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Forest Carbon Incentives
Forest Carbon Incentives: Options for Landowner Incentives to Increase Forest Carbon Sequestration
U.S. forests play an important role in the nation’s effort to address climate change; they are vital terrestrial carbon sinks. These ecosystems also provide vital services like drinking water and wildlife habitat, and enjoyment to millions of Americans. The majority of the nation’s forests are in private ownership, so it is critical that private forest landowners are encouraged to improve and secure the emissions reductions they can provide, while helping these ecosystems adapt to climate change. Failing to engage private landowners at the broadest scale possible not only limits the role of the nation’s forests in increased climate change mitigation, but also risks increased forest‐based emissions and declines in the health and richness of forest ecosystems over the coming decades.

Creating incentives for forest‐based carbon management offers the opportunity to reach significant forest land ownerships that may be unable to participate in compliance‐based markets due to offset project requirements, parcel size, or transaction costs. Whereas offset payments for forestry projects are directly tied to the tons of carbon sequestered, an incentives‐based approach could further the adoption of silvicultural approaches (systems and practices) that have proven carbon benefits. A Carbon Conservation Program was included in the Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009 (S.2729) signaling interest in this type of program. During legislative debates, this kind of “supplemental incentives” approach (i.e. “supplemental” in being outside any regulatory cap or requirement) garnered broad-based support.

In Fall 2010, following the debate on federal climate legislation, the US Forest Service gathered a number of organizations together who were participating in these discussions with interest in the supplemental incentives approach. The US Forest Service worked with the Pinchot Institute for Conservation to host a series of workshops aimed at further evaluating the feasibility of the incentive approach and guide the development of an incentive program to protect and enhance carbon sequestered by the forests in the U.S.

The ultimate goal of forest carbon conservation incentives (FCI) would be to reduce private forest loss in the United States, for the main purpose of climate change mitigation. A voluntary incentive program can encourage private forest landowners to (a) keep their land forested and (b) engage in land management activities that mitigate climate change.
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