Regions Northern Virginia

Firm’s goal is to make preservation profitable

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Jeff Waldon, chief technical officer of Alexandria-based Forest Carbon Offsets LLC, might say that the reverberation is heard around the world.

Trees, Waldon explains, are our natural defense against greenhouse gases, yet in countries such as Brazil, forests are disappearing at a rate of 1 to 3 percent a year. This loss accounts for 15 to 20 percent of the annual carbon dioxide releases into our atmosphere, more than all the emissions created by the world’s transportation networks, he says.  
That’s where Forest Carbon Offsets comes in. Its eight partners, most of whom have had decades of experience in the lumber industry or the forest conservation field, formed their company in April 2009 to work with private landowners to make preservation profitable — or at least self-sustaining —  through the sale of carbon-offset credits.

Carbon offset credits are a U.N. creation based on an international treaty called the Kyoto Protocol. (The United States is not a signatory to the protocol.) Kyoto laid the groundwork for a so-called cap-and-trade system in which polluters — be they airlines or industrialized countries — can offset their emissions by buying credits from entities that provide a counterbalance, such as rainforest owners. Credits are expected to sell for $3 to $15 a ton of offset emissions.

The Boden Creek Ecological Preserve, about 13,000 acres of pristine rainforest in Belize, is Forest Carbon Offsets’ flagship project.

At the time that the preserve was bought in 1998, the rainforest was in danger of being cut down to provide fields for crops such as bananas and citrus. The property now is used to support ecotourism in the region.

With the technical help of Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute, Forest Carbon Offsets spent about a year measuring and cataloguing trees and studying satellite imagery. Then the company used mathematical models to figure out how many credits the forest was worth, says O. Keister Evans, the president and CEO of Forest Carbon Offsets.

During the 25-year life of the project, Waldon estimates that Boden Creek should offset the equivalent of the carbon dioxide produced by the burning of 140 million gallons of gasoline, which should be worth about 1.3 million credits.

In July, FCO’s findings passed the rigorous review of an international organization called the Verified Carbon Standard, making Boden Creek the first project of its type (classified as a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plan) in the world to receive that certification. The credits went up for sale in August, and FCO will receive a percentage of the proceeds.  

FCO has the connections and the capabilities to carry off Boden Creek, says its CEO, and it is moving forward on much larger projects, such as the 130,000-acre Gallon Jug Farm, also in Belize. “I don’t know of any other U.S. company that is doing what we are doing,” Evans says.

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