Nature's Comebacks: Planting Trees to Offset Carbon

The Nature Conservancy strives to conserve the diverse plants and animals representing the Earth’s diversity. In recent years, this work has become more important in light of scientific evidence revealing that greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere are on the rise, causing increases in temperatures and significant changes to the natural environment by way of sea level rise, species declines, shifting weather patterns and more intense storms. 

The Delaware Chapter's efforts to combat these trends received a boost in recent years thanks to a $99,946 grant awarded by the State of Delaware's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Project.

“This grant was used to plant 55,000 trees and shrubs on 60 acres of farmland at the Conservancy’s portion of the Milford Neck Conservation Area,” says John Graham, the Conservancy’s land steward. “It provided a valuable opportunity to achieve our traditional objectives to protect important habitat while offsetting harmful carbon in the atmosphere.” 

Volunteers from the University of Delaware, Dover Air Force Base, Bank of America and the Conservancy membership helped with restoration efforts by planting willow oak, white oak, tulip poplar, red maple, sassafras, arrow-wood viburnum and winterberry holly – vegetation that is indigenous to the surrounding area and were once part of the native forest. AstraZeneca provided matching funds for trees and shrubs and the GreenWatch Institute contributed towards the purchase of mulch and fencing needed to protect the new plantings from deer browse and rubbing.

Adds Crystal Nagyiski, DNREC’s Energy Efficiency Program Manager, “Our intention was to create the equivalent of an environmental ‘triple play’ by returning land to its former forested state and natural beauty, providing shelter for endangered bird populations and offsetting harmful carbon emissions.”

According to Nagyiski, the reason why the Conservancy’s work at Delaware’s Milford Neck landscape caught the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Project’s attention can be boiled down to two words: carbon sequestration. When trees and plants grow and thrive, they take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, branches, trunk, stems and roots. This process, called sequestration, reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities.

At the Milford Neck project site, the carbon sequestered by the trees and plants could offset the equivalent of what 2,833 cars emit during one year— an estimated 17,500 tons of carbon emission. It’s expected that the project will provide additional co-benefits to the State in the way of wildlife habitat enhancements, adaptation to climate change, improved air and water quality, and public education and awareness.

“We hope this project serves both as a pilot on which to expand the geographic scope and size of future carbon sequestration projects in Delaware, as well as a demonstration project for other organizations and agencies interested in pursuing similar work," says Graham. “It’s starting to look like a forest.”  


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