Project Evaluation of Sustainable Upland Hardwood Management in the U.S. South with the Monetization of Carbon
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Many studies have demonstrated that working pine forests can be cost-effectively managed to enhance carbon sequestration under various, mostly hypothetical compensation frameworks but none have assessed the creditable carbon potential or financial viability of rarely employed sustainable forestry practices in upland hardwood forests, the South’s most abundant, complex and exploited forest type. This study examines the economics of sustainable forestry in the Southern Appalachian Mountains with and without the monetization of carbon due to the region’s importance to eastern hardwood timber production and its overarching ecological significance. The primary constituent of the landscape, upland oak forests, face a confluence of threats to their continued prevalence in the region and are declining in the absence of recommended oak-sustaining silviculture, which will have serious implications on the biota of these forests. This analysis was therefore conducted to assess the viability of oak-management at the project level for a hypothetical Appalachian hardwood forest according to the updated Climate Action Reserve (CAR) forestry protocol to see if this program lends itself to mitigating both greenhouse gas emissions and the potential ecological calamity associated with oak decline. A dynamic 100 year model was built with the Forest Vegetation Simulator to best approximate real world conditions. Even with an appreciable reduction in harvesting on 20 percent of project area and lower harvest intensities on the rest of the forest compared to business as usual (BAU), the accrual of creditable carbon was almost negligible, suggesting the hurdles required of such projects are too high. Project implementation under all but one tested-variation of the protocol was found to dramatically worsen its viability relative to the timber-only project scenario; though none were as cost-effective as the BAU scenario. While CAR employs a standardized performance benchmark and requires proof of regulatory additionality, its forest management methodology appears to lend itself primarily to forestland owners that value non-timber benefits over benefits from sustainable timber harvesting. An alternative baseline linked to anticipated management was the only variation that rendered CAR participation more economic than the timber-only scenario. The problems and potential solutions identified herein certainly need to be examined in future CAR protocol revisions and studies.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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