Green Horizons

Volume 20, Number 3
September 2016


Forests and Climate Change

California Carbon Dollars Come to Missouri

By Hank Stelzer | MU Forestry Extension

Note: Adapted with permission from 'Shannondale earns $1 million-plus from California's carbon credit market' by Andrew Sheeley that appeared in the Salem News, July 12, 2016.

Seven years ago Shannondale Minister Jeff Fulk was full of desperate prayers. His rural mission in north Shannon County had a proud history, but was teetering on the edge of ruin. Although being one of Missouri's oldest Tree Farms, its future was in question due to the tough times created by the Great Recession.

"After the economic downturn hit in 2008, donations went down for not only us but for our entire conference, the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ," Fulk says. "There was serious talk of Shannondale being sold like many other outdoor ministries. I remember sitting up here one day and praying 'God I need a miracle; I need you to tell me what we are going to do.'"

Fulk says his plea was answered three days later in the form of a forester with the L-A-D Foundation who told him about a new innovation, carbon offset credits.

"I'd never heard about any such thing before. At first I was thinking what's the catch, this sounds too good to be true," Fulk says. "But now, after a lot of hard work getting through red tape, we are remodeling our chapel and making other emergency repairs thanks to our conference receiving $900,000 by selling carbon credits, while still having some in the bank. There's a good chance Shannondale would not be here today if it weren't for the carbon offset program."

Shannondale's success has been made possible by California passing the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006. The law's goal is to cap the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions allowed in that state to 1990 levels by the year 2020. It works by giving California corporations the option to account for a small amount of their total greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon offset credits from registered tree farms, managed forests and other entities that absorb some of the carbon dioxide these corporations produce.

"The whole idea behind the program is to put a cap and a price on greenhouse gas emissions and to help carbon emitters meet their cap by funding forest landowners to practice sustainable forestry and thereby store extra carbon in their forests," says Dylan Jenkins, vice president of Portfolio Development for Finite Carbon, a Pennsylvania company which specializes in developing forest carbon offset projects.

In 2013, Shannnondale was able to enter into a partnership with Finite Carbon to register 3,982 acres of forest with the Climate Action Reserve, which is the official registry of carbon offset projects and determines how many credits each project will receive. As part of registration, Shannondale has adopted forest management practices that increase its carbon offset ability relative to common practice baseline levels.

"The forests are managed in such a way as to maximize the amount of carbon they capture, such as growing bigger trees for a longer period of time," Jenkins says. "All of this is done voluntarily by the property owner, and they can still actively produce wood products through a sustainable harvest. It's not an all or nothing kind of deal."

Shannondale lodges will be restored with the money received.

The $900,000 that Shannondale received can be thought of as a 'back payment' for the 120,000 metric tons of carbon the 4,000-acre forest has stored since 1949. Why 1949? Because in that year, Shannondale's founder, the Reverend Vincent Bucher had the foresight to enroll the forest in the American Tree Farm System. Shannondale today is the oldest continuously owned tree farm in Missouri and the last surviving of the first 10 tree farms designated by the state in 1949.

"What we are doing with carbon credits I believe is in line with our religious mission," Fulk says. "God placed us here to be stewards of the Earth, he wants us to take care of our environment. We need to keep the trees and not cover everything with pavement so our forests can not only provide us oxygen, but clean our air."

In addition to generating $900,000 from previous years, Fulk estimates participating in the program will annually yield $12,000 to $20,000 for the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ because the forest will annually offset another 2,000 tons per year.

Bucher wouldn't have known it at the time, but decades after his passing his tree farm not only saved Shannondale but will last at least until the 23rd Century.

"As part of our agreement with the program we signed a 199-year commitment with the Climate Action Reserve, meaning the forest will be here long after we are all gone," Fulk says "That means more to me than the money, knowing that Shannondale will thrive well into the future and the forest is safe. This land is protected. No one will be able to come in here and clear cut the trees for any kind of big new development."

"All of the money received will be invested by our conference, but Shannondale will also be receiving a percentage of that total," Fulk says. "One thing I want to say is none of the money we're receiving is taxpayer dollars. We are selling credits directly to carbon emitters. There is no government involvement in that process what-so-ever."

There are many exciting things happening at Shannondale these days. With support from the carbon credit program its campgrounds and lodges are being fixed up and remodeled (see photo). Fulk says his current plans are for all the original 1930s era buildings to be restored.

Now before you contact Finite Carbon to enroll your forest, consider this. To gain the interest of California's Climate Action Reserve, one must own a tract comparable in size to Shannondale. And one must be willing to enter into a long-term agreement. A carbon contract can be thought of like a conservation easement that is transferred to the new owner; rights as well as responsibilities.

Still, at least some serious dollars are beginning to be realized from the carbon market. Stay tuned to see if future developments enable landowners with smaller tracts of land and shorter time horizons to have opportunities like Shannondale.

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