With Williamstown, Conway explores feasibility of carbon market program

CONWAY — The town is partnering with another Western Massachusetts community to explore the feasibility of entering into the carbon market, an opportunity that would help to mitigate the effects of global warming while also offering financial benefits to owners of forestland.

“We’re beginning to look at entering into an agreement with Williamstown to create a program where owners of forestland could get paid for having and implementing a Forest Stewardship Plan that would address global warming, or climate change, through participating in a carbon market,” said Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson.

A carbon market is a cap and trade system aimed at reducing the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

“If owners of forestland had their Forest Stewardship Plan certified, they could get paid by the existence of this carbon market — they would get credited for saving carbon from entering the atmosphere,” Hutcheson said. “Those credits could be used by people who were still admitting carbon into the atmosphere.”

To be carbon neutral, Hutcheson explained, the “carbon credits” saved by those who are in the carbon market could be used by others who continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere.

Hutcheson said the town is at the beginning of the process, and is trying to get a minimum of 1,500 acres of land under forest stewardship plans — a state program that aims to help landowners “protect the inherent ecosystem values of their forest,” according to the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

For example, rather than the land being maximized for logging, which contributes to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, land under stewardship plans would maximized for carbon sequestration, or carbon saving.

At a Selectboard meeting Monday night, the board approved sending out a preliminary letter to residents who own a parcel of forestland over 100 acres — of which there are about 40 individuals, according to Hutcheson.

“As emissions laws get tighter, it could be that the carbon market is going to grow and get more valuable,” he said. “It’s also getting in early in a program that may turn out to be quite substantial or provide substantial benefits.”

Hutcheson said the town is collaborating with Williamstown on a request for proposals for a consultant who would provide a “roadmap” for potentially entering into the carbon market.

“We need to inventory what’s out on that land and have an understanding … before we could enter into any carbon markets,” said Andrew Groff, director of community development in Williamstown.

At the very least, he said, the partnership will help the towns to develop “good forestry management plans.”

With Williamstown spearheading the program — which will also likely involve New Ashford to its south — it will be the town to hire and manage the consultant, according to Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch.

“About two years ago, we had a student group at Williams College do a deep dive on the feasibility and potential of carbon markets using town-owned forestland,” Hoch said. “One of the things we learned is that in order to be viable in those markets, you need to offer a critical mass of viable forestland in this kind of program. We realized even if we did every acre we had, it wasn’t going to be enough.”

When the Conway Selectboard reached out to say Conway was also thinking about forest stewardship plans and the feasibility of entering into the carbon market, a partnership was established.

“This first step is, can we actually get ourselves in a potentially market-ready position and figure out the administrative back-end of that, in terms of the types of things that are required?” Hoch said. “There’s a science behind managing forest growth, age, cover … to actually maximize carbon. It’s not as simple as leaving all the trees there and letting them grow forever.”

Unlike Williamstown, which is focusing on town-owned land, Conway will look at a combination of private and public lands for the program.

Hutcheson said some residents have verbally expressed interest in the potential new program.

“In general, it’s good public policy and Conway does have a number of residents with forestland,” he said. “And it’s a way to provide some benefits to Conway residents who might want to participate in the program.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

Author: Going Green

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