds for financial incentives, technical assistance, and other projects for landowners across the state to implement voluntary “natural climate solutions” on their farms and ranches. A bulk of the investment also includes funds for carbon capture projects in forests, grasslands and wetlands.

The state’s broader goal is to reduce Oregon’s emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, including by supporting incentive practices that capture emissions in the state’s natural and working lands.

For farmers, that means establishing practices like a nutrient management plan, reducing or eliminating tillage, planting cover crops — plants like legumes, grasses and cereals — or establishing perennial crops, all of which reduce disturbance and keep carbon in the soil.

Some farm advocacy groups and farmers felt the commission didn’t include enough funding for agricultural lands, especially compensation for establishing natural climate solution practices.

“Very few farmers need to be convinced that climate-smart practices are best. We need financial and physical support,” Michelle Week, who owns Good Rain Farm, said in a statement submitted as public comment. “Farms that are choosing to utilize more conventional techniques are doing so out of financial necessity rather than a lack of understanding or caring about the environmental impact.

The commission approved $750,000 for the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program — an initiative through the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board that provides voluntary conservation incentives to farmers and ranchers.

Megan Kemple, the executive director of the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, said the group would have liked to see $1.5 million allocated to the program instead, though she’s pleased the commission also approved the option to leverage some additional state funding.

“Climate change is really threatening the viability of Oregon’s farms and ranches. And agriculture has an important role to play in mitigating climate change,” Kemple said. “Farmers who want to adopt practices to be more resilient need support.”

Macdonald said she’s excited to see the fund move forward and hopes the benefits of climate-smart practices move Oregon’s Legislature to extend its funding in the future.

“I think if we can show the benefits, especially triple bottom line benefits to producers, as well as others in Oregon communities and conservation interests, I’m hopeful the Legislature will see this as a really good investment,” Macdonald said.

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