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Carbon Offsets Could Help Fund Forest Restoration In Northern Arizona

srp planting trees
(Photo courtesy of Salt River Project)
Salt River Project (SRP) was one organization that supported the development of the methodology. The SRP offers a program that allows customers to contribute to a fund to plant thousands of trees to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere..

Two students at Northern Arizona University have developed a first-of-its-kind methodology for calculating the carbon stored in forests. They want to use it to generate funds for restoration.

Katharyn Woods and Spencer Plumb wrote the methodology as part of their master’s degrees at NAU. Woods calls it a “rulebook” for calculating how much carbon is stored in a restored ponderosa pine forest, compared to one still at risk for catastrophic wildfire.

“So basically when we maintain forest cover, we maintain live trees that are actively sequestering and storing carbon,” Woods said.

The methodology estimates how much carbon is stored long-term at a restoration site, plus the carbon saved by avoiding catastrophic wildfire.

This number is called a “carbon offset.” Plumb said companies will buy offsets to meet their sustainability goals.

“We think there’s a real market for this type of credit that’s generated locally,” Plumb said, “so that’s the whole reason why we wanted to start this, was to find another tool to help pay for restoration.”

The National Forest Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and Salt River Project supported the development of the methodology. It’s awaiting approval from the American Carbon Registry.

The public can comment until Aug. 17.

Baseline

This schematic shows carbon fluxes on the landscape in current Southwest forests, with no active management and high risk of catastrophic wildfire. The methodology accounts for carbon lost to the atmosphere by wildfire and the long-term losses of ecosystems that transition from forest to scrubland.

Restoration

This schematic shows carbon fluxes on the landscape in restored Southwest forests. The methodology accounts for carbon lost in activities that reduce forest density (thinning and burning) and the carbon saved long-term by forest cover and the reduced risk of catastrophic wildfire.

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Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University.