Small woodland owners gain a foothold in US carbon markets

Wayne County, Pennsylvania. For Sarah Velasquez and her husband, buying 55 acres behind their Pennsylvania country house was the beginning of a long effort to conserve and restore mountain forests.

The question was how to get paid for this work.

“A beautiful, healthy oak forest – that’s what I want,” 28-year-old Velasquez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June, sweeping her arm through shady, tree-strewn valleys.

“We have a lot of invasive species here, so dealing with this is part of our plan over time,” said her husband, Dan Nelson, 37.

But after they bought the land in 2019, the pandemic forced them out of business, raising concerns about how to pay annual taxes on the land.

One option might be logging, Nelson said, a common priority in the area.

“It’s kind of a culture here,” he said. “When we bought the property, everyone was like, ‘Are you going to sign it up?'” ‘, noting that many see timber as ‘free money in the woods’.

Now they think they have come up with a different solution.

In December, the couple signed a 20-year contract with the American Forest Foundation’s Family Forest Carbon program, which aims to help small-scale landowners of no more than 30 acres do something new: access the “markets of Carbon is fast growing.

The trees in the Velázquez and Nelson properties will now absorb and store a calculated amount of carbon for at least the next two decades.

Credits for this effective reduction in climate change emissions will in turn be sold to help companies like outdoor apparel maker REI move toward “net-zero” emissions targets.

To meet the goals, companies are supposed to cut their emissions to near zero but can buy emissions reductions elsewhere – known as “offsets” – to cover any remaining pollution that is hard to cut.

Velazquez and Nelson, in turn, get cash that helps them cover tax payments, plan to revitalize the forest, and get away from logging for the time being.

In the United States, the bulk of forest land — 39% — is family owned, according to the American Forest Foundation, as well as those owned by the government, timber companies and other entities.

As such, there has long been a promise to connect small-scale landowners to carbon markets, David N. said. Ware is a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Research on Resources for the Future.

But there was also the question of how to do this, given the initial costs of $200,000 to develop the project, monitor it, and more, in addition to the 100-year contracts.

“We are now at a juncture,” Ware said of new efforts to bridge that gap.

“This is the emergence of something like agricultural cooperatives: you don’t have the ability to market directly to your buyers as an individual, but you can come together and engage in the market as a group.”

Such efforts are now set for a major boost under the climate law passed by the US Senate this week, which will provide $450 million to push private landowners toward climate-beneficial forest management practices, according to the nonprofit US Forestry Organization.

The bill includes a special focus on disadvantaged communities and owners of family forests, and is likely to support programs such as the Family Forest Carbon Program.

If passed by the US House of Representatives, the legislation would “unlock power in family-owned forests to tackle climate change,” Rita Hait, president of the American Forest Foundation, said in a statement.

Alternative to registration

For small landowners, these new programs seek to help tip the scales on the value of forests, making existing trees more valuable than harvested timber, thus guiding new management practices.

It is also helping landowners come up with a sustainable forest management plan, said Sarah Hall-Pagedonas, senior forest manager for the Family Forest Carbon programme, which launched in 2020 and is also helping land owners come up with a sustainable forest management plan.

“So the voluntary carbon market really gives them another option besides the timber market.”

The voluntary carbon market doubled from 2020 to 2021 to more than $1 billion, according to the Ecosystem Marketplace research group.

This growth could make it seem “as if there is a conflict between carbon management and timber management,” said Nathan Truitt, senior vice president of the American Forest Foundation, as landowners increasingly choose carbon.

But he said the two are not exclusive.

“Instead of thinking about harvesting rather than harvesting, good projects will think about how to modify the harvest so that you can increase the productivity of the land…to produce more carbon and more wood.”

So far, the financial incentive to store carbon is not enough to induce harvest reduction, said Jim Hordikin, CEO and managing director of the Lyme Timber Company, which manages about 1.5 million acres of forest.

For that to happen, “the price would have to be much more than the current price of carbon” — about $30 to $60 a ton, or two to three times today’s price.

“All landowners”

At the other end of Pennsylvania from Wayne County, Raul Chiesa and Janet Sridi own and operate Pickets Run Woodlands – 110 acres that were in the Sriddy family but have long seen poor agricultural and management practices.

Since 2007, the pair have been working to restore the Earth’s forests, manage wildlife, and protect rare plant species such as snow trillium, which blooms when snow is still covering the ground.

The work costs about $10,000 a year, paid for through grants, timber harvesting, fishing leases and other earning — now including carbon sequestration.

Chiesa and Sredy are working with a company called NCX, which uses satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to measure the carbon storage potential of small landholdings. Then it sells carbon credits, where the income will help landowners defer felling trees for a year at a time.

She added that since last year, the company has registered nearly 2,500 US landowners who own more than 4 million acres, with an average size of 200 to 400 acres per owner.

“If our societal goal is to mitigate climate change and enable climate storage on Earth rather than in the atmosphere…we will need to empower all landowners to participate in the carbon market,” said Jennifer Jenkins, NCX’s chief sustainability officer.

Prolonged confinement contracts can be obstacles for small landowners participating in carbon storage efforts, she said, but shorter contracts could help drive immediate action to protect forests.

“It’s too late if we wait 99 years,” Jenkins said, noting that NCX hopes to extend its one-year contracts to five years.

But critics question the impact of climate on climate.

Chiesa and Sredy, who started considering carbon sequestration a decade ago, signed with NCX in January, and in December they should make just over $1,400.

They can then re-register, although the couple first plans to compare timber and carbon prices.

For now, the process has deepened their appreciation of the property’s trees — and Chiesa said the carbon credits look like a real opportunity.

“This is a conservation business that is sustainable, supported by a different kind of economy…other than traditional forest products. This is something completely new,” he said.

This story which is part of Network Solutions Journalisma nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting on responses to social problems.

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