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The Forest Health-Human Health Initiative

Pinchot focus areas:

Climate & Energy
Forest Health Human Health Initiative Project Description
Forest Health Human Health Initiative Overview and Research Results
FH-HH Presentation
The Forest Health-Human Health Initiative
At last count, nearly 6,000 acres of forest and open space are converted to other uses in America each day. Over the next 20 years, an area of forest larger than the entire state of Idaho (57 million acres) is expected to be at a very high risk of being lost to development as it transitions in ownership to a new generation of landowners. Just over half of U.S. forests are privately owned, 62% of which are owned by families and individuals. Many of these landowners can well be considered land rich and cash poor; with their land being their largest and only asset available when there is a sudden need for cash.

Rates of health care coverage are low across much of rural America and what coverage many landowners do have often proves to be inadequate over the long-term. What does this mean for the 45% of private forest land in America that is owned by people 65 years or older? These aging landowners and their children face difficult realities regarding the costs of long-term. Pinchot Institute research indicates that medical care expenses landowners are unable to afford, or do not want to pass on to their children, are major drivers of forestland conversion and unsustainable management in the U.S. Interviews of over 1,000 pairs of landowners and children across five states, point specifically to long-term care and catastrophic medical events as being a central financial concern that weighs into landowner decisions about their forest.

What does the Initiative do?
The aim of the Forest Health-Human Health Initiative is to address the root concerns of forest landowners by directly connecting innovative health coverage options with new markets for forest carbon.

Forests are the lungs of the atmosphere. America’s forests already sequester about 14% of annual U.S. carbon emissions and these forests can do more through “improved forest management” activities, such as, extending the length of forest rotations. People are willing to pay forest landowners for the carbon they store, and there are market mechanisms in place to support forest owners who are willing to do this. In 2010, more than $424 million was transacted in voluntary carbon credit projects globally, 5% of which was for improved forest management projects.

The key to the Forest Health-Human Health Initiative is adding value to every unit of carbon transacted through the Initiative. The Initiative does this in several ways:
  • Guaranteeing that payments to landowners and their families occur in the form of health coverage.
  • Building a risk mitigation mechanism directly into each forest carbon credit transacted, by directly reducing the risk that forest carbon stocks would be harvested to pay for health expenses. 
  • Providing a carbon credit payment flow that results in potential tax deductions for both the landowner and carbon credit buyers.
  • Providing opportunities for carbon credit revenues to support forest landowners and their children, but also the health care systems of whole rural communities.
  • Evaluating innovative technologies and methods for reducing the cost of measuring, documenting, and verifying changes in forest carbon stock.
  • Connecting an emerging generation of forest landowners back to their land who traditionally are less interested in, or lack skills in, managing their family forest.

History of the Initiative
Following on a series of successful forest landowner interviews across the country, the Pinchot Institute began to explore ways to address the top issues landowners identified [Download a PDF of the detailed survey results]. In early 2009, the Pinchot Institute began scoping of a Forest Health-Human Health pilot in Oregon and Washington. With seed funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Kelley Family Foundation, and Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon, the northwest’s arm of the leading health insurer of private forest landowners in America, the Pinchot Institute began exploring the needs and opportunities of private forest landowners. The pilot phase of this one-of-a-kind Initiative is focused in northwest Oregon because this particular region possesses both forests with high potential for carbon banking and large amounts of underinsured landowners.

Click charts to enlarge

The Pinchot Institute is working with a number of key partners to continue to shape this program, and market it to both forest landowners, and a potentially significant new source of demand in the carbon market; the health care industry.

The pilot phase of the Forest Health-Human Health Initiative is occurring in the private forests around the community of Vernonia in Columbia County, Oregon. Located in Oregon’s Coast Range, Vernonia (population 2,380), is surrounded by some of the most productive forestland in the nation. In the midst of adjusting to an economy that is transitioning away from being purely natural resource-based, Vernonia has been devastated by two 500-year floods in the last eleven years (1996 and 2007). The community is now in the process of rebuilding itself on a platform of rural sustainability. Given Vernonia’s strong cultural and economic connection to forests, there continues to be significant interest in the Initiative among area landowners, making Vernonia an ideal place to pilot a Forest Health-Human Health program. 
For more information:
Contact Brian Kittler, Project Director
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