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Can Working Lands Protect Us From Climate Change? An Oregon Example

This guest blog was written in partnership with the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network (OrCAN). OrCAN works to advance climate resilience on farms in Oregon through collaboration, education, and policy advocacy. They work with farmers, researchers, technical assistance providers, non-profits, and policy makers to promote, improve, and better understand farming for climate resilience in Oregon. Find out more about OrCAN at: 



In 2021, the Oregon Global Warming Commission engaged farmers, ranchers, advocates and legislators to recommend goals and strategies to increase carbon sequestration on Oregon’s natural and working lands. 


These lands, including forests, grasslands, rangelands, farmlands, tidal and subtidal wetlands, parks and open spaces in urban environments are often the first lands to be disturbed and destroyed due to climate disasters. 


One study  from California, suggested that the state’s natural and working lands can sequester an estimated 25.5 million tons of carbon annually with even more carbon sequestration possible if management of the state’s natural and working lands is scaled up to increase the land’s carbon sink potential. 


In Oregon, stakeholders and policymakers see similar potential in the state’s natural and working lands and are looking to employ climate-friendly agriculture policy to better support Oregons farms and communities while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 


SB 1534, a Carbon Sequestration on Natural and Working Lands bill, was introduced in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery in the 2022 short session. 


The bill was built on momentum from Executive Order 20-04 on climate and the principles outlined in the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Natural and Working Lands Proposal. The proposal recommended that the state establish a comprehensive program to incentivize soil health practices and other climate-smart practices. 


Senator Michael Dembrow, one of the SB 1534’s champions, saw the bill and it’s incentives to sequester carbon on natural and working lands as a way to bridge the urban-rural divide and support rural communities while achieving the state’s ambitious climate goals: 


This focus on incentives around natural and working lands was one area of agreement between urban and rural legislators. It [the bill] came partly in response to requests from rural county commissioners hoping for investments in their counties and was intended to be an area of bipartisan agreement.”


The bill considered in the 2022 session would have set the stage for this climate smart agriculture program at the state level.  Specifically the bill:

  1. Defined natural and working lands (N&WL) in Oregon statute.
  2. Declared that it is the policy of the State to increase net carbon sequestration and resilience on N&WL of this state, and to advance strategies that are designed based on equity and land manager interests and resourced with incentives and technical assistance support.
  3. Directed the Commission to create an Advisory Group to inform its N&WL efforts including the provisions included in the bill.
  4. Directed the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University to support the Commission in the: (a) development of metrics and a baseline; (b) advancement of a N&WL net carbon sequestration and storage  inventory; and (c) completion of a N&WL Workforce and Economic Development study.
  5. Directed agencies to report on metrics and the inventory.


While the bill ultimately did not pass, the collaboration between stakeholders and state legislators demonstrated that there was critical grassroot support to create a climate-smart agricultural program at the state level that provides financial incentives and  robust, technical assistance  for farmers and ranchers in voluntary stewardship of the land that’s good for rural economies. 


Senator Dembrow believes there will be more traction for this important policy next session  with increased efforts to build stakeholder relationships: 


“We will be bringing it [the bill] back in 2023 and are taking steps to improve its chances.  We’re meeting with industry early to hear their suspicions and try to clear up misunderstandings.  We’re also meeting with the key environmental organizations to make sure that sequestration and climate-friendly agricultural and forestry practices are among their top priorities”


State legislators have a significant role to play in crafting and implementing climate-friendly agriculture policy on natural and working lands. In the role of an elected official, policymakers have an opportunity to work with, and collaborate with farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to craft dual purpose policies that support rural  communities and while mitigating climate change 


For Senator Dembrow, the potential of a bill like SB 1534 goes beyond just improving Oregon’s climate,

“Legislative action around sequestration and improved use of natural and working lands SHOULD be a no-brainer way to overcome the urban-rural divide and reach bipartisan consensus.  But like everything related to climate action, unfortunately, it’s complicated, difficult, and vulnerable to partisan posturing. But the potential payoff for this work will be huge for the environment and for our communities.  It needs to be at the heart of climate action in this country, right alongside emissions reduction.”



If you are are a state legislator interested in working on climate friend agriculture policy or healthy soils reach out to us at [email protected]

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