The forests of the Clinch Valley help filter and protect the last free-flowing tributaries of the Tennessee River system.
Clinch Valley: The forests of the Clinch Valley help filter and protect the last free-flowing tributaries of the Tennessee River system. © Jon Golden

Stories in Virginia

Clinch Valley Conservation Forestry Program

An innovative effort to protect and restore Appalachian forests for people and nature.

With careful and far-sighted management, we have an incredible opportunity to enrich both the economic productivity and ecological health of our forests far into the future.

We created the Clinch Valley Conservation Forestry Program to demonstrate better forest management in the Appalachians. The program emphasizes long-term stewardship, making our forests healthier, more diverse and more valuable places in the future.  Our improved management of the Clinch Valley’s forests is also creating new opportunities for TNC to collaborate with partners.

Forester Stuart Hale examines a tree core sample, Clinch Valley, VA.
Conservation Forestry Forester Stuart Hale examines a tree core sample, Clinch Valley, VA. © Alex Novak / TNC

Our on-the-ground operations are designed to enhance a wide range of forest resources, including soil and water quality, high-value timber, carbon storage, and sensitive wildlife habitat. All management, including our timber harvesting, is guided by principles set forth in an Operations Plan prepared in consultation with many forestry and wildlife professionals.

Our Conservation Forestry Program involves a unique arrangement with private landowners in southwestern Virginia. While retaining ownership of their properties, they transfer timber and ecosystem service rights to the Conservancy through permanent forest management easements. In return, forest owners receive annual payments based on the value of their timber.

The Conservancy makes all forest management and harvest decisions, and the generated revenues help sustain the program. The partnership ensures that the properties remain as working forests rather than succumbing to development or other land-use changes.

The program launched in 2002 when America’s oldest cattle ranch, Stuart Land & Cattle Company, committed 5,750 acres. Today, our Conservation Forestry Program manages 22,052 acres across the Clinch Valley.

Forest Carbon Offsets
Stuart Hale measures a tree in a forest being managed for carbon sequestration through Virginia's Clinch Valley Program.
Conservation Forestry Stuart Hale measures a tree in a forest being managed for carbon sequestration through Virginia's Clinch Valley Program. © Alex Novak / TNC

Forests help fight climate change by storing carbon in the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves of trees. Since healthy forests absorb more atmospheric carbon than degraded ones, protecting and restoring healthy forests is a key strategy in solving the challenges presented by climate change.

TNC has undertaken an effort to credibly quantify the additional carbon stored through improved forest management in the Conservation Forestry Program. Employing methods of measurement and monitoring from the highly respected Climate Action Reserve (CAR) forest carbon standard, 474,737 metric tons of carbon dioxide have been successfully verified through 2014 by an accredited third-party auditor, with more expected over time.

This was a landmark achievement, as it represents the first forest carbon project in Virginia to be verified and registered to rigorous CAR standards. 

All management, including our timber harvesting, is guided by principles set forth in an Operations Plan prepared in consultation with many forestry and wildlife professionals, as well as third party verified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

This has also opened new doors for sustainable conservation funding through partnerships with companies like Delta Air Lines, who offers their customers the opportunity to offset emissions from air travel with carbon credits sourced from the Virginia Conservation Forestry Program.

THE CALIFORNIA EFFECT

In 2014, the Clinch Valley Conservation Forestry Program became the first forest management project in Virginia - and the first Conservancy project in the nation - to be issued regulatory offsets from California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32).

The regulatory program established under California’s Climate Change law requires regulated entities to reduce their emissions of climate change gas and allows them to meet a portion of their legal obligation with offsets approved by the state. The companies can buy offsets from anywhere in the country, including Virginia.

Through the fall of 2016, our southwestern Virginia forests had yielded credits to offset the equivalent of using 37 million gallons of gasoline. With California’s legislature extending the program through 2030, market stability is generating increased revenues, which will enable more on-the-ground forest restoration—a big win for climate, habitat and water quality.

CONTACT the Clinch Valley Conservation Forestry Program

Greg Meade
Program Manager
gmeade@tnc.org

Conservation Forestry Improved forest management will enhance water quality and provide carbon sequestration.