Forest Carbon: Land of Many Uses (or, optionally, not)

Forest carbon offset projects are a popular method of generating landowner revenue while harnessing natural solutions to climate change woes. The protocols of both the compliance and voluntary forest carbon offset programs draw inspiration from traditional forestry and silviculture, and merge these standards with an ecological mindset and climate-forward vision. The forestry tools and skillsets utilized by commercial timber operations or on family forests are the same tools and skillsets necessary for forest carbon projects, just applied for a different outcome. The protocols are clear in their goal of increasing net forest carbon sequestration to aid climate change mitigation, but allow some autonomy as to how a landowner manages their forest to meet that goal. Some landowners decide to incorporate some timber harvest or wildfire fuels reduction into their land management activities, while other landowners focus on old-growth stewardship or preservation.

Forest carbon projects can successfully coexist with active land management.  For Example, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in the mixed-conifer mountains of Arizona has a forest carbon offset project that successfully integrates and balances many competing management needs. The White Mountain Apache Tribe commercially harvests in their carbon projects, and believes that the local mill is an important economic resource that can coexist with the economic resource that the carbon project is; both the mill and the carbon projects are community job creators and revenue generators. The landowner also has an extensive wildfire management operation that utilizes prescribed burns and thinning. Management of cultural resources, cultural fire, maintenance of trophy elk habitat, watershed improvement are additional land management considerations in this dynamic forest.

In contrast, some forest carbon projects decided to implement a certain amount of active land management, but without the commercialization of harvest. The Washington Rainforest Renewal Project in Washington’s temperate rainforest is implementing silviculture prescriptions to steward the forest in the carbon project towards old growth characteristics. The forest has been previously logged in ways that resulted in younger, smaller, crowded trees with a shifting plant species composition, putting forest health at risk. The carbon project now protects the land, and treatments like thinning – again, traditional forestry with a fresh application – are actually helping to improve forest vigor, native species composition, and regeneration. This sets the forest on a pathway to exhibiting prime habitat value, ecological resilience, and impressive carbon-sequestering contribution to climate change mitigation.

Other forest carbon projects decided to have completely passive land management, like the Wild Carbon Aggregation Project in the Northeast is composed of multiple landowners aggregated into a single offset project. Its ‘hands-off’ management style means the landowners don’t conduct any harvest, thinning, nor anything else that requires a human to perform. These landowners operate under the vision that their forests will self-regulate once protected from the pressures of development and extraction, and that every forest protected under their carbon project is a future old-growth forest, ideally in a connected habitat corridor essential for resilience among climate change.

Marrying ecology and forestry can help a landowner model the carbon impacts of treating -- or not treating -- one’s land. Quantitative models and peer-reviewed scientific papers can help us estimate how legal land management decisions may affect the forest, and a landowner can merge forest carbon goals with other needs like wildfire fuels reduction, community economy support, or wildlife habitat generation.  Specialized forest carbon consultants, like SIG Carbon, leverage the crucial knowledge of local foresters, agencies, and landowners to reveal land management pathways forward for a forest carbon project. To learn more about the viability of your land for enrollment in a carbon project – and for a free feasibility assessment – contact Erin Alvey, Research Scientist for SIG Carbon, at

INTEREsted in Learning more?

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If you can provide us with the boundaries of your property plus a tree inventory,
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