First-of-its-kind deal sells trees for carbon credits, not harvest, in Jefferson County

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson Land Trust has sold 400 metric tons of its timber resources. But it didn’t sell the wood.

In a transaction unique on the North Olympic Peninsula and in the Pacific Northwest, the sale was for the carbon stored in the trees, not the wood itself.

The land trust is being paid $8,000 not for board-feet of timber in the Bulis Forest Preserve near Old Fort Townsend but for the carbon collected in living trees that remove it from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

In return, Shorebank Enterprise Cascadia — a nonprofit financial institution that works with local organizations to promote economic opportunity and a healthy environment — offsets three years of its “carbon footprint” — or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions created by the firm in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

By purchasing the carbon locked in the trees and soil of the forest, it acquires “carbon credits” that can offset other activities that create emissions.

The agreement, made for 100 years, is the first transaction involving carbon credits on the Peninsula and the first direct purchase by a firm in the Pacific Northwest.

“This is really the first sale of it’s kind, so it is very exciting,” said Barbara Arnn, communications manager for Jefferson Land Trust.

“There have been some large sales of this type through brokers collecting land for many corporations, but this is the first small and direct purchase of this type in the Pacific Northwest.”

Trees collect carbon

Trees naturally collect carbon in the process of photosynthesis. They “breathe” in carbon dioxide and “breathe” out oxygen, keeping the carbon that they take from the air locked in woody material.

That carbon is valuable to companies that want to offset their carbon emissions.

By purchasing the rights to the trees, allowing them to be properly managed and letting them undergo the natural process of collecting carbon, businesses and corporations can receive carbon credit, a recognized way of offsetting emissions from other activities.

In a carbon trade, the owner of the forest is paid to delay harvesting so that the forest will continue to hold carbon.

The land trust could act as a seller of carbon credits because of a donation of a 26-acre working forest — part of the 100-acre Bulis Forest Preserve — made 10 years ago to provide the nonprofit conservation group with income from timber harvests to manage the rest of the preserve.

But now, the land trust will get income from letting the trees grow.

$20 per ton

The price is $20 a ton, and for 100 years, the amount of sequestered carbon agreed to in the contract must be maintained.

That doesn’t mean that the trees will never be harvested. But they must be managed to keep the contracted amount of carbon out of the atmosphere.

Carbon is released when trees are cut down.

The 400 metric tons of carbon that the land trust has sold represents 10 percent of the carbon stored in the mixed forest, where some of the trees are as old as 85 years.

All forests store carbon in the trees and in the soil, but the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest have the greatest carbon accumulations of any ecosystem on Earth, the land trust said.

The deal was brokered by Northwest Natural Resource Group through its Northwest Neutral program, a nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible forest management in the Pacific Northwest.

The group takes a small cut of the deal and matches groups like the Jefferson Land Trust with companies that want to preserve forests and collect the carbon credit.

‘Environmental cost’

“Historically, businesses have never included the environmental costs in their cost equations,” said Mark Bowman, a Shorebank manager.

“We have analyzed our operations to measure our carbon footprint, and adopted efficiencies to reduce our carbon use as much as possible.

“But there is the remaining footprint we can’t avoid. With this purchase of carbon offsets, we are paying the environmental cost of doing business.”

The nonprofit group that facilitated the trade will seek similar transactions in the future.

“This is the first carbon sale by a small landowner in the Pacific Northwest,” said Denise Prenger, executive director of Northwest Natural Resource Group.

“Now we have the business infrastructure set up, so we can facilitate more transactions like this.”

Watching in Port Angeles

Greg Good, executive director of North Olympic Land Trust, which is based in Port Angeles, said his organization is watching the sale intently.

“We are looking at this with interest, and we are looking to get involved in some carbon credit sales on property we own as well.

Good said there were no impending sales with his group at this time.

“Sales like this are a new area that is rapidly evolving, with companies wanting to purchase carbon credits to cover their carbon emissions.

“It is definitely new in this area and it’s definitely a diverse way for organizations like ours to raise funds.”

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Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com.

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