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Pierce CD participates in carbon credit forestry program

The Pierce Conservation District (CD) in Washington is participating in a unique program that will establish urban forestry carbon credits for a county that is home to nearly a million people.

In a pilot program funded through a grant from the Boeing Company to non-profit carbon registry and certification organization City Forest Credits, the conservation district planted 3,700 trees in November on two small tracts in Puyallup and Orting. It is believed to be the first conservation district in the nation to generate carbon credits while also reforesting riparian habitat.

“Carbon sequestration and carbon credits aren’t a new thing, but what is new is a local market specific to urban forest carbon credits to monetize them,” Pierce CD Executive Director Ryan Mello said.

The conservation district planted a combined nine acres with one tract along Clarks Creek, a tributary of the Puyallup River that supports chinook, coho, chum, steelhead and cutthroat trout, and the other tract up the Puyallup River on a section that provides some of the best spawning grounds for chinook salmon.

One of the most pressing natural resource concerns for the conservation district has been habitat function for a growing list of endangered salmon species, Mello said. Decades-long riparian restoration efforts improve those habitats, and the carbon credit program is a natural extension of that.

“What we love about this is that it’s a new revenue source for us to reforest these important riparian areas and fund long-term maintenance,” Mello said. “This work supports our mission and strategic priorities. It’s not in faraway places where you hear about carbon credits. It’s very local.”

“The urban-suburban interface and the fish and wildlife is what’s special,” Mello said. “These salmon-bearing streams have been our priority, so it’s a nice overlap.”

Carbon credits are certified by City Forest Credits, a national nonprofit carbon registry that issues third-party verified credits and monitors long-term compliance. Businesses or individuals looking to purchase credits should contact the district directly.

Over the next 25 years – the length of the district’s commitment to this carbon project – the plantings should pull about 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air by the time they reach 25 years. That equates to 4,000 carbon credits available for purchase: one credit for each metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered.

“Pierce CD is leading the way in showing how reforestation projects can be funded through carbon credits, creating more green space in our metropolitan areas and enriching the health and well-being of communities,” City Forest Credits Director Liz Johnston said.

The location of the projects near people and buildings allows ecosystem functions from the tree projects to be measured. Quantified values are provided for rainfall interception, air quality improvements and energy savings as Resource Units and avoided costs.

“I think access to a new revenue source will help conservation districts that plant trees in urban areas,” she said. “They are a natural fit as stewards of the environment.”

City Forest Credits takes into account geographical location, climate zone, species, planting density and other influences on the trees that will affect how they grow. The conservation district determines which plants to include based on what is best for the specific area and wildlife habitat, and what will have the best results for the district’s objectives.

Pierce CD is leading the way in showing how reforestation projects can be funded through carbon credits, creating more green space in our metropolitan areas and enriching the health and well-being of communities.

This first stretch of plantings included red cedar, Douglas fir, maple, spruce and alder and was done in partnership with the city of Puyallup on city properties. Mello has plans to continue adding 10 to 15 acres every year or so; another 5,000 publicly-owned acres have been identified for more plantings.

“Conservation districts will be great champions to lead planting projects that contribute to society and urban spaces. The projects are accessible and provide direct public engagement opportunities,” Johnston said.

One alteration from how the district typically handles plantings is increasing the density for the carbon credit projects following the riparian planting method, Mello said. Whereas the district normally plants 15 to 20 feet on center, they now are 8 to 10 feet on center to allow for reduced mortality and increased canopy – this enabled the required, ongoing monitoring of the canopy growth to be so much easier.

For Mello, the pilot project and the district’s involvement are a win-win, as the district continues efforts to improve and grow salmon species habitat and businesses look to capture carbon closer to home.

“Most businesses are not required by law to offset carbon,” he said. “Big and small companies typically are voluntarily buying credits because their customers, employees and shareholders care about the environment and they want to be able to demonstrate that they are doing something about it.”

“We can offer these closer to their customers, closer to their employees,” Mello said. “These are right here at home.”

Conservation districts will be great champions to lead planting projects that contribute to society and urban spaces. The projects are accessible and provide direct public engagement opportunities.

City Forest Credits issues carbon credits for the project at four intervals over 25 years, with 80 percent in the first six years. Businesses purchase verified credits from the district and revenue earned is flexible and unrestricted – it can be spent on maintenance of the sites or project development for future restoration sites. The district is paid for the credits throughout the duration of the contract. The district completes annual monitoring and measures canopy growth over time, Mello said.

The district is looking to enroll additional acreage. Pierce Conservation District is responsible for maintenance of the plantings, including addressing invasive species and replacing trees that die. Bringing conservation closer to home and where people live, work and play, with a revenue source not tied to a grant, brings us the flexibility and innovation we are looking for to scale-up our important work, he said.

You can learn more about this new program on Pierce Conservation District’s website.

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