By: Suzanne Simpson, Land Stewardship Director
The City of Houston recently unveiled a draft version of its Climate Action Plan[SS1] (CAP), an indication that the City is taking a hard look at how climate change will impact our region in the coming decades. The CAP’s primary focus is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions produced by multiple sectors, including transportation and energy. While the City’s ability to implement these strategies is still unclear, the acknowledgement of Houston’s vulnerability to climate change reinforces the importance of conserving our floodplain wetlands, which naturally absorb significant amounts of carbon.
The most profound effects of climate change are often felt at opposite ends of the Bell curve. More intense, frequent rainfalls that inundate homes and businesses (like Hurricane Harvey) are contrasted with extended periods of dryness that spark wildfires and embolden invasive species (such as the 2011 Drought). Luckily, Houston has built-in resiliency to these harsh dichotomies: wetlands. However, with intensive conversion of our forested and prairie wetlands to impervious concrete (humankind’s final crop), it seems Houston has caught a bit of a fever. So what’s the prescription?
1. Protect the land we have
Our first land protection priority at Bayou Land Conservancy is preserving highly functioning ecosystems that naturally absorb carbon, buffer storms, and retain water. Wetlands were sadly synonymous with “wastelands” for decades before we appreciated their role in safe-guarding both humans and wildlife. Two years after Hurricane Harvey, we can no longer ignore their value or the urgency with which we must proceed to ensure their preservation.
2. Restore the land we can
Land restoration is the ecological equivalent of brain surgery, except harder. It is, however, one of the most worthy investments we can make in Houston’s future. Fallow agriculture fields can be returned to their ornate prairie past, and former timberlands can be managed to cool a warming planet. Even the moonscapes of derelict aggregate mines, such as those found along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, should be explored as a source of land reclamation.
3. Grow your land at home
Lawns are lazy. It doesn’t mean you are lazy if you have a lawn. In fact, chances are your weekends start and end with its maintenance. The iconic American lawn takes much and gives little in return. But for most people, ripping out your ode to St. Augustine (Patron Saint of Lawns?) isn’t practical. Instead, find pockets of your yard that can be set aside for native plants. These species are more resilient to the bevy of climactic conditions Houston faces annually, and they are a boon for beautiful pollinators that desperately need their nectar. Choose mixes with both spring and fall blooms for year-round color that will even outclass your neighbor’s Crepe myrtle.
Houston has long been in the crosshairs of a battle between a changing climate and unsustainable practices in transportation, energy, and infrastructure. The solution is as complex as intersecting paradigm shifts, but as simple as planting your first tickseed. What will you do to be part of Houston’s prescription?