Healthy forests support healthy communities.
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- With most large landowners focused on revenue from aggressive timber harvests, cropland or development, conservationists have not been able to compete.
- Revenue from carbon offsets offers an answer—and in many cases a financial lifeline—to landowners who wish to engage in more sustainable management practices.
- Globally, it is estimated that carbon offset revenue could provide $250 billion annually to countries and critical sectors.
Sunlight teased between clouds that gave a hint of winter, and the snow-packed face of 14,400ft Mount Rainier peeked through dense fog. Twisting and turning back with over 4,500ft of climb left, foresters from Bluesource headed into the woods, joined by a team of independent auditors.
Guided with intermittent assurance by satellite, a handful of random plots within the Nisqually Community Forest were the targets. The first involved hiking a 50% grade, our traction cushioned only by that of the slick, damp undercover typical to the Pacific Northwest.
Trees within each plot were being measured and verified to determine if the original months-long inventory passed the test.
The Nisqually Community Forest is in the process of being registered for carbon offset credits. This is the most recent section of land within Bluesource’s Rainier Gateway project that is being verified.
After fundraising for years to purchase additional acreage for conservation, these credits bring promise for a more stable financial future. More volunteers can become full time hires, maintenance road access will be improved, and focal efforts to restore endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead trout will be given a significant boost. It is a story of environmental recovery that has been given more chapters. The Nisqually community can now see a future where the land will be taken care of.
A lot hinges on the scientific integrity of Bluesource’s work to bring carbon credits from this land to the marketplace.
“People tend to think that once you’ve bought the land, you’re done. But you’re not. It takes constant maintenance” said Joe Kane, general manager of the Nisqually Community Forest. “This project includes over three miles of Busy Wild Creek, which provides critical habitat for our two iconic salmon species, both of which are on the verge of blinking out. Income from the carbon project will give us precious resources for protecting and restoring that habitat.”
“Salmon need trees, and trees need salmon. The Nisqually Indian Tribe is the lead for salmon recovery in our watershed and our main conservation partner, and this project is a great illustration of how carbon sequestration and salmon recovery go hand in hand.”
Research has revealed the integral connection between forests and fish. Older trees absorb water more gradually through their root systems, thereby allowing adequate flow through the watershed to support species downstream.
We know that healthy forests support healthy communities. We know that healthy forests reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. So why are more forests not being protected for carbon offsets?
The answer rests within an age-old dilemma.
With most large landowners focused on immediate revenue from aggressive timber harvests, cropland or development, the alternative of long-term conservation has not been able to compete. We do not have time to see ourselves lose this battle.
Revenue from carbon offsets offers an answer—and in many cases a financial lifeline—to landowners who wish to engage in more sustainable management practices. For those that need more incentive, it is now providing the carrots to even the scale. Acquiring land is expensive, maintenance spanning generations even more so.
One landowner may have certain intentions, but a sudden change in responsible party can bring about sudden change in management without legal protections in place. Offset revenue can ease the transition from intermittent cashflow from harvest or sale and conserve forests for generations. For over twenty years, Bluesource has pushed to reward those who allow forests to be sustainably managed, intent on making an impact for greenhouse gas reductions, and the market is responding in favor.
Forest carbon projects take time for good reason. Credits do not come out of thin air. This work involves rigorous scientific verification, stakeholder engagement, and economic analyses. The process to quantify and verify forest health and potential for carbon reduction can take as long as two and a half years before credits become available in the marketplace.
So how does it work?
To be eligible for offset crediting as an “improved forest management” project in the forest carbon market, land must be legally at risk for conversion or aggressive harvesting. This is verified through regional economic assessments and interviews with property stakeholders and local foresters. A Carbon Marketing and Development Agreement legally ensures alternative uses of the land are off the table for the project’s lifetime.
Once a project is underway, forestry crews gather comprehensive inventories of tree height, circumference, and species. That data is run through models informed by protocols set by nonprofit crediting registries. The America Carbon Registry and Climate Action Reserve are two examples of registries that have established how emission reductions can be quantified.
Decades of forestry research informs how much carbon can be sequestered in a given forest. These calculations are reviewed in detail by independent verifiers and the accrediting registry before any credits may be issued. Twelve months after a landowner signs an agreement, tree growth is verified to see if the calculated credits are accurate and on track.
In late September, back at the Nisqually Community Forest, we stood huddled in rain gear while running numbers over truck hoods. Relief washed through the group as high-fives and handshakes were exchanged. The Rainier Gateway project had passed.
Our future depends on what we do today. Without immediate global cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, we will feel the devastating impacts of climate change more harshly than we already have. Trees, nature’s original solution, are not the only answer, but they are a critical element.
There are local and global benefits of sustainable forestry projects like this one. Carbon offset revenue continues to be a vital catalyst for change. Globally, it is estimated that carbon offset revenue could provide $250 billion annually to countries and critical sectors where necessary transitions to sustainable methods and alternatives have either grounded to a halt from expense or have yet to get off the ground.
This is revenue that gives conservation, and climate action, a fighting chance.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.