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Capturing Carbon

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Capturing Carbon

Postby ERIC » Tue Apr 01, 2008 8:04 am

Capturing Carbon

Truckee Tahoe Airport considers selling carbon offsets from Waddle Ranch forest


By Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun, ghoward@sierrasun.com
March 30, 2008, 7:26 PM

After more than a century of logging, could letting trees live become the new business for Sierra Nevada forests?

The Sierra Business Council thinks it might, using the newly-emerging field of carbon sequestration. And the Truckee Tahoe Airport District may lead the way.
Carbon sequestration is the intake and long-term storage of carbon by plants to reduce the slow build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Taking advantage of that natural process, a growing business sells credits for that stored carbon, allowing polluters to offset the greenhouse gases they create, and in theory, slow the climate change those gases cause.

And with the recent purchase of Waddle Ranch in the Martis Valley, the airport may be the first property owner in the area to get in on the market.

“We are going to maintain the forest no matter what, but if we can use money from industries buying these credits, rather than taxpayer money to maintain it, that’s a big bonus,” said Dave Gotschall, general manager for the airport.

The airport district is still exploring exactly what the future holds for carbon sequestration and would try to figure out how much potential for carbon storage there is in Waddle Ranch, how much the airport would need to offset its own emissions, and how much they would need to sell to break even on maintaining the forest, Gotschall said.

The airport wouldn’t set out to profit from the practice, instead creating a trust to fund the maintain Waddle Ranch (by thinning fuels, among other things) into the future, he said.

But just how the numbers pencil out is tough to tell, said Dave Parsons, executive assistant at the airport.

“We don’t know what we have in carbon storage, we’ve been told it could be anywhere from 40,000 to 90,000 tons,” Parsons said. “And there is still a lot of uncertainty in the market in terms of price per ton.”

The district already has an offer at about $10 per ton, he said, but prices vary in what is right now a voluntary market.

As legislation comes to fruition, and requirements are placed on California industries, Parsons said prices could move toward where they are in Europe — around $30 per ton.

But while the airport district board wants to know how the numbers work, others question the idea of carbon sequestration itself.

“You’re proposing to develop and sell credits to allow people to continue polluting,” said Andrew Terry, a new member of the Airport Community Advisory Team. “We’re going to leverage a community resource to allow pollution somewhere else.”

Reactions to carbon sequestration vary in the scientific and conservation communities from supportive to dubious.

“One of the biggest dangers is it is tempting for a lot of people to claim they are doing something to mitigate climate change when in fact it’s business as usual,” said Chad Hanson, ecologist and founder of the John Muir Project.

The type of practices used to maintain a forest — traditionally selective logging to reduce fire hazard and open space up for other trees — would actually be detrimental to both the forest and to carbon storage, Hanson said.

Taking a different point of view, Thomas Bonnicksen, a retired forestry professor at Texas A&M University, said carbon sequestration projects are actually only short-term solutions.

“In a century it’s going to be over, respiration will equal sequestration,” he said. “You have to cut trees for wood products that will store carbon, rather than rotting wood releasing it.”

But in an effort to remove doubt about the legitimacy of carbon sequestration, the airport would join the California Climate Action Registry, which has the most rigorous standards for the practice in the country, Parsons said.

“Because there is doubt out there if this is real, the registry is set on insuring the credibility of what’s going on,” Parson said.

The potential for carbon sequestration will go back to the airport district board in April, when they could make a decision, one way or the other, Gotschall said.

How carbon sequestration would work on Waddle Ranch
The airport has one year after purchase (until Oct. 2009) to inventory the carbon storage preserved at Waddle Ranch by preventing development, said Dave Parsons.
A new field in itself, a forester would measure how much was saved, and how much more can be saved in the future — a process that would cost the airport about $140,000, said Dave Gotschall.
The airport would then have the tonnage of carbon saved to start with, followed by a plan to increase carbon sequestering, Parsons said, and that increase could also be sold in credits.
The inventory, and routine survey of carbon, could create new job opportunities for local foresters, Gotschall said.
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