COLUMBIA –Clemson University experts continue to educate South Carolina forest landowners about how they can use the emerging carbon market to create a new revenue stream while helping slow climate change.

Trees help keep carbon out of the atmosphere.

Trees help keep carbon out of the atmosphere.
Image Credit: Richard Covey / Audubon South Carolina

Forest landowners recently met with experts from the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and others who explained what they need to do to benefit from the carbon market. Marzieh Motallebi, an assistant professor at Clemson’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Sciencewho organized the workshop, said the carbon market could be lucrative for South Carolina forest landowners.

“We want to introduce forest landowners to some carbon market successes and explain how they can benefit from the carbon market as well,” Motallebi said.

The workshop, funded by the South Carolina Natural Resources Conservation Service, focused on educating forestland owners about carbon offsets trading and how this mechanism can help limit greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas released from activities such as burning fossil fuels, or natural processes such as plant respiration and volcanic eruptions. Respiration is the process by which plants use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. When a volcano erupts, it can release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Forests help control greenhouse emissions by carbon sequestration. TheUnited States Department of Agriculture Forest Servicedefines carbon sequestration as, “…the process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide it taken up by trees, grasses and other plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass, such as trunks, branches, foliage and roots; and soils.” The absorption of carbon dioxide by trees helps eliminate the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Scientists believe if carbon dioxide levels in the air become too high, the Earth’s temperatures will rise.

South Carolina success stories

Michael Dawson, center director and sanctuary manager of the South Carolina Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest, talked about how an improved forest management (IFM) project has been used at the Forest to register more than 450,000 metric tons of carbon credits with California’s cap and trade program since 2011. The Forest is located northwest of Charleston near Harleyville. A carbon credit is a certificate or permit representing the right to emit 1 metric ton of carbon. One metric ton equals 1.102 U.S. tons.

“We have netted close to $3.5 million from carbon offset sales,” Dawson said. “This money goes into our Endowment Fund and generates revenue to manage the sanctuary in perpetuity. It has been wildly successful. Thanks to California’s carbon finance system, we’re able to generate these funds which, in turn, helps provide annual income for our operations.”

The carbon project at the Francis Beidler Forest involves about 5,500 acres that are covered by a conservation easement, a legally binding document that states the land can never be developed. The Beidler Forest project is handled by Bluesource, a San Francisco-based company that focuses on carbon projects to reduce and mitigate environmental impacts.

In addition to IFMs, carbon project developers also work on other types of projects including: urban forest projects, reforestation and avoided conversion projects. Hunter Parks of Green Assets, a North Carolina company that focuses on carbon offset projects and other conservation initiatives, spoke during the workshop and said his company mainly works on avoided conversion projects. Parks talked about an 8,300-acre of land in South Carolina that benefits from and avoided conversion project. This tract of land has been successfully registered under California Carbon Market and the owners have sold its credits.

“This was a pine plantation and mixed hardwoods project,” Parks said. “We came in and showed the owners that there was a much higher land value use for this property, outside of forestry. We put an easement on that property which prevented it from being converted. Then, we took tree inventories and used this data to determine how much carbon was being sequestered on that property. The project was, then, registered and approved.

“In the first 10 years, that project produced about 1.1 million metric tons of offsets and will continue to produce about 30,000 metric tons of offsets annually after year 10. This is a very typical project – typical land type and forest type – here in South Carolina.”

Forests and the carbon offset market

Sarah Wescott from the Climate Action Reserve discussed the Carbon Offset Compliance Market and the Voluntary Market, as well as the role of forestry in carbon market.

“The rate of sequestration depends on characteristics of the forest such as species, climate, age of the trees, management practices and so on,” Wescott said. “Every tree needs carbon dioxide to grow. So, even if a tree is not suitable for the timber market, it is good for the carbon market.”

The value of each offset credit is based on market dynamics and was worth about $10 on May 9, the day of the meeting. Wescott said the Climate Action Reserve provides information for anyone who is interested in or considering a carbon project. For more information, go to www.climateactionreserve.org. The U.S. Forest Service also has information about Forests and Carbon Storageat http://bit.ly/ForestsAndCarbonStorage.

The decision to put land in a carbon offset project is a decision that landowners should think long and hard about, Parks said. Carbon offset projects require a 100-year commitment from landowners.

“You have to be sure this is what you want to do before you do it,” Parks said. “Once you agree to use your land as a carbon offset project, this land is tied to that project for 100 years.”

Sheldon Ray, is a small forest landowner who lives in Aiken and has land in Williston. Ray, who is considering implementing a carbon offset project, has concerns about the 100-year commitment landowners must make before entering in to such a project.

“One hundred years is a long time,” Ray said. “There’s a lot to consider such as, how will this commitment be passed down and affect other generations? I also have to think about if a need (for carbon offsets) will exist in the future? In addition, I would like to see funding provided to help deflect some of the startup costs. There are a lot of questions I need answers for before I can make a concrete decision.”

Ray and others can get answers to their questions when Clemson has future meetings to explain how forest landowners can benefit from the carbon market. A similar meeting will be held in 2019, Motallebi said. Date, time and location will be announced.

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