DNR Launches First-in-the-Nation Carbon Project, Protecting Forests and Creating Over a Million Carbon Offset Credits
News Date: 
April 6, 2022
   

Project will preserve 10,000 acres of Western Washington’s most ecologically valuable forests; generate millions of dollars in revenue for schools and counties throughout the state

 
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday morning announced the launch of a historic carbon project on state trust lands that will offset millions of metric tons of emissions by protecting an estimated 10,000 acres of Western Washington’s most ecologically valuable forests.
 
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz launched the initiative today, signing a Commissioner’s Order and moving 3,750 acres into protection status. The forests will be entered into leases, similar to existing DNR leases for businesses like renewable energy or agriculture, which stipulate their use for storing carbon and generating revenue for state trust land beneficiaries through carbon markets. The revenue will generate tens of millions of dollars for the schools, colleges, and critical local services that state trust lands support.
 
The DNR initiative represents the first time that a state agency is using carbon markets to immediately remove stands from the planned harvest schedule, many of which were slated for imminent logging. These stands have high ecological value and carbon sequestration potential, but were not protected by existing policy.
 
Over 900,000 carbon offsets credits will be generated from the project in just the first ten years, which is equivalent to offsetting over 2 billion miles driven by gas-powered cars, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies. Commissioner Franz joined Tribal leaders, environmental advocates, business leaders, and carbon market industry experts at a press conference today at Capitol State Forest to announce the project, which establishes Washington state as a national leader in innovative carbon market opportunities.
 
“This represents the next generation of carbon projects – a truly transformative approach to preserving our most ecologically valuable forests and supporting our communities,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “The climate crisis is at our doorstep, and now is the time for bold measures to reduce carbon, protect ecologically significant forests, and provide needed revenue for public schools, libraries, and hospitals. This project is a true win-win for our environment and our communities, and I am thrilled to make Washington state a leader in carbon market opportunities and create a model that can be used on public lands throughout the country.”
 
The project is broken into two phases and will launch in Whatcom, Thurston, King, and Grays Harbor counties. Project priority areas in Phase One were selected due to their high valued ecological forests that are not currently protected from harvest. The selection of Phase Two project areas will be guided by the High Conservation Value framework, an internationally recognized approach used to identify ecological areas for conservation in the context of natural resource management.
 
This carbon credit plan adds to the existing 840,000 acres of DNR-managed trust lands statewide already managed for conservation – including more than 50 percent of land west of the Cascades – and 130,000 additional forested acres protected in natural areas.
 
Since statehood in 1889, DNR and its predecessor agencies have sustainably managed state trust lands to produce nontax revenue for beneficiaries. DNR’s timber sales program generates about $180 million per year for schools and counties across the state, many in rural areas. The new carbon project honors the agency’s fiduciary duty to beneficiaries by seeking to lease land for carbon sequestration and storage at a price that is reflective of the economic value of logging. Similarly, by diversifying revenue streams, there will be greater financial stability and certainty to beneficiaries.
 
"This initiative is so exciting; this protects the forests natural habitat and ecosystem; protects historical and traditional Indigenous lands. And, takes significant steps to sequester carbon, in our fight against global warming,” said Squaxin Island Tribal Council Chairman Kristopher Peters. “This initiative restores our environment and will play a large role in our holistic approach towards saving our sacred salmon and our beloved Salish sea."
 
The High Conservation Value framework criteria used to determine project priority areas include:
  • significant concentrations of biodiversity;
  • significant landscape-scale ecosystems;
  • rare, threatened, or endangered ecosystems and habitats;
  • basic ecosystem services in critical situations (e.g. watershed protection, erosion control);
  • areas or resources fundamental to meeting basic needs of Indigenous populations and local communities;
  • areas or resources critical to Indigenous populations’ and local communities’ traditional cultural identity.
 
Of the 3,750 acres protected during the project’s first phase, 2,500 were part of planned harvests and will now be utilized for carbon credits. The remaining 1,250 acres are being protected through existing DNR policies. Areas included in Phase Two will be announced within the next year.
 
“Expanding and protecting our forests in Washington is the right thing to do. We are seeing our salmon runs disappear and with them our treaty rights and our culture,” said Willie Frank III, Chairman of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. “We need to protect the river systems from the mountains to the sea, and our forests are a key part of these living systems. Our salmon and our forests are forever connected. As one goes, so does the other. This is a big step toward protecting and restoring our forestlands and therefore our salmon and our tribes.”
 
Under Commissioner Franz’s leadership, the agency convened a Carbon Sequestration Advisory Group in 2019. This project is a culmination of that work and adds to the agency’s ongoing commitment to climate resilience and a modernized approach to sustainable forest management. In 2019, DNR launched the Trust Land Performance Initiative process to develop new financing tools and practices while promoting greater transparency and more reliable revenue for beneficiaries.
 
Commissioner Franz has overseen the agency’s first Plan for Climate Resilience and leases of state trust lands for solar power projects. Franz has also expanded DNR’s wind power program, with 20 turbine installations on state trust lands that can generate more than 200 megawatts of power.
 
“In Washington, our forests are a part of our heritage and a key part of our future. As part of our work to tackle the climate crisis, we must invest in nature-based climate solutions that also provide healthy habitat and clean water,” said Nature Conservancy in Washington State Director Mike Stevens. “The research and actions we undertake in Washington advance our understanding of the role of forests for carbon storage and serve as a model for effective climate action.”
 
DNR is partnering with Finite Carbon, North America’s leading developer and supplier of forest carbon offsets, to ensure the project represents durable and verifiable carbon sequestration and is soliciting commitments and interest from significant companies who recognize the value of this endeavor.  
 
“We applaud the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for its leadership," said Caitlin Guthrie, Director of Forest Carbon Origination for Finite Carbon.  "We're proud to partner with the state to develop a carbon offset project that recognizes the uniquely important role forests play in Washington's communities and drives deeper emissions reductions by prioritizing offset quality over offset quantity.”
 
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