Deals to Save Forests Temporarily Using Carbon Credits Worries Some; others like it
June 1, 2009
...This 2,200-acre spread in Humboldt County does well by doing good. For the last four years, Van Eck's foresters restricted logging, allowing trees to do what trees do: absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The conservation foundation that oversees the forest then calculated that carbon bonus and sold it for $2 million to individuals and companies trying to offset some 185,000 metric tons of their greenhouse gas emissions.
"Forests can be managed like a long-term carbon bank," said Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that oversees Van Eck. Selling offsets, she said, is like "writing checks on the account."...
..."California leads the world with regard to the role of forests in combating climate change," said Chris Kelly, California director for the Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based nonprofit that has sold offsets from Mendocino County preserves. "I just had an inquiry from a Canadian buyer who's expecting Canada to move in the direction set by California."
But so far, big timber operators, including Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Co., have yet to enroll in California's offsets program. Current standards require owners to agree to a permanent conservation easement, a legal agreement that would guarantee carbon-storage measures in perpetuity. Companies have found that too onerous, and as a result only a handful of woodlands have registered, mainly those managed by conservation groups.
For the last 18 months, members of a task force of environmentalists, timber operators and state officials have been locked in contentious negotiations to revise the rules. The new draft, to go before the Air Resources Board next month, substitutes a 100-year contract for the easement, thus allowing development after a century. It also clarifies rules for companies to quantify and verify carbon.
At least one environmental group is uncomfortable with the changes. "By removing the easement, you leave the system open to gaming," said Brian Nowicki, a forest specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
"The timber industry wants 'business as usual' practices, like clear-cutting, to qualify for carbon credit."
But groups represented on the task force, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy and Pacific Forest Trust, say that century-long contracts and strict accounting rules will guarantee that offsets will be granted only if additional carbon is stored above and beyond conventional forest practices.
David Bischel, president of the California Forestry Assn., the industry trade group, said he expects more landowners to sign up but cautions, "It is an opportunity in its infancy: When you add up the numbers, it is not a huge source of revenue."...