California issues first forestry compliance offsets

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By Gloria Gonzalez

The Yurok Indian tribe became the first organization to cross the finish line in getting forestry compliance offsets approved by California’s cap-and-trade program. And the first issuance was a big one, with the tribe receiving 836,619 offset credits for an improved forest management project on tribal lands.

April 9, 2014 – The Yurok tribe has seen first-hand the devastation that deforestation wreaks on trees and plant and animal species living on its tribal lands. Now, with a big stamp of approval from California regulators, the tribe is hoping to tap into the carbon markets to help reverse these devastating trends. 

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) on Wednesday announced that the Yurok Tribe/Forest Carbon Partners CKGG Improved Forest Management Project was the first to be issued offsets under its compliance forestry protocol. The improved forest management (IFM) project will guarantee long-term forest protection, improve forest habitat diversity, provide benefits to salmon and steelhead populations, and generate revenues for the Yurok Tribe. IFM projects are those in which existing forest areas are managed to increase carbon storage and/or to reduce carbon losses from harvesting or other silvicultural treatments.

“We have lost many of our old trees to deforestation, and numerous native plant and animal species, especially deer and elk, are struggling because of it,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “This forest carbon project enables the Tribe to help transition these acres back into a tribally managed natural forest system where wildlife and cultural resources like tanoak acorns, huckleberry, and hundreds of medicinal plants will thrive.”

The ARB’s compliance protocol was developed based on a version originally created by the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), which acted as the Offset Project Registry for the Yurok project, meaning the CAR pre-screened the project on behalf of the ARB. Forest projects that qualify under the cap-and-trade program must maintain or increase carbon in live trees for more than 100 years, a requirement that was originally established in CAR’s forestry protocol.

The Yurok project, which covers 8,000 acres of tribal land in Humboldt County, California, was issued 836,619 offsets by the ARB. By comparison, about 2.2 million forestry offsets have been issued by the ARB under the early action protocol – referring to offset projects initially developed under approved voluntary protocols that are transitioned to ARB offsets for use in the cap-and-trade program – since the first early action forestry offsets were issued in November 2013.

“The acceptance of this project into California’s carbon market will encourage other public and private owners of forest lands to develop offset projects,” said Linda Adams, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and Chair of CAR’s Board of Directors

Regulated entities are limited to purchasing offsets for up to 8% of their compliance obligations under California’s cap-and-trade program.

“This project will offer California companies additional opportunities to find cost-effective ways of complying with the cap-and-trade program,” said ARB Chairman Mary Nichols. “It offers additional carbon reductions from a sector not covered by the cap-and-trade regulation, while providing financial resources to help the Yurok tribe restore its native lands and protect its watershed and habitat.”