Updated: 8:06 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | Posted: 8:05 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Climate bill needs incentives for small forest owners like me
By Chuck Leavell
Lost in the growing climate change debate is an understanding about what the policy options will mean for the 504,000 people like me who manage forest land in the state of Georgia.
Since privately owned forests make up two-thirds of all forests in the U.S., with 14.3 million acres in this state alone, what happens on this land is of urgent concern.
Healthy forests absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and have the potential to offset excess emissions elsewhere.
A full 10 percent of all carbon emissions in the U.S. every year are absorbed by forests and forest products, and they could do even more, up to 20 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if the right incentives were put in place.
Healthy forests also supply us with clean, renewable energy that, if used to replace fossil fuels, also reduces carbon emissions.
Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) is to be credited for speaking up on behalf of Georgia forest owners and helping make sure the climate bill reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee does allow some private U.S. forests to be recognized and supported as a source of biomass for renewable energy.
This is a good start, but the bill must do even more to ensure private forest owners can help us reach our nation’s climate and energy goals.
Besides their biomass potential, private forests can also serve as a “carbon offset” under a cap and trade system that allows forest owners to sell their enhanced carbon storage to an emitter, thereby reducing emissions.
While carbon trading is important, more is needed.
Smaller forest landowners in the U.S. may not be able to participate because the set-up costs for trading carbon are just too expensive for lot sizes of less than 100 acres.
Yet together these smaller forests make up 119 million acres — that’s almost the size of all the pasture land in the U.S.
We could immediately put these lands to work in helping combat climate change, but Congress must adjust the bill to provide supplemental incentives (the carbon reduced would supplement the reductions achieved via cap and trade) for forest management practices that enhance carbon storage. Such practices include replanting trees, changing timber rotations and avoiding deforestation.
There are 10 million family forest owners like me who want to do their part to address climate change. Creating a modest revenue stream for carbon-enhancing forest activities is the key.
When a developer comes knocking, and a forest owner is facing 30-year lows on timber prices, it helps to have an economic incentive that can nudge that owner toward taking the step that helps climate and protects forests.
And besides the climate benefits, conservation brings the other forest benefits we cherish — clean air, safe drinking water, wildlife and recreation.
I hope that Georgians and folks all over the country will support keeping land in families and families on the land which will help us to attain the environmental goals we all seek.
Chuck Leavell, the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, is a board member of the American Forest Foundation and founded the Mother Nature Network Web site.
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