State studies forests for 'carbon credit' value - Clean-air effort could lead to sale of credits to raise money for schools
The state Department of Natural Resources is taking part in an 18-month study examining the best way to use state-owned forests to reduce carbon in the air. The $3.5 million study, led by the U.S. Department of Energy and partly funded by oil and energy companies, will examine whether states might be able to sell "carbon credits" for managing public timberlands in a way that captures carbon.
DNR sells timber to raise money for school construction, universities and other public institutions. But state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland said he's interested in exploring whether Washington might earn money by not harvesting trees -- or at least cutting them at a slower pace than the current 60-year rotation between replanting and harvest.
"We can begin to find ways to earn revenue for schools by reducing greenhouse gases," Sutherland said in a prepared statement.
Carbon is captured in the natural respiration of trees, and it stays in the wood. Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide emitted from coal- and oil-burning power plants, build up in the atmosphere and effectively trap the sun's heat, acting like the glass of a greenhouse.
Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Gary Locke joined California Gov. Gray Davis and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski in announcing an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases.
In the Pacific Northwest, scientists say even a slight difference in atmospheric temperatures could lead to substantial increases in winter flooding and summer droughts.
The study announced this week could lead to the creation of a market for buying and selling carbon credits.
"It's a way for society to address the greenhouse gas issue at the lowest total cost," said Mike Burnett, executive director of the Climate Trust, a Portland-based nonprofit organization. "It's an emerging market."
State timberland managers in Oregon and California also are participating in the study.
Any change in forest management would still have to make economic sense, DNR spokesman Todd Myers said. Longer harvest rotations or thinning trees to enhance overall forest growth may help capture carbon, but those measures could reduce timber sales.
K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, an Olympia-based nonprofit organization focused on global warming, said that while it's not a bad idea to use trees to capture carbon, they collect only a small portion of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
"It's simply not possible to plant our way out of it," he said.
It would be better to reduce automobile exhaust, replace fossil-burning power plants with renewable energy sources and improve energy conservation, said Sara Patton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition in Seattle.
The Department of Energy is providing $1.6 million for the study involving Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Alaska and Nevada, along with $11.1 million for similar partnerships nationwide.
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