WASHINGTON — The recently signed budget reconciliation law provides the Forest Service with $450 million to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by aiding private landowners with the costs of addressing climate change.
The funding includes $250 million for grants to reduce the upfront costs of entering private carbon and environmental markets for forest owners of 2,500 or fewer acres and underserved forest owners, which includes military veterans, beginning forest owners and minority landowners.
A separate $150 million in competitive grants would go to forest owners classified as underserved to use for climate mitigation or forest resiliency, and another $50 million in competitive grants would go to states and other entities to pay for forestry practices based on the best science available.
The total $450 million in competitive grant money is a small share of the $5 billion the legislation appropriates for the Forest Service.
But small forest owners say it could make a difference.
Small forest owners told the Senate Agriculture Committee last year that they often can’t afford the technical assistance or other costs associated with getting into environmental markets where they could generate more income by sequestering carbon in soil and trees to produce credits that are sold to businesses that use them to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
“When family landowners are left out of these opportunities, it means rural and climate-impacted communities are left out of these important opportunities to take local climate action, to support forests and forest health, and local economies,” said Kedren Dillard, an fourth-generation African-American forest owner in Virginia. Dillard said land owners of color also have additional challenges in securing financing because of inequities in lending institutions.
About 423 million acres, or half the nation’s forest lands, are in private hands with the majority of the properties owned by families or individuals, according to the Forest Service.
Danny Cullenward, policy director for CarbonPlan, sees an opportunity for the Forest Service and its parent, the Agriculture Department, to aid landowners and set standards that result in additional reductions of carbon and other greenhouse gasses. CarbonPlan is a nonprofit organization that analyses climate solutions.
Cullenward and other critics of many carbon markets say they too often trade credits that are not tied to actually increasing the volume of emissions sequestered in trees and soil.