State launches first-in-the-nation program to preserve 10,000 forest acres as carbon reserve

Washington state has launched a new program to save 10,000 acres of forest land as a carbon reserve.

The state intends to lease the trees as carbon credits to emitters of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The DNR is partnering with Finite Carbon, a developer and supplier of carbon offsets, which will verify the effectiveness of the offsets.

Purchasers are expected to be larger corporations seeking to achieve reductions in their carbon emissions, said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, adding that in the first 10 years of the program, the DNR hopes to sell 900,000 credits reducing carbon emissions to the atmosphere by the equivalent of 2 billion vehicle miles traveled.

Money from the leases in these forests will compensate beneficiaries of state trust lands, including the state school construction fund, and money for hospital districts, library districts and more.

In addition to the 840,000 acres of DNR-managed trust land designated for conservation, the 10,000-acre carbon reserve adds a bit more acreage off-limits to harvest, about 0.5% of the state’s forested trust lands. But as climate change threatens the planet, these trees are more valuable living than as lumber, Franz said.

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Sequestering carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, in trees which use it as food to grow, helps blunt the worst effects of climate change. Globally, forests absorb about a third of all the carbon emissions annually from the burning of fossil fuels.

"I have a big belief that with climate change here, we need to save our forests to truly save ourselves," Franz said.

The DNR has come under increasing criticism for harvesting such trees, which are not protected under its old-growth policy but nonetheless have high ecological value.

A total of 3,750 acres is being set aside now, with the balance yet to be identified for preservation in phase two.

The program in Washington is launching with protection of forests in Whatcom, Thurston, King and Grays Harbor counties.

DNR trust lands generate about $180 million a year for schools and counties across the state.

Franz predicted the carbon leases would generate tens of millions of dollars for schools, colleges and local services that state trust lands support.

Peter Goldman, director and managing attorney of the nonprofit Washington Forest Law Center, called the reserve "green lipstick on a pig" because it sets some state lands aside for conservation while other state legacy forests are still being cut down.

"It’s great, who could be against it," he said of the reserve. "But is she just trying to pour cold water on the political heat she is taking on these sales?"

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