Nature Conservancy Goes Public with Voluntary Carbon Offset Program
by Andrew Burger
The Nature Conservancy is going public with its Voluntary Carbon Offset Program, offering individuals the opportunity to offset part of their own carbon footprints by contributing funds to set aside private lands that would othwerwise lay idle and degrade for conservation and forest regeneration.
The first project on the Conservancy’s carbon offset slate is protecting and regenerating part of Louisiana’s Tensas River Basin, an ecologically key 47-acre tract of currently unproductive farmland that will soon form part of 3,600 acre conservation management system within the Lower Mississippi Valley.
Protected by a Nature Conservancy easement, contributions to the voluntary carbon offset program will be used to plant trees, establish a conservation management system and cover the costs of setting aside land for the project.
Besides capturing carbon in growing trees, Conservancy scientists say the Tensas River Basin tract will provide critical habitat and enhance biodiversity by forming part of a vital pathway linking increasingly small and isolated old growth forests in the Mississippi Delta. Having shrunk rapidly with land development in the past fifty years, such wetlands and wetland forests are seen as crucial to ecological health not only of wildlife, plants and trees, but in terms of soil and water conservation, waste filtration and storm and flood barriers.
An estimated 74% of Tensas River Basin bottomland forest has been cleared for agriculture - habitat in which a profusion of plant and animal species once thrived - leaving small islands of forest remnants. Reforestation will create critical wildlife corridors, the Conservancy says.
The Tensas River Basin is home to the largest known population of Louisiana Black Bears, several valuable bird conservation areas and rare and endangered fish, mussel and aquatic ecosystems that are affected by neighboring farms.
The land parcel for which the Conservancy’s has secured a conservation easement is to be part of a system of a nearly 3,600-acre conservation management system connected to the 85,000 acre Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge and Big Lake Wildlife Management Area via a corridor to riparian forest along the Tensas River.
This first project in the Conservancy’s voluntary carbon offset project is a long-term one. Reforesting the 47-acre tract will result in capturing some 14,300 tons of carbon dioxide during the project’s first 70 years, according to Nature Conservancy scientists.
In order to assure performance and mitigate potential carbon capture leakages due to things like severe storms, project managers plan to maintain a buffer and insurance reserve. Hence, the initial project offering is 8,250 short tons of carbon dioxide over 70 years.
The easement should ensure the project’s permanence and the Conservancy is setting aside resources to monitor the easement, which grants it enforcement rights as well.
This initial project, and others to follow, is being designed to meet or exceed Voluntary Carbon Standard, as well as Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance verifiable carbon capture standards. Third-party experts will verify carbon storage once every five years.
In addition, reforesting the land will help Louisiana meet Clean Water Act requirements by improving a major tributary of the Tensas River, as well as contribute to rural economies by employing local planting crews and consulting foresters, the Conservancy says.