Case Studies

Go Zero – The Conservation Fund’s Reforestation Program

Over the past 30 years, The Conservation Fund (the Fund) has worked to protect more than 7 million acres across America. The Conservation Fund works at the intersection of conservation and community—the Fund believes that environmental protection and economic vitality are inseparable. The Funds’ major programs are unified by a focus on sustainability and environmentally responsible solutions.

One of The Conservation Fund’s most important goals is to help protect and restore America’s forests and to ensure forests’ vital role in providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and economic benefits for communities across America.  As forests become fragmented, their ability to filter our water and remove CO2 from the air is compromised and there is less space for wildlife to live and migrate. Forests filter more than half of our drinking water. They also serve as nature’s sponges by slowing and cleaning floodwaters which protect communities downstream. Furthermore, deforestation represents the second largest source of CO2 emissions on the planet. Restoring and protecting forests is an important and effective way to slow or reverse that trend.

Value of the land and habitat

For the past several years, The Conservation Fund’s reforestation efforts have been focused on the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Southeast bottomland forests were once abundant. These deciduous forested wetland ecosystems were commonly found wherever streams or rivers at least occasionally cause flooding beyond their channel confines. Bottomland hardwoods serve a critical role in the watershed by reducing the risk and severity of flooding to downstream communities by providing areas to store floodwater. In addition, these wetlands improve water quality by filtering and flushing nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing sediment before it reaches open water.

Conservation concerns

Over the course of the last century the United States has lost more than 20 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest along the Mississippi Valley, primarily because the land was converted to agriculture.  Habitat loss is more pronounced in this region than in any other area of the United States.  Restoring this area is one of The Conservation Fund’s highest priorities, resulting in an abundance of climate, community and habitat benefits for wildlife and people alike.

What’s being done and how

The Fund’s Go Zero program engages companies, their customers and employees, as well as other organizations and individuals seeking a positive response to two of our nation’s most pressing environmental challenges: habitat loss and climate change. In a time when public financing for land conservation and habitat restoration is stretched thin, voluntary contributions are providing new private capital to further the Fund’s mission to conserve and restore our nation’s land and water legacy for current and future generations.

In the Lower Mississippi River Valley the Fund is working with willing land sellers to acquire marginal agricultural lands and then restore these lands with native bottomland hardwood trees.  After these lands are restored, the Fund transfers them to the National Wildlife Refuge system.

The multiple benefits these restoration projects yield are validated under the  Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCBS).  These standards were designed to promote land management activities that mitigate global climate change, improve the well-being of local communities, and conserve biodiversity. The Refuges agree to protect and steward the trees for 100 years and all carbon credits are retired.

Current implementation status of Upper Ouachita NWR

On behalf of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Conservation Fund purchased 3,905 acres of private, marginal agricultural land within the boundary of Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge in northern Louisiana.  Using donations from its Go Zero program, the Fund restored approximately 2,606 acres with native bottomland hardwood seedlings.  The restoration took place on both newly acquired private lands as well as lands the Refuge already owned.  After the land was restored with native trees, that land was conveyed to the US Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge.  All of the newly restored native bottomland hardwood forests are  owned and managed by the Service to ensure their long-term protection and stewardship.  All carbon accrued from this project is  withheld from the carbon market and cannot be sold or banked for future offset purposes.

This project has been designed to:

  • decrease the effects of climate change via carbon sequestration;
  • restore Louisiana’s bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem for the benefit of fish and wildlife resources; and
  • create long-term community benefits in the form of enhanced habitat for wildlife and improved and expanded recreational lands under the management of the US Fish and Wildlife Service for activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, environmental education and environmental interpretation.

Key Partners

All of the Fund’s reforestation-based carbon sequestration activities are conducted with state and federal natural resource agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  These organizations employ some of the world’s top wildlife biologists, foresters and environmental professionals who serve as long-term stewards of the forests once they are restored.  In March of 2007, the Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (renewed in 2010) that allowed all 553 of the Service’s National Wildlife Refuges to benefit from the Fund’s Go Zero program, building upon nearly a decade of partnership between the Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to advance the science of carbon sequestration through reforestation.  Businesses and individuals also provide critical financial support for these ongoing efforts.

Next steps

The Conservation Fund continues  to identify opportunities to acquire and restore lands to expand the USFWS Refuge System, improve habitat, and support the ecosystem functions these systems provide, including carbon sequestration.   In addition to bottomland hardwoods, the Fund is currently working on new restoration projects that include restoration of longleaf pine in South Carolina and Tamaulipan thornscrub in Texas.

Lessons Learned

  • Partnerships are critical. The Go Zero program is made possible by its ongoing partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and by the support of its corporate and individual partners.
  • Conservation values can garner broad support. The multiple ecological and social benefits of the Go Zero restoration projects attract a wide range of supporters, including many companies whose employees and customers care about the significant co-benefits offered by these forest carbon projects, including improved water quality, enhanced habitat for wildlife and expanded public recreational opportunities. These co-benefits are also very attractive to the local communities located near these National Wildlife Refuges.