St. Lawrence Land Trust has been working with Clarkson University and Thousand Islands Land Trust to develop an experimental carbon offset project involving carbon sequestration. This initiative is being pushed by Clarkson University’s Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.

 

What is Carbon Sequestration?

Carbon Sequestration is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (the most commonly produced greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere through promoting photosynthesis and storing that carbon in soil, forests and wetlands.   Avoiding deforestation and protecting carbon already trapped in forests is a good way to offset the carbon being released by human activity. 

What are Carbon Offsets?

Most human activity generates greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide.  The goal of most Climate Action plans is to reduce the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere, resulting in global warming.  However, reducing our levels is not going to get the numbers to zero.  Instead, finding other ways to capture carbon, through promoting forest conservation, can offset, or equal, the amount of carbon being produced.  So, for every ton of carbon produced by human activity, money is spent to preserve forests, resulting in carbon neutrality. 

Carbon Offset Project

The concept of this partnership project is to have Clarkson University pay for the establishment of a conservation easement on private property in St. Lawrence and Jefferson County. In exchange for paying the transaction costs, Clarkson University will claim the carbon benefits. The carbon benefit from a conservation easement comes from restricting future development of the parcel of forested land, thereby assuring that the carbon already sequestered in the forest is preserved and that additional forest growth continues to sequester new carbon.

As an example, imagine a 100-acre forested parcel passing from one generation to the next with 4 siblings inheriting the parcel. The parcel may be split into 4 separate, 25-acre parcels, with deforestation occurring on each to allow the addition of more buildings and open space. This trend towards subdivision may continue with succeeding generations. In contrast, with a conservation easement, the forest land is conserved, and future development concentrated on specific sections of the property. Thus, perhaps 90 of the original 100 acres of forest land with an easement will still be a forest in 200 years, enabling family traditions such as hunting and the ecological integrity of the parcel to be preserved. From a carbon perspective, during those 200 years, the protected forest will continue to sequester carbon, removing it from the atmosphere

As a pilot project, this effort will help to refine the concept and develop the protocols for this type of carbon offset for higher education with a longer-term goal to continue this effort by supporting additional conservation easements to help meet carbon neutrality goals.

St Lawrence Land Trust’s Role

St. Lawrence Land Trust (SLLT) and Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) are working to identify parcels in their service areas (St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties) that have the highest priority for conservation, work with landowners to establish the easement, and long-term monitoring and enforcement. In 2019, we presented the carbon offset project concept at a statewide meeting of land trusts, as well as at a conference on the model we used to identify the most valuable carbon parcels. We investigated a number of possible partners, and we are currently working with several landowners interested in collaborating on the pilot project.

Mutual Benefits

A partnership among colleges, land trusts, and landowners is a win-win-win strategy. Clarkson University will benefit from the carbon sequestered in the parcels, SLLT and TILT will conserve ecologically critical habitat, and the landowner will gain the benefits of property under easement while not having the financial burden of easement transaction costs and stewardship fund contribution. 

 

For more information on how conservation easements work, click here.

Graphic by The Appalachian Mountain Club

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