Step 1: Protect the natural resources that defend Vermont against climate impacts
We are already seeing changes in our weather. The Vermont Climate Assessment describes the longer term changes that we might expect to see and the environmental, social, and economic impacts that these changes may have.
Among the many climate impacts that Vermont must prepare for are:
Extinctions of plant and animal species
More severe weather events that will endanger our infrastructure, homes, farms, and businesses
Loss of food and water security
Our best defenses against these impacts are our forests, mountains, and agricultural soils—we must protect them.
According to the U. S. Forest Service, about 73% of Vermont is forested. It is difficult to overstate the importance of our forests. They generate $3.4B in annual economic output and support 20,000 jobs in the forest products and forest recreation industries. They sequester enormous amounts of carbon and each year, they absorb a volume of carbon that is roughly equivalent to our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Our forests provide habitat and migration routes that are vital to the survival of countless species. The Vermont Natural Resources Council says, “Intact blocks of forests provide habitat for a wide variety of species, and maintaining connectivity between large forest areas can ensure that wildlife species are able to travel between habitats and adapt to climate change.”
Warning of the dangers of fragmenting our forests, The 2015 Vermont Forest Fragmentation Report says, “Once fragmented, a forest becomes isolated and the movement of plants and animals is inhibited. This restricts breeding and gene flow and results in long-term population decline. Connected forest habitats are a key component of forest adaptation and response to climate change, and fragmentation is a threat to this natural resilience.”
Our high elevation forests are particularly important. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, they play a vital role in mitigating floods and protecting our clean water resources. From the Fragmentation Report:
“Forests can remove as much as 70% of incoming precipitation. Forested watersheds yield lower peak flows and smaller volumes of runoff over a longer period of time than non-forested land cover. Accordingly flood damage in forested areas—and in areas downstream—has the smallest impact among all surface conditions.”
“Forests provide clean water for drinking, recreation and habitat. This contribution reduces, and in some cases eliminates, the need for expenditures related to man-made infrastructure designed to ensure clean water.”
Climate change threatens our food security. We don’t know exactly how rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will affect agriculture across the country. But, we can be sure that we will want to grow more of our own food locally. In order to feed ourselves, we will need to protect our farmlands and agricultural soils