COVID-19 has dominated the news for the past year, as have discussions on the environmental impacts of this global pandemic. If you search “environmental impacts of COVID-19,” heaps of varying and conflicting reports return. But one thing experts agree on is that pandemic or not, the effects of global climate change are not yet alleviated.
The CAMP is intended to be an adaptable ‘road map’ and remain consistent with the latest data in climate change research.
Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS) pledged to be a leader in adapting to and mitigating climate change. As a result of this promise, an interdisciplinary team developed “The CAMP: The Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Policy.” Formed in 2019, this team solicited input from all divisions within the department to develop a guiding document to inform stewardship practices on Boulder County public lands.
The CAMP arose out of the department’s 2020 Strategic Vision planning process. This plan is specific to BCPOS while still aligning with several other county-wide efforts. The CAMP outlines eight goals and several objectives covering topics of soil health, water quality and efficiencies, agricultural viability, habitat integrity and connectivity, resilient infrastructure design, energy and water use reductions, and the county’s zero-waste policy. Each goal was developed with three central tenets: carbon sequestration, adaptation & mitigation, and reduced greenhouse gases. These guiding principles are woven throughout the document and span all divisions throughout the parks department. The CAMP is intended to be an adaptable ‘road map’ and remain consistent with the latest data in climate change research.
Carbon sequestration is the act of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One way BCPOS plans to incorporate this concept is by improving soil health in agricultural operations and natural ecosystems guided by accredited scientific research. The healthier the soil, the more carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere. Also, increasing amounts of data have shown that intact wetland, riparian, and grassland ecosystems can sequester significant amounts of carbon, so the department has doubled down on its commitment to protect and restore these habitats wherever possible. Healthy forest ecosystems are also crucial to removing carbon from the atmosphere—they are, after all, the lungs of the earth—so our forestry operations will continue following science for best management practices to restore and maintain vigorous and resilient ecosystems.
The department’s agricultural operations hold a spotlight in the carbon sequestration category as well. BCPOS plans to encourage and support climate-minded best management practices and water efficiencies in agricultural operations such as diversifying crop rotations and planting cover crops to help reduce soil erosion. Furthermore, BCPOS is participating in a collaborative pilot study with Colorado State University to evaluate potential carbon sequestration gains following compost additions on rangeland. Another step in this effort involves utilizing an online tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called COMET-Farm, to quantify the potential carbon sequestration benefits of various land management actions on both agricultural land and in natural ecosystems. BCPOS also plans to expand educational efforts to farmers, stakeholders, and the public by providing up-to-date information in soil workshops, such as the locally administered Soil Revolution Conference, and climate change specific advanced trainings.
Adaptation & Mitigation
Another guiding principle in the CAMP is adaptation and mitigation. Not surprisingly, working toward this goal involves protecting and restoring high value habitat across many ecosystem types. One strategy we are employing is completing a county-wide, comprehensive wetland and riparian habitat inventory. We made significant gains on the inventory in 2020 and will be continuing efforts in 2021.
Another strategy is to anticipate species movement in elevation and latitude as a result of climate change. This approach means preserving and creating migration corridors, as well as promoting naturally occurring stands of lower-elevation woody and herbaceous plant species in the mid- and upper elevations of Boulder County. Adaptation and mitigation also apply to our agricultural and water operations through strengthening the local food web based on consumer demand, exploring drought-tolerant crops, and prioritizing the acquisition of water rights, among other strategies.
Paramount to the success of the BCPOS system is designing trailheads, restoration projects, and infrastructure to be resilient in a changing climate. For example, we will prioritize the use of native plant species, include drought-tolerant trees and shrubs that efficiently sequester carbon at our trailheads, and use materials generated locally or made from recycled materials. Lastly, waste diversion at trailheads will continue and expand throughout the BCPOS system.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction
BCPOS has pledged to reduce greenhouse gases. The pandemic provides a silver lining here, as reducing staff’s reliance on single-occupancy vehicles is an objective under this tenet. Staff has adapted to working from home and, thus, significantly reduced our emissions from commuting. Carpooling practices will resume once public health officials determine it is safe to do so. We vow to reduce energy use throughout BCPOS buildings and, working with Building Services to shift to low-maintenance, low-water landscaping.
The extremity of natural disasters across the globe, continual record-setting high temperatures, and increasing days of drought are signs that climate change is not only knocking on earth’s door but has started getting comfortable in this beautiful place we call home. As stewards of Boulder County and contributors to global ecosystems, BCPOS is committed to being part of the solution.