News & Events

Jefferson Land Trust, NNRG and Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia Carbon Sale

Author: Selden McKee | 12/21/09

Heidi at old, large tree in Bulis Preserve.

Jefferson Land Trust Development Director Heidi Eisenhour enjoys in the Bulis Preserve forest. Photo: Guy Scharf

While political and business leaders discuss and negotiate a regulated market for buying and selling carbon credits and offsets, Jefferson Land Trust has put theory into practice by selling the carbon stored in a working forest to a local business in a voluntary business transaction. The sale is the first of its kind in the area and represents a totally different way of generating income from a forest: by not cutting down the trees.

Ordinarily a forest is valued for its board feet, but in this trade the value is in the carbon stored in the uncut trees. As a pilot project, this sale of sequestered carbon will serve as a model for other such transactions in the future.

The groundbreaking transaction involved two other organizations with a history of collaborating with Jefferson Land Trust: Northwest Natural Resource Group through its Northwest Neutral program and Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia. NNRG is a non-profit organization dedicated to responsible forest management in the Pacific Northwest, and Shorebank is a unique financial institution that works with local organizations to promote economic opportunity and a healthy environment.

The Land Trust had a carbon “storehouse” in a small working forest it owns. Shorebank sought to offset its carbon footprint by purchasing carbon credits. And NW Neutral had the expertise to develop the protocol and standards for the innovative program. The three worked together to negotiate and structure the transaction.

“Now we have the business infrastructure set up so we can facilitate more transactions like this,” says Denise Prenger, executive director of NNRG.

Trees take up CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. In the photosynthetic process, they release oxygen and store the carbon in their tissues. Older trees store a greater amount of carbon than young trees, and daily capture more CO2 from the atmosphere than young ones. When forests are harvested, carbon captured in the trees is released into the atmosphere. Thus there is an environmental value to forestalling the harvest of trees, especially in older forests. That environmental value is now being translated into a monetary value that can be used in economic transactions.

The Land Trust could participate as a seller of carbon credits because of a donation of a 26-acre working forest made a decade ago. The forest is part of the 100-acre Bulis Forest Preserve near Old Fort Townsend. The far-sighted Bulis family donors included the working forest in the donation so the Land Trust could harvest wood from it to provide revenue to manage the preserve.

But with this innovative transaction, the forest has generated income in a way the donors would never have anticipated. Rather than selling the trees for lumber, the Land Trust is paid for letting the trees continue to grow. JLT is selling 400 metric tons of carbon, which represents ten percent of the carbon stored in the mixed forest where some of the trees are as old as 85 years. The price is $20 a ton and the commitment stays with the land for 100 years, during which time the amount of sequestered carbon agreed to in the contract must be maintained.

All forests store carbon in the trees and in the soil, but the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest have the greatest carbon accumulations of any ecosystem on Earth. Loss of forestland accounts for 25% of the world’s carbon emissions.

In a carbon trade, the owner of the forest is paid to delay harvesting so that the forest will continue to hold CO2. This does not mean the trees will never be harvested. In fact, studies show that over time foresters can get the same amount of board feet from the timber by managing the harvests to optimize the carbon held in the mature trees. At the same time, wildlife habitat is preserved and problems of erosion and degrading of the land are avoided.

“Historically businesses have never included the environmental costs in their cost equations,” says Mark Bowman of Shorebank. “We have analyzed our operations to measure our carbon footprint, and adopted efficiencies to reduce our carbon use as much as possible. But there is the remaining footprint we can’t avoid. With this purchase of carbon offsets, we are paying the environmental cost of doing business.”

“We are excited to be one of the first buyers of carbon offsets,” says Bowman. “It took three strong partners with a history of collaboration to work through all the issues.”

The participants have put in much time and effort to develop the protocol and templates that can be used for future sales. NNRG developed a “carbon calculator” to measure the carbon value of a forest.

“This is the first carbon sale by a small landowner in the Pacific Northwest” says Pranger. This year NNRG established its Northwest Neutral program to bring together small forest owners interested in maintaintaining their forests and selling carbon credits.