Climate Change

The Garcia River Forest Climate Action Project

In February 2008, the 23,780-acre Garcia River Forest project received its first verification from the California Climate Action Registry (CCAR) — a prescriptive set of standards for forest carbon projects.

Over its 100 year lifetime, it is estimated that the Garcia River Forest project will absorb and store 4.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by ensuring high forest growth rates and the development of larger and denser stands of redwood and Douglas fir.

Following the robust scientific measurement, quantification and monitoring protocols established by the CCAR (now the Climate Action Reserve), the Garcia River Forest Project demonstrates that improved forest management can achieve verifiable emissions reductions by sequestering carbon in forests.

The Forest's Conservation Significance and Benefits

The Conservation Fund acquired this heavily-cut forest property on California’s north coast in 2004 to restore important habitat and help reduce climate change. The Nature Conservancy purchased and retains a conservation easement on the property.
The forest surrounds the headwaters of the Garcia River and includes streams and creeks that provide important habitat for many rare and endemic species, including Chinook and coho salmon.

In addition to capturing and storing carbon, the improved management of this commercial forest land is:

  • Enhancing redwood–Douglas-fir forest ecosystems on a landscape scale, conserving one-third of this important California coastal watershed;
  • Rehabilitating the watershed and improving water quality;
  • Protecting regional biodiversity by protecting habitats critical to endangered spotted owl and coho salmon, as well as numerous other birds, plants, mammals and other species of salmon;
  • Demonstrating the compatibility of working forests with climate change protection by contributing timber and jobs to the local community; and
  • Establishing a site for groundbreaking research to estimate above-ground forest carbon and monitoring biodiversity conservation in working forests.

In early 2007, the first light-touch logging took place on Garcia River. The forest carbon strategy was simple - cut fewer, smaller trees than before to allow bigger trees to grow more quickly, resulting in increased carbon storage on the land. It’s a process that maximizes carbon storage and accelerates the recovery of the forest ecosystem.

As a result of light-touch logging, the local mill received 350,000 board feet of timber, allowing the Garcia River Forest to also contribute to the local economy. Since then, the project has continued to practice light-touch logging, supplying local mills with hundreds of thousands of board feet of timber, while still retaining more carbon on the land than would be present if the project were never undertaken.

How is the Carbon Monitored?

The CAR forest project protocols establish a standardized baseline by determining how much logging would be legally allowed under California Forest Practice Rules. The results of the light-touch logging at the Garcia River Forest are compared to this standardized baseline to determine the carbon benefits of the project.

Initial carbon estimates are verified by an approved independent third party. Then, annual monitoring of the project area is required by CAR to ensure that the projected carbon actually is stored. Verification of estimated carbon benefits by an approved independent third party must then occur at least every 5 years, upon which verified carbon credits are issued to the project.

The project was most recently verified to the CAR standard in June 2011, following approval of the third-party verification report prepared by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS). To date, 1,219,681 metric tons of carbon dioxide have been verified, representing carbon benefits achieved from 2004 through 2010. SCS also certifies the property for environmental integrity and sustainable forest practices under the rigorous Forest Stewardship Council system.

As required by the CAR rules, The Nature Conservancy holds a conservation easement on the property to ensure that it remains forest land through the project’s 100-year life and beyond into perpetuity. Even if the property is sold, it will remain forest land forever.

Forest Carbon: A Credible and Critical Climate Change Solution

Forest carbon projects, such as Garcia River Forest, demonstrate that forest carbon is an effective and feasible part of an overall solution to climate change.

The Nature Conservancy believes that effective international and U.S. climate change policy frameworks must:

  • Achieve significant reductions in emissions from all major sources;
  • Create incentives to reduce emissions from deforestation and to absorb carbon from the atmosphere by conservation-based forest management and forest restoration; and
  • Support adaptation strategies that help the natural world cope with the impacts of climate change.