Posted: October 8, 2020

Programs that pay small acreage forest landowners for carbon sequestration are coming down the pike. The state of Maine is developing a program to pay forestland owners for managing their forests to increase carbon sequestration. In the US Congress, many bipartisan bills have been introduced to address carbon sequestration.

The American Forest Foundation (AFF), a conservation organization who is parent to the American Tree Farm System, has been developing a carbon program that includes the majority of private forest landowners, which are landowners those who own under 500 acres. AFF released a new paper outlining the case for working with family forests to sequester and store more carbon. This is important to Pennsylvania forest landowners because Pennsylvania is included in the pilot for this program. Right now, the areas in the state that can participate in this pilot are limited. However, there are plans to expand participation, so if you are interested, contact the AFF employee listed at the end of this article.

The findings in the paper follow growing evidence that forests and other natural climate solutions hold the potential for more than one-third of needed climate change mitigation globally through 2030 to keep temperature increases under the critical threshold of 2 degrees. Further research shows that one of the greatest opportunities to implement these natural climate solutions is through our nation's working forests—specifically through improved management of existing forests and reforestation.

“The opportunity in our forests cannot be understated," said Josh Parrish, Director of the American Forest Carbon Initiative at The Nature Conservancy (TNC). “To unlock this potential, we must utilize strategies that are a win-win for people and nature. AFF has been an incredible partner in collaborating around solutions related to family- and privately-owned forests."

AFF's paper examines the largest ownership group of forests in the US—family- and privately-owned forests. Collectively holding 290 million acres, families and individuals own 36% of all US forests. They total 21 million individuals and represent one in four rural Americans. The majority own smaller forested tracts—between 20 and 1,000 acres—and are not considered wealthy Americans, with 33% falling below the US median income. In Pennsylvania, 56% of all forested land is owned by families and individuals (this does not include corporate-owned private forests).

AFF has found, based on numerous studies, that family forest owners' values align with the needs of our environment and climate. They care about seeing their land remain as a forest into the future, and about improving the health of their forest. Yet, few are currently implementing practices that would improve the health and increase the carbon sequestration ability of their trees. This inaction is caused by difficulty finding information and trusted resources, and most notably, the high cost of forest management and conservation.

In response, AFF's paper details a critical financing mechanism that could open up revenue streams to family landowners, helping overcome cost barriers and providing incentive for large-scale participation by smaller parcel landowners.

“Carbon markets are seeing expansive growth across the private sector as companies express leadership in addressing their own carbon footprint through operational efficiencies, reductions in emissions, and, when needed, carbon credits to reduce residual emissions," said Tom Martin, President and CEO of AFF. “Yet, the available forest carbon projects open to investment are nearly all located on properties of 5,000 acres or more. They are not designed for, or accessible by, smaller family forest holdings, which both limits the carbon available on the marketplace and prevents families from accessing needed income that could empower their forest stewardship. We at AFF are working to solve this."

The paper describes a new program, the Family Forest Carbon Program, created by AFF and TNC, that aligns family forest owners and the private sector to address climate change together. The program takes a new approach to developing forest carbon projects, offering payments to landowners for implementing carbon-positive forest management practices. In return, the program produces verified carbon credits, as well as added benefits such as rural economic stimulus and the enhancement of habitat for at-risk species. The program's carbon accounting methodology is on track for approval from Verra's Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) by the end of this year. 

The full paper can be downloaded at www.forestfoundation.org/white-paper-carbon-family-forests. For more information contact Elizabeth Greener, American Forest Foundation, at egreener@forestfoundation.org, 202-253-1096.


This article was provided by the Pennsylvania Tree Farm Committee. If you would like more information about the PA Tree Farm program, visit their webpage at www.paforestry.org/treefarm.

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802

Center for Private Forests

Address

416 Forest Resources Building
University Park, PA 16802