by Tyler Brown
The Washington Department of Natural Resources is making strides to lead the country in reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming by setting aside public land and selling carbon credits to generate money for schools, hospitals and libraries.
Hilary Franz, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, announced the first phase of the new policy at the state capitol park on April 6, signing a commissioners order and moving 3,750 acres into protection status. The state’s new 10,000-acre carbon reserve will preserve trees typically scheduled to be cut and sold for lumber.
Partnering with Finite Carbon, a developer and supplier of carbon offsets, the state’s goal is to lease the trees as carbon credits to emitters of greenhouse gasses that cause global warming. The trees will continue to capture carbon dioxide, helping to reduce some of the worst effects of climate change.
In addition to the 840,000 acres the DNR has already designated for conservation, the additional 10,000-acre carbon reserve adds more acreage declared off-limits to harvesting.
While the trees may be valuable for their lumber, Franz said at the conference, they are more valuable to the environment alive for their ability to soak up carbon, while generating revenue through a carbon offset emission program.
Future forests to be put under protection may be selected for reasons including, but not limited to, the presence of threatened or endangered ecosystems and habitats, biodiversity and areas fundamental to indigenous people and communities.
Purchasers are expected to be larger corporations seeking to achieve reductions in their carbon emissions, Franz said. Money from these forest sales will compensate beneficiaries of state trust lands, including the state school construction fund, money for hospital districts, library districts and local services.
Three Tracks in Whatcom County
The DNR initiative is the first time a state agency will use carbon markets to immediately remove standing forests from the planned harvest schedule, many of which were slated for imminent logging, including three tracks in Whatcom County, east of Lake Whatcom. These stands have high ecological value and carbon sequestration potential, but were not protected by existing policy.
Matt Comisky, Washington State Manager of American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), explained at the meeting that the “carbon credits” made by this project are a tradable permit or certificate providing the holder of the credit the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide or an equivalent of another greenhouse gas.
There are two types of carbon credits: voluntary emissions reduction (VER) and certified emissions reductions (CER).
VER credits are a carbon offset that is exchanged in the over-the-counter or voluntary market for credits. CER credits are emission credits created through a regulatory framework with the purpose of offsetting a project’s emissions. The main difference between the two is that there is a third-party certifying body that regulates the CER as opposed to the VER, according to carboncredits.com.
These credits are market mechanisms for the minimization of greenhouse gas emissions that are capped by governments or regulatory authorities. Since it is not considered “economically viable” for some companies to immediately reduce emissions, they can purchase carbon credits to comply with the regulators’ emissions cap. In doing so, they are rewarded with additional carbon credits. The sale of credit surpluses may be used to subsidize future projects for the reduction of emissions and to fund public programs.
Within the first 10 years of the project, more than 900,000 carbon offset credits will be generated — the equivalent of neutralizing the effects of over 2.23 billion miles driven by internal combustion engine vehicles, according to the EPA.
In Whatcom County, 1,398 acres are a part of the 10,000 acres set aside in Western Washington. King County will have 272 acres; Grays Harbor County, 279; Thurston County, 563.
Pros and Cons
Gabe Epperson, executive director of the Whatcom Land Trust, said in an email to Whatcom Watch, “I’m thrilled about this announcement. We’ve been encouraging DNR to pursue carbon sequestration projects where appropriate as a win-win strategy that can help fight climate change while generating revenue for communities. “
Epperson said the plan was consistent with the Trust’s vision for large scale forest land management in Whatcom County.
Travis Joseph, president of the AFRC, is less enthusiastic about the DNR decision. Joseph said he finds the carbon project to be “a failed approach” and that it undermines already existing and “more efficient” means of land preservation.
AFRC is a regional trade association whose purpose is to advocate for sustained yield timber harvests on public timberlands throughout the West to enhance forest health and resistance to fire, insects, and disease, according to its mission statement.
Joseph said in a written statement on its website, “Unfortunately, DNR’s ‘carbon project’ is the same failed approach of the last 30 years under a new name: walking away from our forests and hoping bugs, disease, mortality, and catastrophic wildfires don’t destroy the resources, wildlife, and communities we’re trying to protect.
“Our public forests are burning at alarming rates. Demand for affordable housing and lumber are on the rise. We’re losing milling infrastructure as we import more finished wood products from overseas. Washingtonians are looking for a new, bold path to working with our forests to meet our needs while continuing to protect the environment. This announcement is more of the status quo.”
DNR trust lands generate about $180 million a year for schools and counties across the state, and the hope is that the revenue earned from the preservation here will diversify the funding and revenue streams towards hospitals and construction.
At the press conference, joined by Tribal Leaders and environmental activists, Franz said that climate change is “at our doorstep,” and taking bold measures to reduce carbon emissions now is more important than ever, and, with hard work and tenacity, projects like this will be seen across the country.
• DNR maps of protected areas: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/em_carbon_county_maps.pdf
Tyler Brown is a senior at Western Washington University and an intern for Whatcom Watch, finalizing a bachelor’s degree in visual journalism with dreams of being a foreign correspondent someday.