Case Studies

Funding Conservation with Carbon Sequestration – Downeast Lakes Land Trust

In November 2013 the Downeast Lakes Land Trust (DLLT) registered a forest-carbon offset project with the California Air Resources Board (ARB), one of the first two “improved forest management” (IFM) projects  in the nation registered for California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program. DLLT specializes in working forests, and manages its lands to support biodiversity, recreation opportunities, and a sustainable timber economy.  To qualify for offsets, the trust has agreed to follow the ARB’s Compliance Offset Protocol for U.S. Forests, which requires forest-management projects to maintain or increase forest carbon stocks above the expected levels under typical commercial forest management for 100 years – objectives that were compatible with the DLLT’s existing stewardship actions and stocking plans. This carbon project covers more than 19,000 acres of the trust’s 33,700 Farm Cove Community Forest in eastern Maine, and registered nearly 200,000 offsets; each offset is equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide.

Carbon offsets from the Farm Cove project are “compliance-grade,” meaning that they were developed to and registered under the California ARB’s cap-and-trade program AB 32, which is intended to reduce GHG emissions in California to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and achieve an 80 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. Mandatory compliance with the emissions cap began on January 1, 2013 for electric utilities and large industrial facilities in the state and will begin in 2015 for distributors of transportation, natural gas, and other fuels. The owners of these facilities can purchase offsets to meet their GHG emissions obligation, and in 2013, offsets from the 19,118 acre project were purchased for $1.5 million – money which the land trust is reinvesting to support the acquisition of a keystone portion of neighboring working forest land for the creation of the West Grand Lake Community Forest.

Value of the land and habitat

The Downeast Lakes region covers the inland portion of the eastern corner of Maine.  An eco-tourism, hunting, and fishing haven, the region’s fisheries, including native landlocked salmon and brook trout, as well as smallmouth bass, are world-renowned. The area is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, and at least 180 species of birds, and boasts an extraordinary wealth of natural resources. Guiding, logging, and traditional crafts such as canoe building and ash basket weaving provide many local jobs, all of which depend on public access to healthy forests.

Formed in 2001 to address growing development pressures and shifts in large-scale forestry, the trust has three guiding priorities: wildlife habitat, public recreation, and a sustainable timber economy. The Downeast Lakes Land Trust views habitat management and timber harvesting as highly compatible, and implements focus species forestry to protect and enhance biodiversity in its working forests. By implementing forestry practices that emphasize increased stocking and species diversity, the land trust’s working forests are able to support a sustainable timber economy while protecting forestland species.  These efforts are perhaps especially critical in this transitional landscape composed primarily of mixed Acadian forest with some spruce-fir, and northern hardwoods.

Conservation concerns

Maine’s Interior Washington County is a unique landscape, both ecologically and socially. The Downeast Lakes Land Trust was formed in 2001, primarily as a response to general change in forest ownership and management, with less land being held by timber companies and pulp mills, which tended to have more long-term management goals for their lands. As the markets have changed the tendency has been more towards investment ownership with more heavy timber harvests. Expanded development pressure was an impetus to action. Committed to the long-term economic and environmental well-being of the region through conservation and exemplary management of its woods and waters, DLLT has become a significant driver of conservation and natural resource protection.

DLLTmap

What’s being done and how

The Downeast Lakes Land Trust acquires working forests to support economic and environmental objectives.  These goals are achieved through focus species management planning, which aims to integrate timber management and conservation of biodiversity by identifying and managing for a select group of “umbrella” fish and wildlife species whose habitat needs cover those of many other forest species. Working with the Maine Natural Areas program, DLLT has identified priority areas for habitat protection such as “deer yards” – areas primarily of closed-canopy softwoods that provide winter habitat for browsing species – and focus species management considerations are integrated into working forest plans.

The trust’s carbon offset project is on land previously owned by Typhoon LLC, a timber investment management organization which purchased the property from Georgia-Pacific in 1999. The trust’s sustainable forest management practices are Forest Stewardship Council certified by the Rainforest Alliance. According to a forest-management certification reassessment report released in September by the Rainforest Alliance, the trust typically harvests about 8,000 cords per year of primarily hemlock, along with spruce, mixed hardwoods, fir, and white pine on its 33,700 acres of working forests. These practices support sustainable timber extraction as well as biodiversity and recreation, and enable the land trust to secure additional funding for other conservation objectives.

Under its project with the California ARB, which was developed and transacted by Finite Carbon, the trust must maintain forest stocking at or above current levels, a 100 year commitment that was compatible with existing management goals of increasing timber stocking from 18 cords per acre to 22 cords per acre.  If stocking increases from the current 18 cords per acre, the trust will accrue additional offsets for the added volume. If the trust sells those additional offsets, it will essentially have committed to maintaining that level of stocking for 100 years from the date of the sale.

Current implementation status

The Farm Cove Community Forest Carbon Project has been implemented –and the Downeast Lakes Land Trust is working to increase stocking rates providing opportunities for additional offsets. Meanwhile, DLLT has set its sights on a $19 million acquisition, targeting 22,000 acres of “keystone” habitat in a 1.4 million-acre international corridor of conserved forests and wetlands between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. With funds from the sale of carbon offsets as well as generous support from the community and the public and private sectors, the land trust has purchased a conservation easement on the property and is quickly approaching its fundraising goal to acquire fee ownership of the property.  From there, other carbon offset projects may be in the works – after all, carbon sequestration is compatible with the land trust’s management practices and mission, and can provide an important source of funding to support further conservation work.

Engaging Stakeholders

Community engagement has focused on gaining support for further acquisitions. Grand Lake Steam is a small community in Maine with a town meeting form of government, so community buy-in is critical. When support for the 22,000 acre acquisition of keystone habitat — called the West Grand Lake Community Forest Project — was proposed at a town meeting, the measure passed unanimously, and the community committed to providing a $40,000 investment in the project.  This strong local support and the successful project that has also been helpful in other fundraising efforts. By communicating these success stories, this land trust is building a reputation for excellence and demonstrating that carbon mitigation projects can pay off to support biodiversity, recreation, and continued conservation work.

Key Partners

  • Numerous foundations and individual donors
  • Finite Carbon (ARB project development and offset transaction)
  • New England Forestry Foundation (holds some easements)
  • State of Maine
  • Land for Maine’s Future
  • USFWS (provided conservation funding support)
  • Forest Legacy Program

Next steps

With one year remaining in the West Grand Lake Community Forest campaign and about $2 million left to raise, this acquisition project is currently an all-consuming focus for this small land trust. Once the land is acquired it will take some time to integrate the property into the land management system, which reflects the long-term objective of demonstrating exemplary management and conserving additional lands. Interior Downeast Maine has rich natural resources and much land in need of conservation – the Main Natural Areas Program has identified several forested and non-forested areas as “exemplary habitats.” As all of DLLT’s working forests qualify for carbon mitigation offsets, future sales of additional offsets remain a viable possibility.

Lessons Learned

  • Build on partnerships and rely on the strengths of others. The ability of a nonprofit conservation organization to partner with a full service carbon developer has provided great capacity to complete the project and transact Farm Cove carbon offsets – the developer’s portion of the registered compliance offsets was well worth the value they added.
  • Community support is critical. Conservation is a bottom-up proposition, and these projects have been driven by community support. A Board of Directors, staff, and volunteer base rooted in the local community are essential components of DLLT’s success.  By supporting the local tourism, recreation, and timber-based economy, the trust ensures the land will be conserved, and future generations will be around to act as its stewards.
  • Carbon offset projects can complement working forest management protocols. The ability to maintain active management while meeting offset protocols made the certification and sale of carbon offsets a win-win project. As stocking increases according to species-focused management plans, additional offsets will become available, creating additional funding opportunities which will continue to support conservation efforts.