Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):
In the fight over Colorado River water, senior water rights dictate which direction the river flows: west on its natural route from the Continental Divide or east through tunnels to the Front Range. On the mainstem of the Colorado, the most heavily diverted of the river’s basins, two historic structures have much to say about providing water security for Western Colorado: the Shoshone Hydropower Plant in Glenwood Canyon and the Grand Valley Diversion Dam
in DeBeque Canyon.
The next program in the Colorado River District’s “Water With Your Lunch” webinar series on Zoom will explore the importance of Shoshone and the Grand Valley Roller Dam to all West Slope water users. The webinar is set for noon, Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Panelists for the discussion include Andy Mueller, general manager for the Colorado River District; Mark Harris, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Grand Junction; Fay Hartman, conservation director, Colorado River Basin Program at American Rivers and Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director of the Colorado River District.
The Shoshone Hydropower Plant holds the oldest, major water right on the mainstem of the river, 1,250 cubic feet a second dated 1902. When river flows ebb after the spring runoff, Shoshone contributes most of the Colorado River’s water in Glenwood Canyon. In turn, those flows support year-round recreation opportunities and the economic benefits that come with them on the mainstem of the Colorado. The Roller Dam is where most of a suite of old water rights called the “Cameo call,” are diverted. Much of this water today provides water for both abundant agriculture and municipal water users along the mainstem of the river.
Both structures command the river, pulling water downstream that might otherwise be diverted to the Front Range through transmountain diversion tunnels. Shoshone and Cameo water rights are filled before these diversions under the prior appropriation system. When either or both rights are calling, junior diverters must cease or replace the water they take out of priority, keeping our West Slope water flowing west and benefitting water users, recreation and ecosystems along the way, from Grand County to the Grand Valley.
“The Colorado River District was created in 1937 to protect West Slope water and keep water on the Western Slope,” says Andy Mueller, General Manager for the Colorado River District. “The Shoshone and Cameo calls play a vital role in that effort to keep our rivers flowing and our crops growing.”
The penstocks and main building at the Shoshone hydropower plant, which uses water diverted from the Colorado River to produce electricity. The Shoshone Outage Protocol keeps water flowing down the Colorado River when the hydro plant is inoperable. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Number of days the Shoshone outage protocol, or ShOP, was in effect, and stages of the agreement.
The penstocks feeding the Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
The blown-out penstock in 2007 at the Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant back in the days before I-70 via Aspen Journalism
Shoshone Falls hydroelectric generation station via USGenWeb
Shoshone hydroelectric generation plant Glenwood Canyon via the Colorado River District
In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Monday, August 3rd, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.
Colorado begins conversation about how to crimp natural gas use in new buildings
Colorado has started talking about how to curtail natural gas in new buildings necessary to achieve the dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the next 10 to 30 years as specified by state law.
Agreement has been reached among several state agencies and the four distribution companies regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to conduct discussions about future plans for pipelines and other infrastructure projects of more than $15 million. The agreement proposes to take a long view of 10 to 20 years when considering natural gas infrastructure for use in heating, cooking and hot-water heating.
The four utilities—Xcel Energy, Black Hills Colorado, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas—altogether deliver gas to 1.73 million customers, both residential and business.
Unlike a toaster or even a kitchen stove, which you can replace with relative ease and cost, gas infrastructure comes with an enormous price tag—and expectation of a long, long time of use. For example, it would have cost $30,000 per unit to install natural gas pipes at Basalt Vista, an affordable housing project in the Roaring Fork Valley. Alternative technology is being used there.
Gas infrastructure is difficult to replace in buildings where it exists. As such the conversation getting underway is primarily about how to limit additional gas infrastructure.
“Given the long useful lives of natural gas infrastructure investments, the (Colorado Energy Office) suggests that this type of forward-looking assessment should include any significant upgrades to existing natural gas infrastructure or expansion of the gas delivery system to new residential developments,” the state agency said in a June 8 filling.
This is adapted from the July 23, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. Subscribe for free to the e-magazine by going to Big Pivots.
Meanwhile, the three Public Utility Commission plans one or more informational session later this year to learn about expectations of owners of natural gas distribution systems by Colorado’s decarbonization goals and the implications for the capital investments.
HB 19-1261, a Colorado law adopted in May 2019, charged state agencies with using regulatory tools to shrink greenhouse gas emissions from Colorado’s economy 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
Utilities in Colorado have said they intend to close most of the coal plants now operating no later than 2030. The coal generation will be replaced primarily by renewables. That alone will not be nearly enough to meet the state’s ambitious decarbonization goals. Carbon emissions must also be squeezed from transportation—already the state’s leading source of carbon dioxide— buildings, and other sectors.
“No single strategy or sector will deliver the economy-wide greenhouse gas reductions Colorado needs to meet its science-based goals, but natural gas system planning is part of the silver buckshot that can get us there,” said Keith Hay, director of policy at the Colorado Energy Office in a statement.
“When it comes to gas planning, CEO is focused on opportunities to meet customers’ needs that will lead to a more efficient system, reduce overall costs, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.”
Roughly 70% of Coloradans use natural gas for heating.
While gas utilities cannot refuse gas to customers, several real estate developers from Arvada to Pueblo and beyond have started crafting homes and other buildings that do not require natural gas. Instead, they can use electricity, passive solar, and a technology called air-source heat pumps to meet heating, cooling and other needs. Heat pumps provide a key enabling technology.
A glimpse of this low-carbon future can be seen at Basalt Vista, a housing project in Pitkin County for employees of the Roaring Fork School District and other local jurisdictions. The concept employed there and elsewhere is called beneficial electrification.
In setting out to ramp down growth in natural gas consumption, Colorado ranks among the front-tier of states, lagging only slightly work already underway in California, Minnesota and New York.
In the background of these discussions are rising tensions. In California, Berkeley a year ago banned natural gas infrastructure in new developments, and several dozen other cities and counties followed suite across the country.
Protect Colorado, an arm of the oil-and-gas industry, had been collecting signatures to put Initiative 284 on the ballot, to prevent restrictions on natural gas in new buildings. The group confirmed to Colorado Public Radio that it was withdrawing that and other proposals after negotiations convened by Gov. Jared Polis and environmental groups.
Emissions of methane—the primary constituent of natural gas and one with high but short-lived heat-trapping properties—can occur at several places along the natural gas supply chain beginning with extraction. Colorado ranked 6th in the nation in natural gas production in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
In 2017, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States were the result of extraction, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. However, several studies have concluded that the EPA estimate skews low. One 2018 study 2018 estimated that methane emissions from the oil and gas supply chain could be as much as 60% higher than the EPA estimates.
Greenhouse gas emissions also occur when natural gas is burned in houses and other buildings, creating carbon dioxide. An inventory released in December 2019 concluded that combustion of natural gas in houses was responsible for 7.7% of Colorado’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Just how the shift from natural gas to electricity will affect utilities depends upon the company. For Atmos Energy, a company with 120,000 customers in Colorado, from Greeley to Craig, from Salida to Cortez, gas is just about everything.
Xcel’s talking points
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, sells both gas and electricity. In theory, it will come out whole. But it has been leery about moving too rapidly. Technology advances and costs declines have not yet arrived in the natural gas sector, observed, Jeff Lyng, director of energy and environmental policy for Xcel, in a June 8 filing with the PUC.
Still, Xcel is willing to have the conversation. Lyng pointed to efforts by Xcel to improve efficiency of natural gas use. The company is also participating in industry programs, including One Future, which are trying to limit methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain to less than 1%. For Xcel, he explained, that includes replacing older pipes with new materials that result in fewer emissions. It also means using the company’s purchasing power to push best practices that minimize emissions.
The company intends to offer options to customer, including incentives for electric water heaters programmed to take advantage of renewable energy when it is most readily available. That tends to be at night.
Xcel sees an opportunity to work with builders and developers to design all-electric new building developments to avoid the cost of installing natural gas infrastructure.
“This may require high-performance building envelope design, specifying certain appliances and, especially load management,” Lyng wrote in the filing. “Load management is key to ensuring these new electric devices interact with the power grid and are programmed to operate as much as possible during times when there is excess renewable energy or the lowest cost electricity on the system.”
Not least, Xcel conceded a role for air-source heat pumps, the crucial piece of technology employed in most places to avoid natural gas hookups. Heat pumps can be used to extract both cool and warm air from outdoor air as needed. Xcel sees the technology being an option when customers upgrade air conditioning units with spillover benefits for heating.
“Through this option, given the cooling and heating capacity of air source heat pumps, some portion of customer heating load can be offset through electrification, while maintaining their natural gas furnace or boiler as a back-up.”
Others think air-source heat pumps can have even broader application, especially in warmer areas of the state.
Short-term costs may be higher for electrified buildings. “This will improve over time as electric technologies decline in cost and as the electric system becomes cleaner,” Lyng said. Xcel, he added, favors a voluntary approach: pilot programs that expand.
Lyng, in his testimony, warned against trying to ramp up electrification too quickly. In 2019, he pointed out, the maximum daily demand for natural gas had the energy equivalent of 26,000 megawatts of electricity—more than three times the company’s electrical peak demand.
An unintended consequence may be adverse impacts to people of low income. The thinking is that as the demand for natural gas declines, the cost will actually go up per individual consumer.
“As a smaller and smaller pool of customers is left to pay for infrastructure costs, the large the cost impact will be for each remaining customer,” explained Dr. Scott England, from the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, in a filing.
Social cost of methane?
Xcel has also explored the opportunities with renewable natural gas. At its most basic level, renewable natural gas involves harvesting biogas from wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairies. In its first such venture in Colorado, Xcel last fall began getting 500,000 cubic-feet per day of methane from the treatment plant serving Englewood, Littleton and smaller jurisdictions along the South Platte River in metropolitan Denver.
A bill introduced in Colorado’s covid-shortened legislative proposed to create a renewable gas standard, similar to that first specified by voters in 2004 for electricity. SB-150 proposed targets of 5%, 10% and 15% for regulated utilities, encouraging greater use of biogas from landfills, dairies and other sources.
The sponsor, Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said he plans to reintroduce the bill the next session,
Hansen said he may also introduce a bill that would require the PUC to apply the filter of a social cost of methane to its decisions when evaluating alternatives. This would be similar to the cost of carbon, currently at $46 a ton, now applied to resource generating alternatives.
Longer term, Xcel wants to explore opportunities to produce hydrogen from renewable energy to blend into the natural gas distribution system at low levels or converted back to synthetic gas.
The Sierra Club may push back on efforts to convert to synthetic gas. The organization recently released a report that found significant problems with renewable natural gas, a phrase that is now being used by some companies—not necessarily Xcel—to include far more than the biogas from landfills. The Sierra Club estimates that there’s enough “natural” biogas to meet 1% of the nation’s current needs for natural gas. Other estimates put it far higher.
There will be implications left and right from this transition from gas to electricity. Lyng pointed out that solar energy will have lower value, because of its inability to replace natural gas on winter nights.
For the testimony of Jeff Lyng and Keith Hayes and a few dozen more, as well as the filings as of July 29, go to the Colorado PUC website and look up case 20AL-0049G.
Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:
[On July 28, 2020], The Conservation Fund, Colorado State Forest Service and USDA Forest Service announced the permanent protection of the 16,723-acre Banded Peak Ranch in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains. The protected land will connect a largely undisturbed forest landscape, prevent development in critical wildlife corridors and conserve an essential watershed that provides water to Colorado and New Mexico communities downstream. The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund played a critical role to permanently safeguard these private forestlands from the threat of development.
The completion of a conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch is the final phase of a 30-year effort by The Conservation Fund in the Navajo River Watershed – protecting a total of 65,000 acres that connect wilderness ranches in the upper reaches of the watershed to conserved working ranches at lower elevations on the Navajo, Little Navajo and East Fork of the San Juan rivers. Permanent protection of these lands is the product of public-private partnerships involving 10 different ranches. Over the years, the Navajo River watershed project area has attracted $37 million from federal, state and private partners, including private foundations, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the federal Forest Legacy Program, which is managed in Colorado by the Colorado State Forest Service, and private landowner donations.
These privately owned lands are surrounded by some of the most remote, expansive and undisturbed national forest and wilderness lands in Colorado. As the last, large unprotected property in the upper Navajo River watershed, Banded Peak Ranch completes the protection of a wilderness watershed and preserves one of the most important wildlife migration corridors for mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountain region.
“The headwaters of the Navajo River is one of the wildest and most pristine landscapes we have protected in Colorado. It is a majestic place that has inspired many others to join us in the effort,” said Tom Macy, Western Representative of The Conservation Fund. “If we are going to see grizzlies return to Colorado, it is likely to be here.”
Critical Water Supply, Wildlife Habitat, Working Forests
The watershed has critically important benefits for downstream users in Colorado and New Mexico, providing irrigation and drinking water for 1 million people in New Mexico, including 90 percent of Albuquerque’s surface water supply. Protecting Banded Peak safeguards 33 miles of streams on the ranch, including a 5-mile stretch of the Navajo River, along with 850 acres of riparian and wetland habitat.
Banded Peak Ranch – roughly 20 miles southeast of Pagosa Springs – hosts a premier deer and elk hunting program that provides stimulus to the regional economy, while the carefully managed timber operation supports regional wood processing mills. The ranch has been an active participant in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Ag program for two decades and manages its forests with the guidance of a management plan written in conjunction with the agency.
“Our family has been dedicated to land conservation and land stewardship in Colorado and elsewhere for many years,” said Karin Griscom, the family’s representative. “We were privileged to partner with The Conservation Fund, which has diligently worked with us to protect strategic lands and wildlife corridors in the Upper Navajo River watershed over the last 20 years. We also greatly appreciate the help of the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, elected officials and especially the Wyss Foundation that were all instrumental in the protection of this legacy ranch.”
‘Myriad of Ecological Values’
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs along the eastern border of the family’s properties for approximately 10 miles. Almost completely surrounded by 3.75 million acres of the San Juan National Forest, South San Juan Wilderness and Rio Grande National Forest, protection of the Banded Peak Ranch enhances the adjacent public lands by maintaining healthy forests, critical wetland and riparian areas, and crucial wildlife corridors. Fire modeling shows this ranch is the first line of defense in the watershed for reducing the risk and cost of wildfire.
The conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch will be held by the Colorado State Forest Service. The two adjacent ranches – Catspaw and Navajo Headwaters – are owned by members of the same family and protected through a series of conservation easements held by the Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Open Lands. These perpetual easements ensure that the natural richness and ruggedness of these lands will remain largely undisturbed, allowing ranch operations to continue while eliminating future subdivision for residential or commercial development.
“We’re proud to partner with The Conservation Fund, USDA Forest Service and owners of Banded Peak Ranch to conserve the myriad of ecological values on the ranch,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “By protecting Banded Peak and its forests from future development, we’re ensuring the public benefits that these forests provide – from clean air and water to habitat for our iconic wildlife – persist in Colorado for generations to come.”
Support from Colorado’s Congressional Delegation
The protection of Banded Peak Ranch was made possible by $7 million from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF uses offshore drilling revenue – not taxpayer dollars – to fund conservation projects across the country. The Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that has passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the President’s desk for signature, provides full and permanent funding for LWCF and future conservation victories like this one. Colorado’s Congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, is united in its support for this program and for the protection of the Banded Peak Ranch.
“The conservation of Banded Peak Ranch is excellent news for southwestern Colorado and a testament to the work of local leaders and landowners, The Conservation Fund, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to this decades-long effort, the Navajo River Watershed, and its valuable wildlife habitat, will now be protected for future generations,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, projects like this simply wouldn’t be possible. I’m glad to have supported this project throughout the process, and to have secured full funding for LWCF, so that Colorado can continue to invest in public lands, wildlife habitat and our economy.”
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of conservation programs and has played a critical role in protecting public lands in Colorado and across the nation,” said U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. “Protecting the Banded Peak Ranch completes 65,000 acres of protected wilderness and watershed which will help wildlife in the area flourish. Additionally, preserving the streams at Banded Peak Ranch ensures that communities downstream, including areas in southwest Colorado, have access to clean water for drinking and irrigation.”
“The addition of the Banded Peak Conservation Easement is a welcome expansion to safeguard critical wildlife habitats in southwestern Colorado,” said U.S. Representative Scott Tipton. “I am proud to have worked to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that important projects like this will continue benefitting communities in Colorado for years to come.”
Realizing the opportunity to protect this last piece of the headwaters of the Navajo River, the Wyss Foundation has played an essential role in the Banded Peak Ranch project, providing funds to match the LWCF dollars.
“Thanks to the determination of The Conservation Fund and support from Coloradans demanding more protections for their lands and waters, Banded Peak Ranch will be preserved forever,” said Wyss Foundation President Molly McUsic. “Collectively we must continue taking every opportunity to accelerate our conservation efforts, to safeguard imperiled wildlife and to ameliorate the worst impacts of a changing climate.”
Most of the wildlife species found along southern Colorado’s Continental Divide inhabit the Banded Peak Ranch. Elk, black bear, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, bald eagles, bighorn sheep and many others thrive in the area. Federally threatened Canada lynx also live on the property. The streams on Banded Peak Ranch support the recovery of the San Juan strain of the Colorado cutthroat trout, which was presumed extinct for 100 years, until it was rediscovered on the ranch in 2018. Grizzly bears were once present in this remote wilderness area until the late 1970s. In fact, this was the last place in Colorado to host the iconic and threatened species. Two books were written about the grizzly bears’ presence in this watershed, including Ghost Grizzlies: Does the Great Bear Still Haunt Colorado by David Petersen, and The Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado by Rick Bass.
From the Douglas Creek Conservation District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
Did you learn the definition of an alluvium this weekend? Or what estoppel means? If you attended the Douglas Creek Conservation District’s “Water Law in a Nutshell” class this weekend, presented by Mr. Aaron Clay, you now know the answers to both questions.
The Water Law in a Nutshell class covered numerous water topics pertinent to Rio Blanco County residents. Twenty-four individuals were able to take advantage of the class in-person or by Zoom.
Primary topics included water terminology, measurements of water, Prior Appropriation Doctrine, practical application of water law, and interstate compacts. Excellent questions and engagement from the 25 participants helped everyone have a much better understanding of Colorado water law and how it affects them directly.
One of many examples of valuable information is learning about “domestic preference” in the Prior Appropriations system. While domestic water use has preference over any other purpose, including agriculture and manufacturing, a Colorado Supreme Court case decided that provision does not alter the priority system. “However, it does give municipalities the power to condemn water rights, if the owners of those water rights are paid just compensation.”1
Another example is how important it is to verify water rights when purchasing property with water. If the water right is stock in a ditch company, the purchaser should verify with the ditch company that the stock certificate is recorded in the current landowner’s name and the amount. If not stock in a ditch company, it is important to verify the water right at the clerk and recorders’ office.
The seven-hour Water Law in a Nutshell class was recorded. If you are interested in viewing the class please contact the District office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-878-9838 to make arrangements.
A new report shows extreme drought throughout the Bighorn Mountains.
The latest data from the University of Nebraska’s National Drought Mitigation Center shows most of Wyoming is experiencing some level of drought. That ranges from moderate drought in the south and some eastern parts of the state to severe drought in the central region.
Interim Director of the Wyoming Water Resources Data System and State Climate Office Tony Bergantino said there is extreme drought in Sheridan, Johnson, Natrona, Washakie and Hot Springs counties.
“Precipitation pretty much just turned off. We had high winds and warm temperatures that just got things going dry really quick. Reports of soil moisture being really depleted up there,” Bergantino said of the factors that contributed to the drought.
Bergantino said that extreme drought is the highest level the state has seen since October 2018. According to the Drought Monitor, the impacts of D3, or extreme drought, is inadequate surface water for ranching and farming and a poor snow pack.
Bergantino said one of the first fires of the season occurred in Johnson County and there have been subsequent fires in the area. The snowpack had looked good early in the year and into May, but the weather shifted.
Even if rain does pick back up, it won’t be enough to reverse the damage, he said…
He said the agriculture industry will be the most impacted by the drought. The west and northwestern parts of the state are the only areas showing no signs of drought, and Bergantino said that’s because of precipitation they had early on.
The Nature Conservancy’s CEO Jennifer Morris shares why it’s time for radical collaboration on climate change & biodiversity loss—now more than ever.
As a lifelong conservationist and now CEO of The Nature Conservancy, I am an impatient optimist. I hear the clock ticking on climate change. I see the threats to biodiversity and loss of nature with clear eyes. I listen to the stories from vulnerable populations most directly and immediately affected by droughts, intense storms, and other increasingly severe natural disasters.
And yet, I am optimistic. I believe that the global community can come together and enact the right policies, shift industries toward a more sustainable path, and empower local communities to protect the resources that sustain them, for one, simple reason: I believe in the power of humanity to act.
The nature crisis is a human crisis
I’ve always been a nature lover. Even as a kid, I would spend my summers exploring the small forest near my family’s home in Atlanta, Georgia, scribbling in my notebook the species names of birds and trees I could identify. But, twenty-seven years ago, as an English teacher in a small rural community in Northern Namibia, I began to fully understand our capacity for building a better future by protecting nature.
After a day of helping women collect firewood and digging boreholes to access fresh water from the aquifer, my friend Ria and I sat outside under a full moon to look at pictures from her youth. She shared photos of her community surrounded by lush forests and told stories about fishing and harvesting fresh corn.
Her life as a grown woman was much different: her home was surrounded by drought-stricken fields, and she spent much of her day traveling far distances to collect water and firewood for her family—distances that continued to grow due to deforestation. These long journeys came with increased risk of violence, less time at home, fewer hours studying in my class, and no chance to find a paying job.
That night I began to understand on a deeper level how connected our health and economic wellbeing are to the health of our local environment. From that moment, I set out to devote my career to protecting nature and bettering the lives of all who depend on it.
And I can’t imagine a more urgent time to be wholly dedicated to this work than now.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the greatest threats the world faces. These twin crises pose enormous risks for communities and economies around the world. A failure to act on them is to be complicit in exacerbating the challenges we face as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention global conflict, income inequality, and other hardships that have persisted for generations. Action is not only a moral obligation, it is an existential imperative. And all paths to a better world depend on our ability to protect the lands and waters that provide us all with clean air and water, healthy food and a stable climate.
Collaboration is our strongest lever for change
Change at a meaningful scale cannot be achieved by any one organization alone. It cannot even be achieved by many likeminded organizations. Scientists, Indigenous peoples, and environmentalists have been shouting from the rooftops about the degradation to our ecosystems and changes to our climate for decades. We were warned about severe impacts to future generations. Well, those future generations are here now. And our efforts to date, while important and meaningful, have been insufficient to achieve systemic change.
For tangible, lasting results we need to engage in radical collaboration—across sectors, across beliefs, across knowledge bases.
This spirit of collaboration is part of The Nature Conservancy’s DNA—and a big reason why I was drawn to lead this great organization. For 69 years, TNC has rallied people together around a shared vision to protect and care for nature. As our impact grew across all 50 states and 79 countries and territories, we brought even more partners to the table. TNC’s science-first, nonpartisan approach to working with government leaders helps drive policies that incentivize the protection of nature while balancing the economic and health needs of communities. Through corporate partnerships, we engage with large, influential companies, and leverage scientific insights to influence change up and down supply chains and across industries. And together with investors and lenders, we are unlocking new sources of capital to extend the impact of our conservation work.
Just as critical to the success of our work, and the health of our planet, is engaging and supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities who have stewarded their lands since time immemorial. Strengthening their agency and helping them manage natural territories in a way that enhances livelihoods will also drive conservation outcomes for a quarter of the world’s lands—areas rich in biodiversity that also store an immense 17% of the planet’s forest carbon.
Science-based conservation for a changing world
Underpinning these collaborations is rigorous science and innovation to keep pace with an ever-changing world—from launching world-class spatial mapping that helps monitor protected areas and study migration patterns, to leveraging our financial and deal-making expertise that drives private investment in nature, to scaling up the protection and restoration of forests, grasslands and wetlands that sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Our science-based, collaborative approach helps us identify where to work, how to do it, and who we need on board to get it done.
The current pandemic has made considerable impacts to our conservation efforts and the people we work with around the world. We’ve had to pause important field projects, like clearing invasive plants to avoid water loss and protect biodiversity in the watersheds of Greater Cape Town, South Africa—a job that provided income to more than 120 local people. In places like India, we are rethinking how we can support rural communities, as hundreds of thousands of migrants return to their villages after leaving locked-down cities. And what we had hoped would be the “Super Year for Nature” is now in flux, as major international forums, where we intended to push for big policy changes, have been postponed.
We can’t ignore these setbacks, but we can do everything in our power to focus on the long-term health of our organization, our communities, and our planet. That’s why we will be doubling down on the areas where we know we can have the greatest impact—protecting the planet’s lands, oceans, and freshwater and addressing climate change. Given the urgency of our mission we must increase our focus on these key areas, direct our resources to them to ensure results, and—in this data-rich era—strengthen our ability to measure our impact. And, just as important, we will hold ourselves accountable to our values in all we do, conducting ourselves with integrity beyond reproach and treating all of our colleagues, volunteers, and partners with dignity and respect.
The next decade of conservation will look different as society focuses on rebuilding our economies and communities in the wake of the pandemic, and this period ahead will be critical for determining the trajectory of our planet’s health. As we chart a new course forward, nature will matter more than ever—and we have the opportunity to highlight its crucial role in sustaining our health, our livelihoods and our well-being. At The Nature Conservancy, we will be shining a spotlight on nature-based solutions that are key to addressing climate change, filtering and cleaning air and water, protecting coastal communities from increasingly severe storms and sustaining local economies.
These are uncertain times, but around the world we are seeing now how quickly we are capable of responding to a global crisis when we work together. It’s a real source of hope. And it is this focus and scale of action that our other longer-term crises demand in order to create a more sustainable world for future generations.
This role is more than just a job for me—it is a calling. And I know I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by thousands of colleagues, supporters, volunteer leaders, and partners who have dedicated their life’s work to protecting and restoring natural places. I am so excited to join them, and all of you. Only together can we act on the level our planet demands.