Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Program could net Yuroks up to $7 million for managing 7,660 acres of timber land

If a tree is not felled in a forest, does it make a sound financial decision?

The Yurok Tribe apparently thinks so, as the sovereign nation based in Klamath recently registered a project with the state of California committing the tribe to manage rather than cut 7,660 acres of tribal timber land near the Lower Klamath River for increased carbon sequestration and sustainable timber management.

In exchange, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) is expected to issue the tribe and project developers 704,520 carbon offset credits. At a market value of $9-$10 per credit, that's $6.3-$7 million, in California's carbon cap and trade market program, according to Brian Shillinglaw, manager of carbon investments and policy for New Forests, a timberland investment company.

Through its investment fund, Forest Carbon Partners, it was hired by the Yurok Tribe to finance and develop the project.

This is the first forest carbon offset project developed under the California Compliance Offset Protocol - U.S. Forest Projects, a standard adopted by the California ARB for use in the California cap and trade program, according to a press release.

The carbon cap and trade system was a part of California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which aims to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 economy wide.

Under the system implemented at the dawn of 2013, major producers of greenhouse gases, like energy companies, can pollute as much as they please, but they must acquire permits for all emissions above a certain "cap." To get those permits polluters can "trade" things like money for things like carbon offset credits given to a tribe or other landowner willing to pardon more trees from the saw.Up to 8 percent of a carbon emitter's compliance can be fulfilled with offset credits.

"It's effectively opening a new commodity market for forest landowners.It creates a price for leaving a tree standing," said Shillinglaw.

By 2020, Shillinglaw said the carbon offset market is expected to have a value of $3 to 5 billion across the globe.

"Forest owners could realize a lot of that revenue," said Shillinglaw, whose company New Forests, is developing three large projects in Trinity and Mendocino counties and is currently developing more than 111,000 acres across the country for the California cap and trade system.

But it's a nine- to 12-month, data-intensive project to determine which trees qualify and how much carbon they really capture.

"The forest inventories involved are much more detailed than your typical timber cruise," Shillinglaw said.

In order for a timber stand to qualify to be a carbon offset, "it has to be legally and financially feasible to harvest timber on the property," Shillinglaw said.

If the trees are already in the riparian zone of a salmon-bearing stream and highly unlikely to be legally logged, they would not make the carbon cut.

"If it's off-limits from logging anyway, you're not going to get credit for it," Shillinglaw said.

The project's 7,660 acres of Douglas fir and mixed hardwood forests are on the north side of the Klamath River near the villages of Pecwan, Kep'-el and Weitchpec.

Although the project has yet to be dealt offset credits from theCalifornia ARB, the forests have been managed for additional carbon storage since 2011, when the tribe acquired several large tracts of land from Green Diamond Resource Company with the help of Western Rivers Conservancy.

The Yurok Tribe Sustainable Forest project is already registered with the Climate Action Reserve, the nation's premier carbon offset registry that was chosen by California ARB to serve the state's cap and trade program.

"This carbon offset project will foster the restoration of a significant swath of forest," said Thomas P. O'Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribal Council, in a press release. "Our partnership with New Forests will provide the tribe with the means to boost biodiversity, accelerate watershed restoration, and increase the abundance of important cultural resources like acorns, huckleberry and hundreds of medicinal plants that thrive in a fully functioning forest ecosystem."

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