Experts Give Advice on How to Get the Best Return from Your Land
Christine Cadigan, the senior director of the Family Forest Carbon Program with the American Forest Foundation, spoke at the Georgia Forestry Association’s Landowner Summit in December about positioning private lands and family lands as a solution to climate change challenges. She explained the partnership between the American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy for small family landowners. This article is condensed and edited from Cadigan’s presentation.
What is the program?
Our program is designed based on family forest owners implementing forest management practices that have quantifiable carbon benefit above what’s already business as usual. You follow a specific silvicultural prescription, and you receive an incentive payment associated with the cost of implementing that practice. We engage these landowners to enroll in our program by providing them access to technical assistance. So we actually send boots-on-the-ground foresters to talk through the eligibility criteria for various landowners. And we provide forest management plans through the enrollment process as well. Of the landowners we’ve enrolled, nearly two-thirds had never met with a forester. So we are introducing landowners to forest management.
How much land? For how long?
Our average parcel size is 140 acres. So we are validating the hypothesis that we can build a program that works for small family landowners. We have landowners enrolled with as little as 30 acres. Right now the minimum is 30 acres and the maximum is 2,400 contiguous acres. We’ve just set that cap so that we can focus ourselves on serving the smallest landowners.
We know that contract lengths are important for small landowners. So we’ve shortened these contracts as much as possible. Depending on the practice, we have 10- or 20-year contracts available for landowners. We’re still guaranteeing our carbon benefit for 100 years. We just do that by building in permanent strategies in other ways beyond contract length.
How do I get started?
Landowners begin at an online platform where they can map their property and include some details about their property and their ownership, which helps us prequalify landowners before they actually start to talk to a contact center agent. If a landowner has participated in any other carbon project in the past, per current registry rules, we’re unable to sign them up in our program. Once a landowner is deemed eligible, we send a forester to confirm. We follow up with an estimate for the landowner to consider whether or not it’s going to align with their objectives. They’ll review the contract with their family and other owners or decision makers. And then shortly after signing, the landowner receives a first payment and any other details to help implement the practice.
How does compensation work?
Payments are made according to a set schedule. For each practice, the payment rate schedule differs. We try to give a good chunk of the payment in the first year as an incentive. The landowner is just required to keep us updated on any major changes or major harvest events or natural disasters or anything that might otherwise occur that would affect their property and the carbon that it’s producing. In exchange for the incentive payment, the program gets the rights to the carbon. And that’s what we, as a program, monetize on the voluntary carbon market and gives us the opportunity to then return in landowner payments. ■
*NOTE: The Family Forest Carbon Program is currently only available in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. The program will be piloting additional regional modules in 2023.
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