My great-grandfather, a Florida sawmill operator in the early 1900’s, helped usher in an era of deforestation coinciding with the advent of the railroad, which fueled the expansion of the timber industry across the Southeast. Over a century later, the opportunity to help restore these important Southeastern forests has drawn me to Louisiana, where The Nature Conservancy has been working on an important new innovation: using carbon markets to finance conservation.
Since 2007 the Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Team and Louisiana Chapter have been restoring connections between fragmented forest parcels (known as “connectivity” in conservation science-speak). These young, growing forests are the key to future biodiversity and climate benefits, and we are working to ensure they are properly valued for the carbon they store and the wildlife they support.
Corporations like Delta Air Lines, and individuals who seek to voluntarily reduce their own carbon footprint through the Conservancy’s Carbon Calculator, are helping restore and protect hundreds of acres of native forests; the Conservancy delivers or retires a portion of carbon benefits generated by the project (which represent the carbon stored in growing trees at a project site) in exchange.
Aside from the obvious benefits of protecting forests, this work is advancing the science of forest carbon sequestration measurement. And we are sharing our lessons with others to promote wise public policy that recognizes the importance of forests in the fight to reduce carbon pollution. In June 2012, two of these projects became the first registered reforestation projects in North America on private lands to be certified under the rigorous protocols of the Verified Carbon Standard, which is pioneering carbon standards that are serving as a leading model for regulations in state, national and international climate policies.
In the Tensas River project, the Conservancy has restored former farmland to forests and protected carbon stocks through a conservation easement. The remaining rights in the land were then sold to local farmer Bill Moroni. As a newly established forest matures on the property, Bill and his son will have the opportunity to continue a tradition of hunting together, and will be able to harvest future timber in a sustainable manner, ensuring recreational and economic benefits for generations to come.
At the nearby Bayou Bartholomew property, which the Conservancy restored in 2010, a newly established forest is now growing as well, helping to protect threatened mussels and fish species harmed by sedimentation and runoff from neighboring agricultural land. On a recent trip here, I joined our Louisiana Conservation Director, Richard Martin, on a walk along the edge of Bayou Bartholomew, a river that flows some 350 miles south from Arkansas to Louisiana through lowlands that provide refuge for wide-ranging Louisiana black bears. We encountered towering bald cypress trees that Richard estimated at over 500 years old, offering just a glimpse of what the fully restored forest will be like some day.
The timber my great-grandfather processed through his sawmill in the early 1900’s helped sustain our nation’s growth, but much of our natural heritage was lost in that process. Through the innovative tool of carbon finance, the Conservancy’s work to restore these same forests is forging a new path that will help ensure our own great-grandchildren inherit a more sustainably managed Earth.
Hamilton Hardman is Forest Carbon Senior Business Advisor for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Program
Featured Photo: © Byron Jorjorian (Bottomland hardwood forest in the Tensas River Basin, Louisiana, where voluntary carbon offsets are helping to keep forests intact, protecting biodiversity, storing carbon and preserving livelihoods.)
Inset Photo: Courtesy Hamilton Hardman (Hamilton Hardman is the Conservancy’s Forest Carbon Senior Business Advisor).
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