Forests in Northern Minnesota Store Abundant Carbon

Results of the North Woods Carbon Credit Partnership Show Carbon Credit Options for Aitkin and Cass County Land Departments

 

(Mpls, MN) The forest lands administered by the Aitkin and Cass County Land Departments maintain nearly 10 million tons of stored carbon, or about 36 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e).

 

“The storage in these two counties represents the annual carbon dioxide emissions of more than 5 million cars,” says Kathryn Fernholz, Executive Director for Dovetail Partners and project manager, “The forest sector clearly has a large role to play in offsetting carbon emissions.”

 

An analysis of the forests and forest management of Aitkin and Cass County Land Departments in North Central Minnesota shows the opportunities for forest-based carbon credits in the region.

 

"The results give us an insight into carbon storage as one of the benefits of forest management in Minnesota," says Fernholz.

 

The "average” car getting twenty-one miles per gallon and driven 12,000 miles per year emits 6.6 tons of CO2 per year.

 

As part of the project, the counties evaluated an alternative management scenario that would sequester additional carbon beyond the current level.  Under the alternative scenario, the additionality of 47,000 MTCO2e could be realized and would compensate for the annual emissions of an additional 7,000 cars.  The alternative scenario modeled by Aitkin County would maintain existing total harvest volumes of wood and fiber.

 

"Our approach is to take an unbiased view of carbon credits," said Mark Jacobs, Land Commissioner with the Aitkin County Land Department, "working with national experts to determine the carbon resource on county managed forestlands. Once the extent of our carbon resource is determined we can make informed decisions weighing the pros and cons of the carbon trading systems."

 

The North Woods Carbon Credit Partnership utilized the counties' current inventory data and their management plans for their combined 475,000 acres of land. The project modeled forest growth and changes in carbon stocks over the next 5-10 years, typical time periods for marketing carbon credits.

 

"The model data shows the carbon sequestration implications of the counties' management over the past ten years and what their plans call for implementing in the future," says John Gunn, Senior Program Leader with Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and lead researcher for the North Woods Carbon Credit Partnership.

 

Carbon credits are viewed as a positive opportunity by some and with skepticism by others; but every indication is that these markets will be a major factor in the coming years.

 

"The results give us a firm understanding of the scale and trade-offs of the opportunity so we can decide what next steps the county wants to take," says Josh Stevenson of the Cass County Land Department.

 

Philosophical differences aside, forest managers have the opportunity to position themselves to take advantage of this potentially lucrative market. The alternative scenarios modeled by each county could provide annual carbon credit revenues of $100,000 or more, even at current low market prices.

 

Voluntary markets currently exist to financially reward landowners for increasing forest carbon stocks.  The standards used in voluntary forest carbon markets are changing rapidly, but provide insight into what a regulatory cap and trade system could require.  Some consideration of the role of forests in national climate legislation is likely.

 

“The policy debate about climate change and carbon credits needs to include consideration of forest-based carbon and the opportunities that exist for management to increase carbon storage,” says Beth Jacqmain, Assistant Land Commissioner for Aitkin County and current State Chair for the Minnesota Society of American Foresters.

 

The results from the North Woods project show that currently each county has about 5 million tons of carbon stored in live trees and roots. The total forest-based (tree biomass) carbon stores in Minnesota were estimated at 280 million metric tons in a report prepared in 1995 with funding from the Minnesota Legislature.  Studies of Lake States forests indicate that at least an equal amount of carbon is also stored in the dead standing and downed wood, as well as in the understory plants and belowground in the soil.

 

The project is being supported through a grant from the Blandin Foundation.