Mitigation / Wild Carbon

The Northeast Wilderness Trust is working to mitigate climate change in two ways. One way is to minimize our carbon footprint, as all organizations must do. NWT’s footprint—essentially the fossil fuels consumed to run the organization—is relatively small, but the board and staff are working at home and in the office to make it even smaller over time.

The other way—with a huge potential to yield significant results—is to capture and store carbon by permanently protecting wild forests. Much potential good can come from a Wild Forest Conservation/Carbon Sequestration strategy.

  • Vast reserves of carbon can be sequestered in-perpetuity on Forever-Wild forests, ensuring that virtually all of the carbon on those acres will never be intentionally released into the atmosphere.
  • Landowners interested in Forever-Wild conservation of their forests may be able to qualify and sell carbon credits as a means of producing revenue and paying for property taxes, stewardship, and other carrying costs.
  • Individuals and institutions in the Northeast interested in offsetting their carbon footprints may be able to invest in regional carbon credits that provide multiple benefits—permanently sequester carbon, permanently conserve habitat, permanently protect land in the region capable of supplying clean water, clean air, recreation opportunities, and scenic beauty.

Wild Carbon Credits

Carbon “credits” on forestland are created when a landowner demonstrates to a qualified carbon registry that conversion of the land to a non-forest use will be avoided for the long term, or management of the forest will be improved for the long term so as to reduce the intentional release of stored carbon by logging. Wild Carbon credits can be created by placing forests under a Forever-Wild easement, thereby ensuring the avoidance of conversion to non-forested conditions or the intentional removal of carbon by logging.

Forests placed under Forever-Wild easements are particularly well suited to profitably yield carbon credits. Research results published in 2010 by Nunery and Keeton (Journal of Forest Ecology and Management 259:1363-1375) suggest that wild forests sequester more carbon acre for acre than forests managed for timber production. And, because no timber is being extracted on the property, it is likely to be much easier and less expensive to inventory, model and verify actual amounts of sequestered carbon over time-more revenue, less cost.

In early 2010, the Wilderness Trust’s Board of Directors decided to investigate the potential for qualifying carbon credits on two properties in Maine, the 500-acre Howland Research Forest and the 1,500-acre Alder Stream Preserve. The Trust listed these properties with the California Climate Action Reserve (CAR) in April of 2010, the “gold standard” registry for carbon credits in North America with the strictest standards.

The inventory and modeling requirements have been completed for these projects and the results look very promising–a combined total of about 35,000 metric tons of carbon sequestered to date as a result of the Wilderness Trust’s conservation actions and about 2,000 metric tons of carbon that will be sequestered annually forever. One metric ton of sequestered carbon equals one carbon credit.

Third party verification of the inventory results is the next step, and sale of Wild Carbon credits could follow. Sales can be made to voluntary buyers looking to “offset” their carbon footprints by capturing and sequestering amounts of carbon equal to what they release annually, and to regulatory buyers needing to purchase a specified volume of carbon credits to satisfy their permit requirements.

Forest carbon credits sell, on average, for higher prices than other forms of carbon credits. This is largely because of the “co-benefits” that result from conserving forests and sequestering carbon-clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, beauty, and opportunities for recreation and scientific research. Because of the special, relatively scarce co-benefits resulting from wilderness conservation, we believe Wild Carbon credits are likely to fetch an even higher price than carbon credits from timberlands.

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