Friday, October 02, 2009

California's Climate Forests Deal - What's the Deal?

According to the L.A. Times, California Timber Company, Sierra Pacific, is going to start marketing its forests as climate change solutions.

So what's the problem here?  Trees absorb Carbon Dioxide, and in order to conserve and protect this ecosystem service, we should pay owners of forests to maintain it.  Clearly, we're all for developing mechanisms that make conservation profitable, and reward landowners for the ecosystem services that their intact forests provide to society.

The thing is, that we need solid quantitative evidence that the buyer is getting the service that they pay for.  In the case of forest carbon offsets in temperate latitudes, the problem is that, as this High Country News article detailed:

A 2006 Livermore Labs study found benefits to tree planting in the tropics, but showed that forests in temperate zones have a net warming effect. This is because their dark canopies absorb more solar heat than the grasslands and seasonal snow cover they displace, and the effect more than cancels out any benefits from carbon sequestration.

Granted, it's only one study.  But if these findings hold, how can we make conservation profitable for large-scale temperate forest owners like Sierra Pacific, as well as smaller-scale ones?

In Cadillac Desert California, the first ecosystem service that comes to mind as absolutely needing to become the focus of ecosystem market opportunities is, of course, water.

I really look forward to following the development of ecosystem markets that reward temperate forest owners for the water purification, flood mitigation, and biodiversity-related services provided by their land...  We'll keep you posted on the latest developments...

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