February 16

Landowners cash in on timber they don’t cut

Two Maine groups are being paid to manage their forests for carbon dioxide reduction that will offset pollution by industry.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

This story was updated at 9 a.m. 2/16/14 to correct the location of the 22,000-acre property.

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Money from the sale of carbon offsets will help Downeast Lakes Land Trust to buy this 22,000-acre tract east of Grand Lake Stream when they are able to raise the remaining funds.

Detail by Downeast Lakes Land Trust, Lighthawk

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The Maine woods have always seemed to be worth more dead than alive.

Cut a tree down and you can turn it into something that’s worth money – lumber, paper, furniture or toothpicks.

Leave a tree standing and some believe all you’ve got is shade.

But photosynthesis and efforts to curb global climate change are combining to enhance the value of a living, growing forest.

Polluters are paying two conservation organizations to manage forestlands the groups own in Maine in a way that increases the amount of carbon dioxide the trees remove from the atmosphere. The money the Downeast Lakes Land Trust and the Appalachian Mountain Club earn by selling so-called “carbon offsets” will be spent on managing forests they already own and buying additional forestland.

Some trees can still be harvested on these forests for products such as pulp, paper and timber. But deals require that ultimately, there will be more trees left standing than in the past.

It’s a formula that could hold real investment potential, not just for nonprofits but also for other landowners, for-profit enterprises and even the state of Maine.

Downeast Lakes Land Trust in Washington County became the first organization in the country approved by the California Air Resources Board to sell $1 million worth of “forest carbon offsets” to industries there that need help meeting their legal obligation to reduce carbon emissions, said the trust’s executive director, Mark Berry. The carbon offsets are on 19,000 acres of Downeast Lakes Land Trust’s 34,000-acre Farm Cove Community Forest near Grand Lake Stream.

The Appalachian Mountain Club, the oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization in the U.S., recently received final approval to sell carbon offsets on 10,000 of 37,000 preserved acres in its Katahdin Iron Works tract – more than half of the group’s 66,000 acres of land in Maine.

How much money the club will be paid for its offset is not yet known, said David Publicover, the club’s senior scientist and assistant director of research.

Prices for carbon offsets vary widely, depending on who’s buying and why. The market for companies seeking offsets because they are violating state emissions standards tends to bring higher prices, while voluntary markets – in which companies reduce carbon dioxide emissions even though they are not legally required to do so – may bring only 20 to 50 percent as much.

The two Maine groups say they are marketing a natural asset: the ability of trees to extract carbon dioxide from the air and use it in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy into the chemical energy they use as fuel, said Berry.

Companies that exceed legal carbon dioxide limits are allowed to make up 8 percent of their total emissions through buying these “forest carbon offsets.”

Downeast Lakes Land Trust intends to use the money from the sale of its offsets to help purchase more than 22,000 acres east of Grand Lake Stream in Washington County, said Berry. The purchase would bring the trust’s holdings to more than 55,000 acres, with nearly 90 miles of lake shore and hundreds of miles of streams, he said.

What the California companies – which aren’t named in the agreement – get in return is a carbon credit roughly equal to the difference between the amount of carbon dioxide the forest is removing from the atmosphere now and the amount it will remove once it is managed according to strict standards set by the California offset program.

The land trust must commit to maintain the forests under the more rigorous management standards for 100 years, Berry said. The forests can still be harvested, but the deal requires that long-term tree-cutting be reduced, Berry said.

(Continued on page 2)

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