Trees have been called the lungs of the earth. They take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen, cleaning the air we all breathe. As a result, amid increasing concern over carbon emissions, trees are receiving renewed attention as a means of mitigating atmospheric CO2. Commercial carbon offset programs promise to help consumers and businesses offset a portion of their carbon footprint by supporting tree planting somewhere in the world.
But while such programs appeal to a growing desire for environmental stewardship, it’s impossible for someone in Georgia to know if the trees he or she paid to have planted in the Amazon – or even California – were actually planted. And although forests everywhere help clean the air, I believe people in Georgia might feel better about carbon offset programs they know are local and verifiable.
Toward that end, last year Power4Georgians – a consortium of Georgia electric membership corporations (EMCs) – the Carbon TreeBank, LLC, and Wells Timberland launched a unique program called Keeping Forests in Forests (KFIF) that preserves Georgia timberlands to mitigate CO2 in the environment.
Unlike reforestation projects in far-flung locales, KFIF is an entirely Georgia-based program that also is completely verifiable; participants know exactly what their money is supporting, where the trees are being managed and the impact of those trees on carbon removal right here in Georgia.
For example, during the first year of the Keeping Forests in Forests program, Wells Timberland preserved 2,705 acres of loblolly and sand pines in Marion County for the program. You can see some of those trees yourself – and the sign designating that they have been preserved as part of the Keeping Forests in Forests program – along SR 137 just west of Buena Vista, in southwest Georgia.
We also know how much carbon KFIF trees have absorbed. A report to the Carbon TreeBank by Forecon EMS (an independent environmental sciences consultant hired to verify program results) showed that the 2,705 acres of trees have sequestered 7,816 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MtCO2e) since the program was launched in March 2009.
In addition to being local and verifiable, Keeping Forests in Forests is distinguished by solid science and methodology. Much of the data used to develop the program is directly from Duke University’s Forest-Atmosphere Carbon Transfer and Storage Experiment (FACE), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded study begun in 1994 to measure the reaction of forests to elevated levels of atmospheric CO2. Additional technical assistance and research has been provided by the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Keeping Forests in Forests provides another key advantage to Georgia as well. With an initial investment of $250,000 from the six Power4Georgians EMCs, as well as monthly donations from Power4Georgians EMC members wishing to offset a portion of their household carbon footprint, KFIF provides a financial incentive for Georgia timber growers to preserve their land as forest. Currently, some 300 acres of forest are cleared every day in our state for development and other purposes.
Georgia has been blessed with the second largest amount of forested acreage in the nation (behind Oregon), a natural resource that has supported key industries in our state. But in addition to being an important economic resource, Georgians can be proud that through Keeping Forests in Forests, our timberlands are being actively preserved to ensure they will continue to help clean Georgia’s air.
(Dean Alford of Atlanta is spokesman for Power4Georgians.)