A Local Solution with a Global Impact
Carbon offsets protect woodland and rural livelihoods
By Abby White
Early last fall, just as the leaves were beginning to turn in the Cold Hollow Mountains, we visited with Jessica Boone, owner of Hi Vue Maples in Richford.
“My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather have worked really hard to make this into a place we can keep and pass down. This is home and I have a responsibility,” she said as we walked the woods, discussing a first-of-its-kind forest carbon cooperative.
For her and the nine other landowners participating in VLT’s new forest carbon program, the word responsibility means something different. It extends well beyond duty to their families or communities, well beyond caring for the songbirds and bear that call these woods home. Protection of this land is an imperative that extends to our global community.
“Five years ago, I hadn’t heard of a carbon offset. Now we’re enrolled in a program that is having an impact locally, regionally, and globally,” said Jessica.
The Cold Hollow project: An approach to forest carbon rooted in community
The Cold Hollow Mountains stretch across seven towns in Franklin, Lamoille, and Orleans counties at the northern spine of the Green Mountains. They sit at the center of the largest temperate broadleaf forest in the world, which stores billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
Cold Hollow to Canada is a community organization that supports the protection of this forestland. Charlie Hancock, consulting forester and board member of Cold Hollow to Canada and VLT Trustee, was instrumental in establishing the forest carbon cooperative.
“Until now, small woodlot owners hadn’t participated in the carbon markets ,” said Charlie. “The costs were too high. This program makes it easier for them to participate by aggregating them into a group.”
In 2017 VLT commissioned a study from the Carbon Dynamics Lab (CDL) at UVM to study the feasibility of a forest carbon program in Vermont. Professor Bill Keeton, lead author, CDL director, and VLT Trustee, explored different models that steered VLT and partners to the aggregation approach.
VLT formed a separate company and enrolled the aggregated land as a single project. The company provided upfront financing, project development support, marketing and sales of the credits, and review of forest management plans. Buyers of the credits—often individuals, businesses, and institutions looking to offset their emissions—purchase directly from the company, with revenue allocated to landowners.
Many partners lent their expertise, including The Nature Conservancy, which helped to secure buyers for the credits (including a major purchase by Amazon) and Spatial Informatics Group, which provided analytical and project know-how.
“Now, ten Vermont forestland owners, managing over 8,600 acres, are participating in the national, voluntary carbon market, earning $25 to $47 per acre, per year for the first ten years,” said Charlie.
How forests cut carbon pollution
Forests help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in two ways: by drawing carbon dioxide out of the air through the process of photosynthesis and by storing it in tree trunks and roots, and in the soil.
“Managing forests to maximize carbon benefits is complex,” explains Charlie. “We are always balancing the capacity of the forest with landowner benefits, plus a host of other benefits, such as flood resiliency.”
Landowners participating in the Cold Hollow Project are working with Charlie, VLT foresters, and other providers to employ practices that enhance carbon benefits, while continuing to manage for timber or maple sugaring. Those practices could include protecting older trees, thinning to support understory growth, or restoring wetlands.
A national model, home-grown in Vermont
For Carl Powden, VLT’s Northern Vermont Regional Director, land conservation and managing forests for carbon go hand-in-hand.
“Participation in the carbon market creates an incentive for owners of conserved land to take their commitment one step further,” explained Carl. “Clean water, flood resilience, healthy and connected wildlife habitat, and now carbon reduction—those are the benefits we all enjoy when forests are managed for climate.”
Cold Hollow is unique in bringing small woodlot owners together for participation in carbon markets. “We had the relationships and the knowledge,” said Charlie. “We just needed some up-front support to get this off the ground. That is where the land trust, The Nature Conservancy, VHCB, and the High Meadows Fund stepped in.”
While these projects take time to come together, the Cold Hollow experience shows that it’s possible.
“Everything we learned in the Cold Hollow project shapes where this will go next,” said Tricia Bhatia, coordinator for VLT’s forest carbon program. “As Vermont and other states get serious about climate change, programs like this can help them meet their commitments. We hope and expect to see expansion of this program in years to come.”