Launching this summer, West Virginia will be the site of a new program, the Family Forest Carbon Program, created by the American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy. The program will enable landowners of small forest holdings (30 to 2,400 acres) in West Virginia to generate income from their land, improve the health of their forest, and address climate change altogether.
Tapping family forests for climate can bring much needed economic stimulus to West Virginia.
Across the US, 1 in 4 rural Americans own forestland, most in communities hard hit by economic downturns. Markets, specifically, carbon markets, can help forest owners by providing them a different avenue to generate income from their land. Conversely, the demand for carbon markets is exploding. Some models are predicting as much as $5.6 billion in demand in the near future — private dollars that could be funneled to rural economies like West Virginia.
Historically, carbon markets have been inaccessible to small forest owners. While family forest landowners collectively own the largest portion — 36% — of the forests across the US, and half of the forested acres in West Virginia specifically, research shows less than 1% of the properties in existing carbon projects are on acreages between 20 and 1,000 acres. This is due to complexity, high upfront costs, and contract length.
The Family Forest Carbon Program
The Family Forest Carbon Program solves the challenges small forest holders face to carbon markets by taking a different approach to programming and carbon measurement.
The program pays family forest landowners to implement carbon-friendly forest management practices that result in additional carbon sequestered and stored on the landscape. This provides landowners with new revenue streams to help care for their land and keep it in trees. In addition, the program helps landowners transition to long-term sustainable management to better manage their forests for overall health, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity.
The program then sells the carbon generated to corporate entities who are taking a comprehensive approach to their net zero strategy, helping these companies take the last step needed to address their residual emissions or emissions from their supply chain.
Specifics in West Virginia
Beginning this summer, the Family Forest Carbon Program will open enrollment to landowners with 30 to 2,400 acres in counties in the upper half of the state only. The program will continue to expand into West Virginia over the next year.
Landowners can log on to familyforestcarbon.org to see if their property is eligible.
The program will offer landowners 10- to 20-year contracts, with installment payments to implement geographically specific forestry practices that increase sequestration and storage of carbon, while also improving the health of the forest. Specifically, landowners can participate in enhancing future forests and growing mature forests.
The Family Forest Carbon Program is taking a different and advanced approach to measuring the carbon generated by the program in order to improve the integrity of its carbon credits. This new forest carbon accounting methodology will be approved by Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard in the coming months. Traditionally, carbon benefits has been measured by costly carbon inventories, the cost and time-intensiveness of which exclude the typical family landowner.
In the Family Forest Carbon Program’s approach, enrolled landowners will be monitored to ensure that they are implementing the practices they agreed to. The carbon benefit will be measured based on the changes in carbon stock levels on enrolled properties, compared to properties that are not enrolled in the program (and likely not implementing these practices). In other words, the program will be measuring the performance of the forest practice. Measurements will be taken on a random selection of enrolled properties and compared to measurements on un-enrolled properties with similar forest attributes, then aggregated at the landscape level to determine the carbon benefit. The carbon measurements will then be verified by a third-party.
What Landowners in Pennsylvania are Saying
The Family Forest Carbon Program was launched last year in Pennsylvania across a dozen counties. In the first year, the program moved 50 landowners to enroll over 7,000 acres. Roughly 65% of these landowners had not been actively managing or had a long-term management plan prior to enrolling in the program, showcasing how carbon markets can empower a positive move to sustainable forestry.
“It’s a win-win situation for anyone who has a piece of property and is planning on keeping it in the family,” said Tim Leiby, who owns 95 acres of forestland in Blain, Pennsylvania, and was among the first participants in the Family Forest Carbon Program.
For landowners like Leiby, the program is providing financial assistance to help them achieve their stewardship goals. Leiby plans to use his first check from the program to help remove invasive species from his property. The Family Forest Carbon Program connected Leiby with a consulting forester who visited his property, took an inventory of its tree species and overall forest health, helped him develop a long-term forest management plan, and educate him on the steps he could take to improve the health of his oak-dominated forest.