By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009 5:42 PM
A group of timber and paper supply companies and environmental organizations announced Thursday a pilot project to allow landowners who selectively log their forests to earn carbon credits they can trade on the open market. Such a trading system is part of legislation before Congress that would cap greenhouse gases nationwide.
A coalition that includes Staples, Home Depot and the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental advocacy organization that once crusaded against Staples, said it aims to test how landowners in the U.S. South can receive economic benefits from expanding carbon stores in their working forests. Ninety percent of forests in the South, which ranks as the largest paper and wood-producing region in the world, is privately owned. Some farmers in the region still clear cut their forests, or convert them to pine plantations that are fast-growing but less environmentally beneficial.
The new group, calling itself Carbon Canopy, said it will encourage these tree farmers in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee to selectively log their forests so they can meet the environmental standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent certification group, and then have the chance of selling the carbon stored in their trees to offset greenhouse gas pollution emitted elsewhere.
"Never before have we seen this kind of collaboration in the South between forest industry, large U.S. corporations, landowners and environmental groups to find real solutions" said Danna Smith, the Dogwood Alliance's executive director. "Through investing in the protection, conservation and restoration of forests, we can not only reduce carbon emissions, but we can also ensure a healthy forest legacy for future generations, while providing a helping hand to the millions of families and individuals who manage forestland in the Southern U.S."
Jim Sitts, Appalachian Timber Manager for Columbia Forest Products, said the project "is a running start towards conserving our nation's precious resources and reducing carbon emissions."
Some environmentalists, however, questioned whether it made sense to promote a system where polluters can offset their emissions by paying to grow trees elsewhere.
Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for Greenpeace, praised the idea of managing forests according to the Forest Stewardship Council's standards, but added, "We also believe that forest offsets should not be used in a compliance carbon market."