Autumn 2022 Edition: The Dirt eNewsletter


The beginning of fall is upon us here in Vermont, and we have a bountiful harvest of ideas and developments to share with you. First: can we all just let out a big communal sigh of relief around the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act? Cheers to federal investment in climate action! And, we all know there continues to be much more work to do.

As we captured our musings for this second newsletter, we realized that we’re a little grasslands obsessed. We hope you’ll join us in our fascination for a landscape that is an often-overlooked climate action powerhouse.

At Native, we believe in finding solutions, taking action, and putting our money on the line to catalyze new climate action, and we think you probably do too. In our 21st year of business, we remain committed to learning, and sharing what we learn, as we create lasting change with you.

From the Community 

In our aim to share news from communities at the frontlines of climate change and climate action around the world, in this newsletter, we bring you to Montana, a landscape of extremes, especially as the climate changes. Last summer was Montana’s worst drought in 20 years. This year, above-average snowpack from the winter supported groundwater, irrigation, and livestock watering systems in some areas, but did not directly alleviate all of the climate symptoms across the state. For example, central Montana still faced severe drought and wildfire throughout the summer, and, on the other side of things, southwest Montana faced significant flooding. Extreme weather conditions like these hinder hay production, a key source of feed for cattle in the winter, which leads to increased costs for Montana’s ranchers. Rises in costs have led some ranchers in the region to make the hard decision to downsize their herds. Luckily, many rancher participants in our Northern Great Plains Regenerative Grazing Project have seen their improved grazing practices increase the health of their forage and the water-holding capacity of their soils.  If you want to see what regenerative ranching in Montana really looks like, Carlyle Stewart, an apprentice at Milton Ranch (one of the ranch participants in our project), does a beautiful job chronicling the experience of working on this dramatic landscape.

From our Team

At Native, we have long thought grasslands need a rebrand, and our team was excited to read The Atlantic’s recent article, which describes grasslands as the unsung heroes of climate action and highlights our intrepid project partner Southern Plains Land Trust (SPLT). As the article details, “grasslands rank among the most imperiled and least protected biomes on Earth” despite being “gigantic reservoirs of carbon.” And in the U.S., “about half of native grasslands have already been converted to cropland or consumed by development, and millions more acres are lost each year.” Beyond acting as powerful carbon sinks and habitat for a variety of endangered species, what we find especially cool about grasslands is their resilience. While forest projects run the risk of losing all or significant portions of stored carbon from destructive wildfires or extreme weather, grasslands “remain mostly untouched by fire, and rapid regrowth captures most of the carbon released by the burning of biomass. In fact, grassland fires might actually store additional carbon by turning a fraction of the plant matter into charcoal, which likely locks up the element for centuries.” For further learning on this Untold Story of Grasslands and their response to fire, our team recommends the linked video by William Bond, Professor Emeritus of grassland ecology. As Kirsten, who manages our grasslands program, says, simply, “grasslands don’t solve all the problems, but they solve a whole lot of them.”

Colin Mitchell, another one of our team’s nature-based solutions experts, is psyched about fungi, and shared this recent NYTimes article, Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus, with our team. While scientists don’t fully understand all of the specific mechanisms and roles of different species in the fungal network, they do know that “some species of fungi can store exceptional levels of carbon underground, keeping it out of the air and preventing it from heating up the Earth’s atmosphere. Others help plants survive brutal droughts or fight off pests” and some are “especially good at feeding nutrients to crops,” according to the article. Colin says that people think of fungi as part of the forest, but they also play an essential role in maintaining healthy, functioning agricultural lands and grasslands (ding ding ding!). By bringing nutrients to plants in exchange for carbon, fungal networks can improve crop health, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers and mitigating the impacts of drought while sequestering carbon. Though there is much still to be learned about the fungal network, what we do know is that it has significant benefits for climate and ecosystems, and we can support it through the adoption of practices such as minimal or no-till farming, nutrient management, regenerative grazing, agroforestry, and sustainable timber management.

Spotlight: Soil Sampling Initiative in the Rugged Grasslands of Patagonia 

Moving South, the Patagonian grasslands, covering 219 million acres of land across Argentina and parts of Chile and the Falkland Islands, are home to an array of native plants and wildlife including guanacomaned wolf, and Darwin’s rhea (a flightless bird that can run up to 35 miles per hour!). Ranching on these grasslands – mainly with sheep for high-quality merino wool – has been a significant source of cultural and economic value for Patagonian people over the last two centuries, but unmanaged continuous grazing has led to desertification and losses in soil carbon, habitat, and rangeland productivity. Improved grazing practices can help to regenerate soil, habitat, and plant life on this precious landscape.

As some of you know, Native has been developing a regenerative grazing climate project with Ovis 21 and ranchers in the region. After years of pandemic travel delays, our team was finally able to get there this past January to initiate soil carbon measurements on a number of ranches in the region. This initiative has two purposes: 1) to gather baseline soil carbon data for the initial ranches that will participate in the project, and 2) to calibrate and validate a biogeochemical model, which can be used to project soil carbon outcomes in the region resulting from improved grazing. This marks an important step forward toward moving this project to validation and verification.

Spotlight: John Oliver Takes on the Offset Market! 

John Oliver’s recent segment on offsets could be experienced as a punch to the gut for the carbon marketplace, but we appreciate how it underlines the importance of credible, high-quality offset project development and monitoring, and the imperative that offsets are used by companies as a complement to ambitious reduction efforts. Our friends at Verra wrote a thoughtful response, which we recommend reading.

As always, we’d love your feedback on what you like, don’t like, or want to see more of in this newsletter. Reach out to us with your feedback, thoughts, and ideas for spotlights!