Woodlands program lets forests earn funds while helping the environment

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Lock Haven has enrolled a 5,200-acre parcel of its forested watershed in a fledgling Nature Conservancy program that provides landowners with sustainable forestry certification and revenue from carbon offset markets.

The Clinton County property in north-central Pennsylvania, which contains native brook trout streams in a large swath of contiguous hardwood forest in a ridge and valley landscape, is the second property in the state to enroll in the conservancy's Working Woodlands program.

The first was Bethlehem, in Northampton and Lehigh counties near Pennsylvania's eastern border, which agreed April 2011 to protect 22,000 acres of forest in the watershed where it gets its drinking water.

The conservancy program is designed to pay property owners' up-front costs for certification and forest management planning while providing financial benefits from sale of Forest Stewardship Council-certified forest products and carbon offsets. Only forests larger than 250 acres are eligible.

Wood from FSC-certified forests brings higher prices than noncertified wood. And owners of forests that sequester carbon can receive payments from carbon emitting industries.

Josh Parrish, director of land conservation for the conservancy's Pennsylvania chapter, said carbon credit market prices vary by forest type, condition and size but Bethlehem and Lock Haven will get $10 to $20 per acre annually. The carbon credit sales are handled by Blue Source, a program partner and international broker of greenhouse gas offset credits.

"Basically the property owner is getting a reward for managing their forests in a manner that is beneficial to the environment, wildlife and forest health, and for sequestration of greenhouse gases," Mr. Parrish said.

Forests can sequester and store carbon by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the photosynthesis. Emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, contribute to man-made climate change.

Mr. Parrish said buyers of carbon credits now are voluntarily offsetting their businesses' carbon footprint, but California is about to begin a carbon cap-and-trade program in which Pennsylvania forest owners, as well as those from other states, can participate.

He said discussions are under way with owners of approximately 100,000 acres about participation in the Working Woodlands program. The conservancy eventually hopes to expand it to cover 300,000 acres throughout Pennsylvania and has targeted public water suppliers, family forests and social and hunting clubs as likely participants because they own large tracts of forest land.

The agreement announced last week will help protect the public water source for Lock Haven and surrounding communities while improving forest management, said June Houser, chair of the Lock Haven City Authority.

"Our primary mission is to supply the highest quality drinking water to the customers," said Ms. Houser, quoted in a Nature Conservancy news release. "Preserving the pristine quality of our watershed properties supports this mission."

Bill Kunze, state director of the conservancy's Pennsylvania chapter, said it supports "working forests" in Pennsylvania and around the world.

"Harnessing the power of markets," Mr. Kunze said, "in service to the long-term ecological and economic health of our forests can yield so much benefit for both people and nature."

environment

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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