These days, to be a conservation funder is to be a climate change funder. At least that ought to be the case. Because how do you conserve a wetland that’s drying up? How do you protect a dwindling species when it’s fled from its changing habitat?
Large green groups and funders are lumbering beasts themselves, though, so change has come slowly in terms of breaking down the historic divisions between climate and conservation work. This is tricky terrain for nonprofits to navigate, given that conservation efforts have often drawn supporters from across the ideological spectrum, while the climate issue has been deeply politicized. Keeping diverse donor bases happy while addressing the growing effects of climate change on many ecosystems and species isn't always easy.
But even some conservation actors you might not expect are taking important steps on climate. The Audubon Society is a great example. Last year, it landed millions in funding to bring its bipartisan membership into the climate issue. Heck, Audubon just broke tradition and took a hard stance against Trump’s EPA cabinet pick, so look at those guys go.
- Funding Conservation Through the Lens of Climate Change
- With Birds at Risk, Audubon Jumps Into Climate Issues in a Big Way—With Big Funders
- Where Is MacArthur’s Budding Climate Program Heading Now?
Another such nonpartisan program just emerged, seeking to amp up the climate-related activities of land trusts, which protect privately owned property largely through conservation easements. The Land Trust Alliance, with $1 million in funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, just launched a Land Trust Climate Initiative to assist its 1,000 member trusts across the country. That’s just catalytic funding, as the alliance hopes to provide $2 million from other sources over the next four years.
The role of land trusts might seem pretty straightforward and not conducive to, say, clean energy policy. But they do have some power to throw around, with some 56 million acres conserved as of 2015, and 4.6 million members and financial supporters. And Land Trust Alliance President Andrew Bowman (a former program director for Doris Duke) gave a talk in 2016 saying that the land trust community needs to stay open to both conservative and liberal viewpoints in conservation, but that they also have a moral obligation to address the climate crisis.
Land management has an important role to play in climate change, both because climate affects how you conserve land, but also because conservation can reduce greenhouse gases.
So among the things the new fund hopes to do is help land trusts work climate impacts and resilience into their conservation plans. The alliance will also be promoting carbon capture methods, like cultivating soil and plant life to lock it into the ground. And of course, not developing land can reduce the country’s carbon footprint as well.
There’s one other strategy that’s particularly interesting, which reflects the Doris Duke Charitable Trust’s interests, and that is support for land trust pilot programs to encourage more renewable energy, while steering it away from sensitive lands. We’ve written before about Doris Duke’s unique program merging conservation and climate change, and seeking to balance wildlife and conservation needs with renewable energy needs.
So it's encouraging to see that this program is not only focused on adjusting current practices by land trusts with climate in mind, but also trying to engage in more proactive mitigation steps.