Verification of Land Trust’s First Carbon Project Beats Projections

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The reverification processes of the Nisqually Land Trust’s first carbon-credit project showed the land trust’s trees are pulling carbon out of the air faster than what was originally thought possible.

The Nisqually Land Trust completed the first carbon-credit project in the Pacific Northwest six years ago.

“Our hopes were simple: Raise money to protect and steward 520 acres of old forest on the slopes of Mount Rainier that provides habitat for threatened northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets,” stated a Nisqually Land Trust newsletter. “We entered the project in the California carbon market, a regulated market with the most rigorous standards in the U.S., and after a long, expensive and grueling verification process — essentially, a hyper-detailed timber cruise — we were issued 38,000 credits.”

The credits were considered “avoidance credits,” because the Land Trust avoided the harvest of the 520 acres — which could have likely happened under a different owner — thereby ensuring the trees would do the work of removing carbon from the atmosphere indefinitely.

The Land Trust sold the credits to Microsoft to fund the continued stewardship of the land.

“It’s trying to create an economic incentive … to recognize the value of preserving things like forests that are able to capture carbon and remove it from the air, so it’s creating some economic value that provides funding for organizations like us for long term stewardship of those forest lands,” said Jeanette Dorner, the executive director of the Nisqually Land Trust. “At the same time, it’s a way for people and companies to recognize the environmental impact that they might be having and find ways to reduce that.”

Every six years, land in the carbon-credit program is reverified to ensure the land is still being used for carbon removal.

“They actually measure the trees and use those measurements to predict how much carbon that will be sequestered, how much carbon these trees can capture from the atmosphere,” Dorner said. “They do that to create a real calculation of how much carbon we’ll be able to remove by protecting the forest and managing them the way we plan to manage them, and then certifying that in a way that we can then sell those credits on the carbon market for people that want to offset their carbon impact.”

The process was completed in November, with the results showing that the trees had removed more carbon than expected during the first six years of the land’s participation in the program.

“We knew that the trees would keep growing and removing carbon from the air,” said Joe Kane, the Land Trust’s special projects consultant in the newsletter. “But the reverification proved that they were doing it at a rate 40% beyond what we’d expected. That blew us away.”

Because of the increased capacity of the trees on the 520 acres to remove carbon, California issued additional “removal credits” to compensate the land trust for the work its land is performing.

“We’ll be able to cover our verification costs,” Kane said. “But more importantly, we should be able to generate funds for ongoing land stewardship. For any land trust, that’s the hardest money to raise. And those trees will keep growing.”

The Nisqually Land Trust is currently in the process of verifying more land into carbon-credit programs.

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