Boulder County’s first-ever Climate Innovation Fund distributes more than $500K in grants

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DAR’s earthworks team conducted a pilot study on 14 acres that showed a 200% increase in soil organic matter and an 85% survival rate of 950 fruit and nurse tress without irrigation. Courtesy Boulder County.

Earlier this month, Boulder County announced the recipients of its Climate Innovation Fund, which is dispersing more than $500,000 to five projects addressing climate change locally though nature-based solutions, carbon dioxide removal and landscape restoration.

From wildfire to poor air quality and more days of extreme heat, “we all know that the climate crisis is already impacting everyday life in Boulder County,” says Susie Strife, director of Boulder County’s Office of Sustainability, Climate Action and Resilience (OSCAR).

Grantees went through a competitive process — more than 2 million applications were received and reviewed by 17 local and national experts in climate research, carbon sequestration, carbon removal technology and nature-based solutions. The recipients are Biochar Now, Boulder Watershed Collective, Drylands Agroecology Research (DAR), Ollin Farms and Takachar. 

Each grantee was awarded at least $90,000 to support ongoing work. 

“If we’re serious about supporting the actual solutions for climate change, we really need to foster the innovative solutions here, right on the ground in Boulder County,” Strife says.

Nature-based solutions uphold natural features or processes in built environments to increase capacity for adaptation and resilience to climate change. The grantees of the Climate Innovation Fund utilize soil, plants, biochar, native mycelium, wood debris, and livestock to sequester carbon, increase water retention, minimize fire risks and bolster biodiversity.

“The beauty of DAR’s work is that we are using nature’s wisdom to set in motion agricultural ecosystems that function like natural ecosystems,” said DAR’s Amy Scanes-Wolfe in a press release. Longmont-based DAR is working to transform degraded landscapes into agro-ecosystems through biodiversity and soil carbon sequestration. 

The fund prioritized granting local projects: three are in Boulder County and one is in Berthoud. Takachar is located in Boston, Massachusetts. 

“Grounding innovation and technology development through a place-based approach can advance equity and amplify outcomes that respond best to our community’s needs,” said Boulder County Commissioner Marta Loachamin in a press release, “which is why the County selected projects that will have positive local impacts and community co-benefits.”

With these funds, Boulder County is bolstering its status as a hub for nature-based solution projects. 

“What’s so unique about our community is that there are so many incredible, passionate and knowledgeable people wanting to do this work,” says Strife. “And what I love about Boulder County’s initiative here is it’s an invitation and a celebration of our local strengths and assets that we have here in Boulder County. That to me is such a sign of resilience and moving toward a future that we all want in terms of a healthier planet.”

The Climate Innovation Fund is supported through the Sustainability Tax ballot initiative passed by voters in November 2016. Strife says the fund will be available annually, but the type of projects they look for could change. She expects the amount of money in the fund to remain the same, or even increase down the road. 

“Given our commitment to climate action, we are planning on supporting these sort of climate pioneers or climate innovators in our community, so we want to continue this funding,” she says.

Strife is also part of a group writing a white paper about how local governments can invest in this type of community development and local climate solutions. 

“So that’s an exciting next step for this work,” she says, “to showcase how a community like ours can launch this type of fund.” 

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