Healthy Forest Management Practices for Carbon Markets

by Zachariah Ralph

This past week two dozen foresters, loggers, conservation commissioners and carbon enthusiasts met for our first meeting of the Forest Carbon Action Group (FCAG). Our goal is to learn about and explore options for managing forests in Vermont for carbon credits to sell on the carbon markets and ultimately reduce atmospheric CO2.

How does it work? In order for a project to be considered for carbon credits that can be sold into a carbon market, it needs to be demonstrated that the new management plan creates “additionality” in carbon stocking. There are three accepted ways to do this for the California market. Reforestation, Avoided Conversion and Improved Management Plans (IMP).

Reforestation means planting trees in an area that had previously been clear-cut. Avoided Conversion is preventing a planned deforestation project. IMP entails altering a management plan to account for increased carbon stocking. Vermont is already 78% forested so there are not many opportunities for reforestation or avoided conversion, but plenty for IMPs.

A general rule of thumb is that, when we manage for healthy forest ecosystems, we are creating conditions for carbon additionality. Dr. William Keeton—of Spatial Informatics Group (SIG) and UVM’s Rubenstein School—advocates for mimicking “old growth” conditions in forests to increase carbon stocking. His recently released book, Ecology and Recovery of Eastern Old-Growth Forests, “breaks new ground in the science of old growth forest eco-systems in eastern North America and their importance in an age of rapid environmental change.”

Despite some concerns from the forest products industry, managing for carbon does not mean that we let it go wild. To the contrary, Dr. Keeton believes that “…carbon projects on working forests are entirely grounded in principles of good forestry. They require people to manage their forests well. As a result, they are entirely consistent with the kind of excellent forest stewardship most Vermonters are interested in. Carbon projects add value to working forests, and thus help keep those forests in business, thereby supporting a thriving forest products industry.”

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