Reforestation—A New Carbon Opportunity for West Virginia’s Landowners

Jonathan Shears, Land Partnerships Lead at Living Carbon (

Planting crew on a site in Southern Ohio, 2023

These days, it seems the whole state is talking about carbon. From the small family woodlots to the large timber companies, to the mills and even the floor of the Legislature, West Virginians are striving to make sense of the new opportunities that have swept into the Mountain State on the heels of corporate climate pledges. With valuable timber covering nearly 80% of the state¹, it makes sense that West Virginia has drawn the attention of developers looking to capitalize on the emerging carbon market.

To date, the dialogue around carbon projects in West Virginia has been dominated by a project type known as Improved Forest Management, or IFM. IFM projects generate carbon credits by paying forest managers and landowners to limit or defer their timber harvests, retaining the carbon stored in those trees for longer.

Missing from the discussion is a vast, untapped opportunity. There are over two million acres of land across the state where we could plant new forests², not just to sequester carbon, but to support jobs, habitat, timber, and recreation. And the best part is that much of this opportunity exists on unproductive lands, where no activities need be displaced.

Living Carbon is a reforestation company actively partnering with landowners today throughout the Appalachians. With professional, experienced staff based in the region, Living Carbon is committed to developing high-quality, ecologically-sound projects, allowing landowners to capitalize on carbon markets through reforestation. The projects are structured as a carbon lease, where Living Carbon covers the cost of tree planting and pays the landowner annually to keep the trees growing. Thinning is allowed as the forests grow, and landowners retain the timber rights when the contract ends. Landowners also retain all ownership and access rights, including hunting and other recreational activities. In addition to annual cash flow, a Living Carbon reforestation project increases the land’s value and can make it eligible for the Managed Timberland program, while enhancing the land for wildlife, water quality, and all the other benefits we enjoy from forests.

Anyone with at least 200 plantable acres is eligible to join the program. To achieve the greatest possible impact, Living Carbon has prioritized former mine lands, unproductive farms and pastures, and other degraded sites. Given the unpredictable nature of these tracts, Living Carbon routinely engages in a wide variety of site preparation treatments, including invasive species removal, subsoiling, cover cropping, and amending soils where the pH and nutrients are imbalanced.

Living Carbon has developed photosynthesis-enhanced trees that are a component of these reforestation projects. These trees grow faster, establishing a canopy cover and root structure on the notoriously difficult degraded land sites. They shade out potential invasive species and quickly establish erosion control to maximize the survivability of the entire planted forest. The USDA determined that these trees are not a pest and are not among the genetically-engineered plants subject to regulation under the Plant Protection Act.³ To further mitigate ecological concerns, however remote, Living Carbon plants only female enhanced trees on the interior of the project site, always alongside a mix of natural, native species, selected with input from the landowner and aligned with their goals for the property.

Living Carbon reforestation projects are a natural benefit to West Virginia’s forest industry. They will provide employment opportunities to local forestry consultants who oversee the ongoing forest management, site preparation and tree planting contractors, and local seed and fertilizer distributors. And particularly important, the forest products industry will benefit from an increased supply of high-value timber species across the landscape.

Reforestation carbon projects are a win-win-win for the State’s ecology, economic development, and carbon sequestration potential. Living Carbon is excited to partner with local landowners and the regional forestry industry to further develop these opportunities across West Virginia.

1 National Association of State Foresters; 2 Reforestation Hub, The Nature Conservancy; 3 Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, 2020