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Pinchot focus areas:

Climate & Energy
Family Forests and Forest Carbon

Why care about forests and carbon?

Forests are one of our best weapons against climate change; 90% of the country’s terrestrial carbon sink, and currently sequester the equivalent of 14-16% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The USDA Forest Service forecasts that forest stocks are declining and could, as soon as 2030, become a net source of emissions. Drivers are: (1) forest health concerns, and (2) conversion of forestland to other uses.

Why are we focused on family forests?

Family forests make up nearly half of all U.S. forestland and are a crucial part of the carbon sink. Many forest landowners are land rich and cash poor. As they encounter financial burdens (health care expenses, college tuition, inheritance taxes, etc.), their carbon stocks are often exchanged for cash through liquidation harvests, land sale, and often times conversion to other uses. Family owned forests store significant carbon--typically being older and more structurally complex than other privately owned forests. Carbon stocks in family owned forests could be enhanced through improved forest management (IFM) and markets for carbon offsets can provide a signal that carbon conservation pays. With surveys from across the country showing that as many as half of family forest owners are interested in carbon markets it would seem that there is a perfect opportunity. Yet, to date, family forest owners have not participated in such markets due to significant upfront costs and relatively low carbon prices. Squeezing the opportunity on both sides.

What is the Institute doing to change the equation for forest owners?

Just as innovation is driving down the cost of energy sector carbon saving solutions like solar photovoltaics, our work centers on driving down the cost of land-based emission reduction activities. We are presently investigating ways to reduce transaction expenses in improved forest management projects involving multiple smaller acreage family forest owners. Focusing on three actions: (1)  Adapting Farm Bill conservation programs to help pay for the expense of carbon inventory and carbon management plan development. We are leading a program in Oregon and Washington harnessing the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help pay upfront transaction costs prohibiting family forest owner engagement in carbon markets; (2) Structuring carbon credit projects in a manner that spreads costs across multiple parcels; (3) Deploying new technology to improve the efficiency and quality of carbon inventory and management plan development.

In addition to pushing innovation in carbon offset transactions we are also pushing policy innovations. We believe a lot can be borrowed from existing carbon offset programs to adapt existing landowner assistance programs (i.e. Farm Bill programs) to create a Forest Carbon Incentives Program, similar to the conservation reserve program (CRP). CRP was created back in the 1950s because it was in the national interest to conserve soil in for agriculture and provide clean water for people and ecosystems. It worked. In this era we need something similar that works for conserving land-based carbon stocks.
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