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Letter to the Editor: Clarifying Implications of Carbon Markets for Forest Management

A good technical service provider or forest consultant can greatly ease the burden on landowners in preparing a forest project for enrollment by an aggregator.

By Staff
Date Posted: 4/1/2009

            I would like to compliment TimberLine for its initiative in publishing Matthew Harrison’s article, ‘Carbon Trading Adds Value to Forest Land.’ Forestry projects offer more co-benefits to climate mitigation than any other type of offset project.

            It is good to see a forest products magazine acknowledge the substantial contribution that carbon markets could make toward promoting sustainable forestry by offering annual supplementary income to offset the costs to landowners of deferred or reduced harvest income and improved harvest practices.

            Some clarifications might help your readers to better assess the implications of carbon markets for forest management and harvest.  My comments are specific to the protocols of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and family (not commercial) forests.  It is important to distinguish between forest ownership classes because those with significant emissions (say from mill operations) must become members of the CCX with special requirements.

            Afforestation projects enrolled in the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) should not involve any harvesting, including thinning.  This is because afforestation projects have the option of determining carbon sequestration rates by a look-up table, which takes account only of growth and natural mortality.

            Once a harvest occurs, an afforestation project will be treated as a managed forest project.  Harvests are constrained, but not prohibited, in managed forests, which is why another term for them in carbon markets circles is ‘working forests.’

            The constraint is that the annual harvest should not exceed the annual growth rate.  Otherwise, the project owner incurs a carbon debit instead of a credit, and this could have financial implications. The greater the acreage in a project, the more flexibility there is to conduct more intensive or more frequent harvests while still earning carbon credits.

            Growth on unharvested acreage compensates for timber removals. On average in Missouri, each clear-cut acre would require 80 uncut acres to maintain carbon neutrality. This ratio would ensure sustainability for even-aged management at the most elementary level of replacing what is harvested. Uneven-aged forest management is especially compatible with carbon offset projects.

            Currently, the CCX program extends only to 2010.  Project owners make a 15-year commitment to maintain carbon stocks so that benefits extend beyond the nominal contract period. This is comparable to enrollment in a USDA-NRCS Conservation Reserve Program that limits economically productive use of crop land in exchange for rental payments.

            Long-Lived Wood Products (LLWP) is not really a separate project category for family forest owners.  Rather, this is a means of reducing the carbon debit incurred by harvest in managed forest projects.  A partial credit is given for harvested timber, based on the estimated portion that continues to store carbon in long-lived products and landfills. 

            The LLWP credit is based on look-up values that are region-specific for saw logs and pulp wood.  The landowner does not need to know what specific products, pallets or otherwise, were created from the timber.

            Besides certification by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the CCX also recognizes the American Tree Farm System (and others).  For many landowners, ATFS certification will be more attainable because it is low- or no-cost. In some areas, mass certification has reduced the cost of the other certification schemes (Wisconsin) or a premium may be paid for FSC-certified wood (Pennsylvania cherry).

            A good technical service provider or forest consultant can greatly ease the burden on landowners in preparing a forest project for enrollment by an aggregator. More information, including a tool to estimate financial returns, is available at the Carbon Credits Web site at


— Peter Becker, PhD

Research Coordinator

Eastern Ozarks Forestry Council


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