An orange sunrise viewed through mist over a forested landscape.
Hemlock tree at sunrise Sunrise over wetlands at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. © Kent Mason

Stories in West Virginia

Forest Carbon Programs

Engaging landowners in restoring forestlands to their ecological and economic potential

West Virginia’s forests are among the most biodiverse and resilient in North America and are home to a rich array of plants, animals, and unique landforms. These forests provide clean air and water to millions of people in the eastern United States, act as an avenue of migration for a multitude of species affected by climate change and store vast amounts of carbon. The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia is implementing and supporting innovative programs that contribute to a world where people and nature thrive by leveraging the financial incentives of the forest carbon offset markets to make tangible, lasting conservation impacts on West Virginia and the entire globe. These complementary programs open the forest carbon offset markets to landowners that may not have previously had access to the markets while contributing to The Nature Conservancy’s goals of conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia has a unique opportunity to open sustainable sources of revenue for West Virginia's landowners while contributing to natural climate solutions. 

In forest carbon offset markets, landowners are paid for a service that their forest provides: sequestering and storing carbon from the atmosphere. Through natural processes, West Virginia's trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert the carbon to wood fiber while releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. When utilized in long-term wood products such as lumber, that wood fiber stores the carbon from the atmosphere over many years. The carbon that is stored long-term above and beyond the common practice is serialized and becomes carbon credits. Emitters of carbon dioxide that wish to offset their emissions are able to purchase these carbon credits from landowners for scrubbing their carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in a landowner's trees and long-term wood products produced from the property. This system of creating, buying and selling carbon credits is known as the forest carbon offset market. 

The forest carbon offset markets have largely favored large industrial ownerships. However, approximately 38% of U.S. forests are in the hands of family forest owners. The pallet of TNC's forest carbon offset initiatives aims to make the forest carbon offset markets approachable to a wide range of landowners, from small family ownerships with 50 acres, all the way to large industrial ownerships that are interested in contributing meaningful natural climate solutions. 

Forest Carbon Programs Available in West Virginia

The Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP), a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the American Forest Foundation, targets small landowners from 50 to 2,400 acres. 

The Working Woodlands program targets landowners with at least 2,000 acres and combines forest carbon, conservation easements and sustainable forest certification into one program to make large-scale conservation and climate impacts while supporting the local sutainable timber markets.

Working Woodlands

The Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program accelerates large-scale forest protection by assisting private landowners in protecting their working forestlands with conservation easements. This includes promoting sustainable timber production and providing landowners with a new income stream by selling carbon credits generated by the forest.

Why does West Virginia need the Working Woodlands program?

Recent surveys by The Nature Conservancy indicate that 80 percent of all forest harvesting in West Virginia is via high grading, a poor management technique that removes only the best timber from a forest, and therefore degrades carbon stocks, timber quality and wildlife habitat over time. While high grading may increase timber revenue from the first harvest, it can result in a 35 percent reduction in net present value of timber over the rotation of a forest due to loss of commercial species over time. These commercial species lost from the stand are some of the most valuable mast-producing species for wildlife as well. Further, health and resilience of a forest is diminished over time through high grading techniques.

The Working Woodlands program provides economic benefits to private landowners through the sale of carbon credits and value added from sustainable forest products certification and ecologically-sound forest management plans to assist landowners in maintaining the quality and health of their forests.

How to Participate in West Virginia's Working Woodlands Program

The Working Woodlands program is currently seeking landowners with large properties in West Virginia that may constitute good demonstration sites or contribute to the goal of connectivity within the Central Appalachians. Much of this area lay along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains in a north-south corridor that connects the southern Appalachians to the northern Appalachians.

Landowners who own a minimum of 2,000 forested acres may be eligible to enroll their property into Working Woodlands. To enroll in Working Woodlands, a qualifying landowner is required to sign their forested acres into conservation easements and long-term management agreements to prevent conversion into non-forest uses and unsustainable management practices. 

Interested landowners should contact workingwoodlands@tnc.org with the following information (which will be kept strictly confidential):

  • Name/Email/Telephone Number
  • Total Acres/Total Wooded Acres
  • Property Address
  • County
  • Tax Map ID#

After the certification process facilitated by The Nature Conservancy, these properties then become part of a network of voluntary carbon offset projects that collectively have an impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are to unlock the potential of our nation’s private forests to mitigate the effects of climate change, then family landowners who are managing the largest share of the nation’s forests are an integral part of the solution. Today, most family forest owners are left out of the carbon markets that would make it possible for them to take action on their land. The Family Forest Carbon Program is designed to change that.

The Family Forest Carbon Program

The Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP) is a partnership of the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), working with leading U.S. businesses, state and federal agencies, and America’s 21 million family forest owners to mitigate climate change on a globally significant scale.

The FFCP incentivizes specific forest management practices which have been scientifically demonstrated to enhance carbon sequestration, improve forest health, and provide other important ecosystem benefits. The implementation of these practices across a known acreage will result in sequestration reportable in tons. By managing just 20 percent of family forest acres with practices that optimize carbon sequestration by 2030, we have the opportunity to sequester approximately 3.5 gigatons of CO2 through the balance of the century.

How it Works

The FFCP is designed to remove one of the most significant barriers for family forest owners to sustainably manage their forests—the high cost of forest of management activities—while also providing technical assistance and professional guidance to landowners on the best options for their forests.

It also removes one of the most significant barriers that keeps family forest owners from accessing existing carbon markets by lowering traditionally high transaction costs. Because the FFCP monitors practices instead of calculating carbon on each forest parcel, which is resource-intensive to continually inventory and monitor, we reduce the transaction costs to landowners by at least 75%.

By opening up new markets for family forest owners, greater numbers of these landowners can participate and create income, all while making a significant contribution to the nation’s climate mitigation strategy. This new model of climate finance is an innovative way to provide rural landowners with the funding required to sustainably manage their forests.

The program will produce valid and scientifically defensible carbon claims at a landscape scale, while also delivering many environmental co-benefits, like wildlife habitat and water quality. We will verify our results through a random sampling of properties that will receive full, on-the-ground monitoring, which will improve the modeling over time.

Bringing the Family Forest Program to West Virginia

The FFCP is designed to work with family forest owners who own 30 - 2,400 acres of forestland. Through the program, private landowners will work with professional foresters to implement one or more practices designed to improve forest health and wildlife habitat across the region while increasing the carbon sequestration potential of their individual property. These practices are consistent with forest management needs in the region and restore forests to provide more suitable wildlife habitat for species of concern and support long-term sustainability of forest product markets.

  • Enhancing the Future Forest: Reducing the overabundance of vines in tree canopies and controlling invasive plants that outcompete native trees, this practice increases carbon sequestration and storage by regenerating young trees and increasing the growth rates of existing mature trees. The practice also provides healthy wildlife habitat, and ensures the future supply of forest products.
  • Growing Mature Forests: Extended harvest cycles allow a forest to grow older and trees larger than average forests in the landscape. If desired, the practice permits one timber harvest over the contract period. The practice promotes long-term forest health benefits and improves habitat for wildlife associated with mature forests. This practice increases the number of high-quality, large diameter trees and improves the commercial and environmental value of the woodland while maintaining a working forest.

How to Get Involved

The Family Forest Carbon Program offers a unique opportunity for family forest owners to do what is best for their land while getting paid for it. By bringing more landowners into the market for carbon, foresters and local partners have a new path to reach their goals for private forest management, conservation outcomes, and improving the health and resiliency of landscapes in their regions. Together, we can have a significant impact on local economies, ecosystems, and global climate mitigation efforts.

For information on how to check your property’s eligibility, please visit: https://www.familyforestcarbon.org/

Contact

Aaron Holley, Conservation Forester
aaron.holley@tnc.org 
(304) 621-6149