Clean drinking water, wildlife, recreation, and Pennsylvania’s forest products industry will benefit from a new agreement between The Nature Conservancy and the Bethlehem Authority.
The agreement, approved last night by Bethlehem City Council, will protect 22,000 acres of forest in the watershed that provides drinking water to Bethlehem and surrounding communities. Acting on a unanimous approval vote by the Bethlehem Authority Board, City Council agreed to join the Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program, which provides forest landowners with a rigorous analysis of their property and access to forest certification and carbon markets, in exchange for a commitment to practice sustainable forestry.
The Authority’s lands, nestled in the highlands of northeastern Pennsylvania, are the first parcels officially enrolled in the program. At 22,000 acres protected, the agreement is the largest private conservation project ever in Pennsylvania, demonstrating the potential of the Working Woodlands model.
“Conserving this forestland is key to enhancing water quality, improving wildlife habitat, maintaining recreation opportunities for local people and helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change,” said Bud Cook, Northeast Pennsylvania program director for The Nature Conservancy. “Working Woodlands allows for traditional uses of the land such as forestry and outdoor recreation, while ensuring that these forests will remain intact and healthy for future generations to enjoy,” Cook added.
“Our primary mission is to supply the highest quality drinking water to the 115,000 plus customers of the Bethlehem Water System as we possibly can. Preserving the pristine quality of our watershed properties supports that mission. And the Working Woodlands Program enhances our ability to do just that, and offers a modest revenue source as well”, said Stephen Repasch, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Authority.
In December 2009, the Nature Conservancy began speaking with landowners about Working Woodlands, a model forest conservation program that aims to protect forests and fight climate change via an agreement with carbon marketer and developer Blue Source, LLC to create incentives that reward landowners for exceptional forest management practices.
“Working Woodlands is a new model of conservation that leverages the market demand for certified forest products and carbon offsets to help private landowners achieve their goals while promoting long-term conservation at the same time,” said Josh Parrish, the Pennsylvania director of land protection for The Nature Conservancy.
Building on the Conservancy’s experience with land protection and forest certification, Working Woodlands uses an innovative combination of working forest conservation easements, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forest management certification, and forest carbon payments to make conservation more attractive and relevant for private landowners. To market the carbon credits, the Conservancy is working with Blue Source, North America’s largest and most experienced developer of carbon offset projects.
The program is designed to eliminate landowners’ up-front costs associated with forest certification and help the landowners benefit from the market demand for certified products and carbon offsets. Certification means the timber from the Authority’s lands will meet the increasing market demands for certified products and will allow the Authority to sell carbon credits on the open market. Companies around the world purchase these credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
The Conservancy will obtain FSC certification for the Bethlehem Authority property and Blue Source will provide financing for carbon credit development.
“This alliance provides a means for landowners in the U.S. to embrace forest conservation at no up-front cost and enables them to receive timber and carbon revenues as a result of their commitment to improved environmental stewardship,” Blue Source President, Roger Williams said. “We see this as an evolution in land conservation and have structured this program to make it easy for landowners to participate.”
“There are many forest carbon offsets in existence, but the Working Woodlands model is very credible because it is tied to FSC certification,” said Luke Dillinger, wood procurement forester at Domtar’s Johnsonburg paper mill, an FSC-certified facility and a major market participant for Pennsylvania forest products. “The program offers a unique, market-based mechanism to allow forest landowners to manage for the long-term health of the forest while maximizing the sustainable revenue stream off of their properties, he said.”
“Working forests are a keystone of The Nature Conservancy's conservation efforts, here in Pennsylvania and around the world,” said Bill Kunze, state director of The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter. “Harnessing the power of markets in service to the long-term ecological and economic health of our forests can yield great benefit for both people and nature.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.