From Raging Wildfires to Habitat Restoration | Soil Health

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 14, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

Wildfires are unpredictable, destructive, and, in recent times, more common. Among their many victims is the soil. Soil forms the foundation of our food chain, and so is of primary importance. Cristina Santin and Stefan H. Doerr conjure up a graphic image for us: Soil is the “living, breathing skin of the Earth.” It’s an image to keep in mind when considering how the land recovers from a fire.

What’s the heart of the matter? According to Santin and Doerr, fires affect soil in different ways, depending primarily on the temperature of the fire. At lower temperatures, fire reduces the microbial biomass that releases carbon dioxide and plant nutrients into the soil. It destroys seed banks and fine roots. At higher temperatures, the chemicals in the soil, like the pH, change. This impacts the stability of the soil and its ability to absorb water. All of these lead to the increased likelihood of soil erosion.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can improve the land, and rebuild the habitat that supports wildlife all while storing more carbon. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

As often happens, a storm comes on the heels of a fire, dramatically increasing the danger of mudslides and debris flows. Even months after the fire, burn-scarred areas are threatened. Big Sur, experienced this recently as a portion of scenic Highway 1 near a burn-scar was washed out after a torrential rainstorm. While there are some benefits to natural soil erosion (adding essential nutrients to streams and rivers) with the advent of climate change and its extreme weather events, soil erosion has become a problem. Crops suffer as the nutrient-rich topsoil gets washed away, leaving exposed bare mineral soil that water cannot penetrate. This means less carbon for plants and less carbon stored. Fires also create the opportunity for aggressive invasive species to take root, harming native plants and causing soil damage.

How does this impact you? This issue affects our farmers more than any other population, and thus our food supply. The fields that grow our food are essential to our survival. Additionally, millions of tons of stored soil carbon are released during a wildfire. We simultaneously lose billions of trees that store carbon, creating a devastating long term effect. The path to restoring both the soil and the trees begins with soil health recovery. We need to take immediate action to prevent excessive soil erosion resulting from raging wildfires and devastating storms. Many universities and governmental agencies have joined in the effort, conducting research, reestablishing habitats, and keeping the public informed. But restoring the soil takes time, maybe even years. Throughout history, maintaining our food supply has been paramount. In modern times, we must also work to protect our resources. Restoring natural habitats strengthens the soil, allowing it to absorb and store carbon, a critical step toward meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

What can you do to help? If you’ve been affected by fires and soil erosion, there are a multitude of resources available to help you recover and restore your environment, a few are listed below. Fortunately, revegetation may occur naturally after the fire. However, it is important to protect the soil as quickly as possible after a wildfire. The Forest Service has a few tips:

  • Mulch to establish ground cover to reduce the risk of soil erosion.
  • Build back the soil structure by reseeding native grasses to hold the soil in place and add nutrients and carbon back into the soil. 
  • Create barriers with straw wattles, sandbags, silt fences, or straw bale check dams to prevent further erosion.
  • Introduce red wigglers, our eco-system engineers, to help expedite the timeline for soil recovery.
  • Avoid introducing non-native species which damage the soil and harm native plants.

Continued vigilance is required to prevent aggressive invasive species from taking over after a fire. According to the National Forest Foundation, they will continue to be a threat until native plants, trees, and shrubs are established.


Next Steps

  • Take preventative steps to protect your soil from eroding.
  • Add groundcover to secure and improve the soil.
  • Plant diverse native species of plants, trees, and shrubs.
  • Work with local organizations to add native trees, plants and shrubs to public spaces.
  • Pay attention to changes being made in your area, and make your voice heard.
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Big Sur Slide Signals Need for Immediate Action on Climate | Soil

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 11, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

Big Sur just lost a section of its famous coast-hugging highway, and it’s not the first time. The super-scenic roadway boasts magnificent views of giant Redwoods to the east and bluest of blue Pacific Ocean to the west. Drivers struggle to keep eyes on the road as the jaw-dropping views captivate their passengers. Being perilously close to the edge of the continent, though, has its dangers. Two recent catastrophic breaks in the road resulted in sections of the highway plunging into the Pacific, hundreds of yards below. Scientists and residents are finding connections between climate change and the damage done to their beloved two-lane road.

What’s the heart of the matter? The beginning of this story is the summer of 2020, when the Dolan Fire burned over 125,000 acres just east of Big Sur. Burn scars near the area can still be seen. Stripping the area of  forests, shrubs and ground cover, the fire left the area vulnerable to soil erosion. Add into the mix a fierce rainstorm which dropped 16 inches of rain in the area. The catastrophic destruction of a 150-foot section of  Highway 1, near Big Sur on January 28, 2021 was anticipated by officials. Acting out of caution and no doubt previous experience, Cal-Trans spokesperson Jim Shivers noted that 40 miles of the highway had already been closed in anticipation of mudslides near the burn scar.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can store more carbon. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

How does this impact you? We have cause for concern. A “slip-out,” the Los Angeles Times noted, happens when the soil surrounding the road is so full of water that the force of gravity wins and the road falls down the cliff. The “atmospheric river” that triggered this most recent slip-out was basically a moving column of water vapor that brought extraordinary amounts of rain to the coast. According to the Guardian, the amount of rain that dumped on the central coast last week was double the amount the area had, on average, all month. 

Place the massive rain event in a burn scarred area, as this one was, and the road had no chance. In burn areas, heavy rainfall causes debris flows that rip up vegetation, choke pipes, and chase people from their homes. There are long-term consequences, as well. Post-fire landslides are a danger for years after the fire. And according to the U.S. Geological Survey, debris flows that happen over a longer period of time result in root decay and loss of soil strength. The soil has little chance of recovery between weather emergencies. 

This recent Big Sur slip-out demonstrates the tragic but logical chain of events that resulted in the highway crashing into the sea:

  • massive wildfire 
  • dry landscape
  • ferocious rainstorm

In recent years Californians have seen more evidence of climate change. As high winds and dry vegetation become more common, firefighters can expect to be called into action in any season of the year. Aggravating the situation, some sources, such as Jay Lund writing in the “California WaterBlog,” predict a multi-year drought for the state in the near future. Any one of these events, by itself, poses serious threats. Taken together, they point to the need to act now.

What can you do to help? Climate change affects all of us. You’ve no doubt experienced surprisingly destructive wind, rain, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Snow storms in May. Rising water levels. We know the signs. With science back in fashion, one thing you can do is advocate for change. Stay informed about legislation you can support at the local, state and national levels. Communicate your support for climate change policies. And, as always, remain committed to making a difference by living and modeling a sustainable lifestyle.


Next Steps

  • If you live in a fire-prone area, remove dry brush that fuels fire 
  • Foster lush native trees, plants, and undercover to anchor the soil 
  • Connect with neighbors and friends about ways to slow climate change
  • Volunteer with a local organization working for change
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No-Till Farming Will Help Save the Planet

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 10, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

What can be done about climate change? A lot! Many of us are busy making significant changes in our everyday habits to become more sustainable and lower our carbon footprints. However, there are a few tricks that have yet to be applied on a grand scale, and now’s the time. If you compost, you are part of a growing wave of people concerned about soil health. Because soil stores a significant amount of carbon, keeping it there is vital in the fight against climate change. This is especially significant in agriculture, with its vast acreage. Soil, not to be confused with dirt, is an ecosystem in itself, with millions of microbes and insects which are responsible for plant growth. Maintaining a natural, undisturbed  balance in the soil’s ecosystem leads to a higher level of carbon storage as well as strong, healthy crops. “No-till” farms help make this happen. They are an arrow in our quiver of weapons to fight climate change.

What’s the heart of the matter? Tilling the soil began thousands of years ago, with the invention of the plow. While many iterations of the basic plow emerged over the centuries, the technique’s harmful consequences have only recently become common knowledge. Tilling the soil disrupts its natural covering, leaving it more susceptible to erosion by wind and water. It releases carbon into the air and kills the really important microbes and insects in the soil’s ecosystem. The good news is that no-till farming avoids these damaging outcomes. It’s a technique being used by conservationist farmers doing their part to cultivate healthy, carbon-rich soil.

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can be part of the solution for storing that much more carbon to help meet the US Paris Agreement targets. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

Great civilizations such as Greece and China suffered the consequences of soil erosion due to poor soil cultivation. In ancient Greece, it has been found that soil erosion increased dangerously only after the introduction of the plow. In ancient China, it was deforestation that led to the flooding of vast swaths of land and tragic consequences for towns and villages. Time and again, despite attempts to curb soil erosion by terracing and contour plowing, societies’ destructive practices slowed or stopped crop production. Societies were weakened and left vulnerable to invasions. Growing populations were forced to migrate to new lands. Civilizations collapsed, directly or indirectly, from poor soil management

The human impact on soil has a long, destructive history, and not much has changed. In recent history, an entire industry developed around artificially improving depleted soil. Using a variety of chemicals on soil across the agricultural fields of the U.S. and beyond “led to an unprecedented increase in food production, but also contributed to global warming and the pollution of aquifers, rivers, lakes, and coastal ecosystems.” And so, the rise of the no-till movement.

How does no-till farming help you? It’s clear that not plowing the soil has impressive advantages for the health of our planet. In addition, no-till farming practices benefit the farmer as well. No-till farms:

  • leave stored carbon in place, where it can do its job in the soil ecosystem.
  • take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere naturally, without harming land and water resources.
  • preserve the soil cover, allowing water to permeate the soil and reducing erosion. 
  • diminish the amount of pollution streaming into nearby rivers and lakes because of improved absorption.
  • create a healthy soil ecosystem that grows stronger over time to produce healthy crops and prevent disease.
  • decrease the need to irrigate because water evaporates more slowly from an untilled field.

What can you do to help keep carbon in the soil? In the past 300 years, we’ve degraded our soil by 50%. Something must be done to reverse the trend. While no-till farming practices will not solve all of our climate issues, they can make a difference. For farmers with lots of acres or just one, consider making the change to no-till farming. Check out the resources to learn more. (Some are listed below.)  You might not be a farmer, so what can you do? Educate yourself further about no-till farming practices. Be an expert who influences others; engaging in conversations is the beginning of change! Locate and support local farmers who practice no-till farming, and share the contact information with your neighbors. In the meantime, continue your day-to-day sustainability practices like composting, recycling, and upcycling. We are all in this together, and it will take all of us to make a positive change.

Next Steps

  • Learn more about no-till farming practices.
  • Support your local no-till farm.
  • Use no-till practices in your yard.
  • Reduce your carbon emissions by walking or biking.

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IKEA | A Leader in Sustainability

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 5, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

Saving a forest is big news these days, and just what we need to energize us. Each day, we practice sustainable living – reusing, reducing, recycling, upcycling. Every bit helps ward off climate change. So when IKEA buys a gigantic forest, saving it from development, and promises to manage it sustainably, we have reason to celebrate. We have a partner that values the science behind climate change and is willing to invest in the future. IKEA’s recent purchase of 10,680 acres of Georgia forest, and its commitment to maintain it responsibly, lend hope to all the eco-warriors out there fighting the good fight.

What it’s all about?

The Altahama River Basin, home to IKEA’s new forest, holds the largest free-flowing river on the East Coast, according to the Georgia River Network. IKEA’s purchase secures the future of a native longleaf pine forest and the threatened gopher tortoise. Once covering 90 million acres, the longleaf pine forest has been diminished to a mere 4% of its original size, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Development and agriculture are two of the reasons for the decline. The Ingka Group, IKEA’s parent company, bought the 10,680 acre forest from the Conservation Fund, which is famous for buying and protecting large swaths of working forests. (So far, the non-profit has saved more than eight million acres of land in the U.S.) The land purchased by IKEA is subject to the Conservation Fund guidelines that preserve and protect the land. According to the agreement, IKEA promised to 

  • keep the land intact (no selling off parcels for development).
  • restore and preserve native species (like the longleaf pine and the gopher tortoise).
  • grant public access to the land for hiking.
What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota so we can be part of the solution for storing that much more carbon to help meet the US Paris Agreement targets. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

Why is this significant?

Buying forests isn’t new for IKEA. It’s built into their Swedish DNA: more than half of Sweden is covered in forests. Ingka Group owns roughly 613,000 acres of forest in Europe and the U.S., including Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. It makes sense – right? . . . a furniture company investing in a resource vital to its economic success. What makes this different is that while IKEA plans to use sustainably-sourced wood from the forest, it has vowed to do so responsibly. The company is legally bound to manage the land according to strict, eco-friendly guidelines, but it’s also part of their long term business plan. Striving to be a sustainability leader in the world, IKEA set a goal to be “climate positive” by 2030. They are actively pursuing this goal by switching to electric delivery vehicles and building a circular economy in which used furniture is returned for repair and reuse. The values espoused by the Ingka Group (found on its website) support their mission:

  • Togetherness
  • Caring for people and planet
  • Cost consciousness
  • Simplicity
  • Renew and improve
  • Different with a meaning
  • Give and take responsibility
  • Lead by example

IKEA’s commitment to environmental leadership sets a standard for corporations worldwide. Its care for the forest and surrounding habitat, together with its savvy business plan, make IKEA a model for other companies. Working together with organizations such as the Conservancy Fund, companies large and small can follow the path IKEA has ventured out on.

The planet is the ultimate beneficiary. The forest will continue to thrive as a natural habitat for the longleaf pine, the gopher tortoise, and the more than 350 plant and wildlife species that live there. Hikers and naturalists will breathe in the fresh scent of the pine trees and try to spot a gopher tortoise. In the long run, all of us benefit as the forest works its magic to mitigate climate change. 

What else can we do?

Having a big, impressive leader doesn’t let us off the hook. Every person can contribute to the fight against climate change. Knowing there are companies like IKEA working for change, we might be motivated to add our voices to the mix. Being knowledgeable about climate issues and active in the local community, each of us can make a difference. 

Next Steps

  • Support companies working toward sustainability
  • Up your game on reducing, reusing, recycling and upcycling
  • Stay informed about positive changes being made in your area
  • Join one of the many organizations that are planting trees and promoting sustainability
  • Share the news with friends and neighbors!

Resources:

DiFurio, Dom, “Why is IKEA buying up thousands of acres of forestland in East Texas?” The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com/business/retail/2019/11/22/why-is-ikea-buying-up-thousands-of-acres-of-forestland-in-east-texas/, 11/22/19.

Elassar, Alaa, “Ikea bought 11,000 acres of forest in Georgia to protect it from development.” CNN,

https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/31/us/ikea-forest-georgia-protect-trnd-scn/index.html

01/31/21

Ingka Group, https://www.ingka.com/

Georgia River Network, https://garivers.org/altamaha-river/, 2018.

Hirsch, Sophie, “IKEA Just Bought – and Will Protect – an 11,000 Acre Georgia Forest.” Greenmatters. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/ikea-georgia-forest. 1/27/21.

Peters, Adele, “Why IKEA just bought an 11,000 acre forest in Georgia.” Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/90594218/why-ikea-just-bought-an-11000-acre-forest-in-georgia?partner=rss&utm_source=rss&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=rss+fastcompany&utm_content=rss?cid=search. 01/14/21.

Rosane, Olivia, “IKEA Parent Company Buys Georgia Forest With Pledges to Manage It Sustainably.” EcoWatch, https://www.ecowatch.com/ikea-georgia-forest-2650169769.html, 1/28/21.

Soderpalm, Helena. “IKEA Stores Owner Ingka Buys 10,840 Acres of U.S. Forest Land.” Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ikea-georgia-forest/ikea-stores-owner-ingka-buys-10840-acres-of-u-s-forest-land-idUSKBN29J1NR, 01/14/2021.

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© Copyright 2018 – 2020. ALL Rights Reserved.

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