A new kind of currency

A new kind of currency

A professional forester who died 25 years ago would not recognize the words and concepts that are the new currency in the woods.

In addition to selling timber from their lands, foresters now can be rewarded for being better stewards of the land and for adding carbon inventory to their forests.

Carbon credits appear to be the Next Big Thing. For the North American Temperate Rainforest – which includes the entire Oregon and Washington coastal forest – carbon credits represent a new income stream that’s based on plant biology and is prodded by global warming and climate change.

In essence, a forest owner may receive payments – carbon credits – for preserving forest land, adding forest (aforestation) or restoring forest following harvest (reforestation).

Because the U.S. has not joined the Kyoto Accord, there is no national market for carbon credits in America. Thus the domestic market has taken shape by fits and starts. Closure of the Chicago Carbon Exchange last November was a setback. But in December, the California Air Resources Board enacted carbon standards, and now the Climate Action Registry has led to creation of a carbon market focused on that state.

In essence, the Climate Action Registry, based in Los Angeles, links companies that need carbon credits with forest owners who are the custodians of carbon. The largest purchasers of carbon credits are utility companies.

Two regional groups that assist forests with carbon credits are the Northwest Natural Resource Group (headquartered in Seattle with an office in Coos Bay) and the Pacific Forest Trust (headquartered in San Francisco and with an office in Corvallis).

Paula Swedeen, directorof ecosystemservices at Pacific Forest Trust, says: “There are spot trades (in carbon) and future trades going on. This has created excitement in the carbon trading world.”

The Northwest Natural Resource Group hosts an umbrella group called Northwest Certified Forestry. That allows small forest landowners to participate in the program that certifies wood was grown in a sustainable fashion. Certification is a benefit in the marketplace.

“Additionality,” which is a made-up word, is the term for what pays off for forest owners. Says Denise Pranger of the Northwest Natural Resource Group: “The ecosystem market will pay for practices that are better than business-as-usual.” And one of those measurements is retaining more carbon on the ground in forest products.

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