Timber Taxes

New carbon credit program will allow for smaller owner participation

Owners of 20 acres or more are part of program being tested in central Pennsylvania

MADISON, Wis. -- Family forest landowners may be able to participate in carbon credits via a plan that is being tested by the American Forestry Foundation.

The Family Forest Carbon Program is being tried first in central Pennsylvania, according to Tom Martin, CEO of the foundation which is partnering with The Nature Conservancy in the program.

Martin spoke at the virtual American Forestry Conference on July 30.

Insufficient acreage has generally barred forests of less than 5,000 acres from being enrolled in carbon programs. But this test program would group multiple parcels and landowners to share in enrollment costs, in the process enabling owners of 20-2,500 acres to participate in a program, Martin said.

Smaller owners have been deterred by the cost of qualification and enrollment and the lack of technical expertise. Also, the length of required contracts (50 or 100 years) were not well-suited to family owners because of the length of the commitment.

New carbon capture research effort underway in Lake States

A Lake States research project funded by the U.S. Climate Alliance will begin a study this year that will focus on forest management practices that can maximize carbon sequestration.

“The goal is to improve the carbon balance by increasing the carbon that is stored through the whole forest management and product process,” according to Todd Ontl, a climate adaptation specialist at Michigan Tech University.

The research in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin forests will make use of software from the Canadian Forestry Service to project operational models for forest management.

Ontl, a native of Wisconsin Rapids where the huge Verso mill just closed, said the hope is to have recommendations that will improve the future economic prospects for small wood from harvests, as well as increasing the carbon being stored in forests and in wood products.

Carbon credit revenue could be among “a mix of markets” needed to make forest land ownership economically healthy, Martin said. “Traditional markets don’t cover the whole cost of forest land and providing strong stewardship.”

He pointed out that family forests represents the largest ownership of forest land in the U.S., comprising 38% of the total forest land area. This exceeds the federal government which holds 31%.

The trial program would involve 10 or 20 year contracts (depending on the nature of the silviculture prescription required and the size of the parcel involved).

The shorter contract would be for a program to foster regeneration by controlling competing vegetation including herbaceous weeds and brush. It would provide a large upfront payment to pay for initial modeling cost and forest practices and payments midway and at the end of the contract.

A second program would involve larger parcels instituting two forest management plans over a 20-year period. The plans would be drafted by a professional forester approved by the Family Forest Carbon Program.

Martin estimated that 73% of the carbon fees in the program would go to the landowners.

Martin said the present is excellent timing for a program like this because carbon markets are growing rapidly. They have been around for decades, but they are more prevalent now due to companies like airlines and others buying “carbon offsets” for the carbon impact of their supply chain.

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