Switzer Fellow Concept Paper Realizing the Potential for Carbon Sequestration on Appalachian Mountain Club Forest Lands Organization

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Switzer Fellow Concept Paper
Realizing the Potential for Carbon Sequestration on

Appalachian Mountain Club Forest Lands
Organization: Appalachian Mountain Club

5 Joy St.

Boston, MA 02108


Contact: Dr. David Publicover, Senior Staff Scientist

PO Box 298

Gorham, NH 03581


Organizational description: Founded in 1876 and headquartered in Boston, MA, the AMC is the nation’s oldest recreation and conservation organization. AMC’s mission statement states “The Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.” The AMC has more than 100,000 members, advocates, and supporters, including 12 local chapters from Maine to Washington, DC, more than 16,000 volunteers, and over 450 full time and seasonal staff. AMC’s activities and programs include operation of over 50 recreational facilities throughout the northeast (most notably a series of high mountain huts in the White Mountain National Forest), outdoor recreation trips and programs, trail construction and maintenance, environmental education, and conservation advocacy and research. Initiated in 2003, AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative includes nearly 70,000 acres of forest land in the 100-Mile Wilderness region managed for a combination of outdoor recreation, natural resource protection, sustainable forestry, and community partnerships.
The AMC seeks a Switzer Fellow to provide leadership to an emerging effort to maximize the carbon sequestration potential of AMC’s forest lands in service of AMC’s mission and organizational goals. The position would be housed in AMC’s Research Department at the AMC’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in the White Mountain National Forest, located on Route 16 south of Gorham, NH.
AMC’s mission statement is to “promote the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions” and addressing climate change today is part of the organization’s focus. Action to address climate change is relevant to several goals set forth in the club’s “Vision 2020”1:

  • Leading Regional Conservation Action

    • Educating and motivating members, guests, and other outdoors people on ways to reduce their recreation-driven carbon footprint.

  • Realizing the Larger Opportunity in Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness through AMC's Maine Woods Initiative

    • Creating a new replicable model for landscape-scale conservation, backcountry recreation, public access, and economic sustainability.

    • Strengthening our sustainable forestry program as a regional model for balancing recreation and forestry.

  • Advancing Excellence in Outdoor Recreation and Leadership Training

    • Demonstrating the highest levels of environmental stewardship, education, and sustainability at all destinations.

Over the past decade AMC has become actively involved in efforts to combat climate change in selected areas that are germane to this mission. Our involvement is described on AMC’s web site and in the club-wide energy policy2 and takes many forms:

  • Research into historical climate trends on Mount Washington and the effects of climate change on the region’s mountains.

  • Educating our members and the public about climate change issues and the need for energy efficiency and conservation.

  • Advocating for public policies addressing climate change and the transition to a more “carbon-friendly” energy economy and infrastructure.

  • Engagement in rulemaking for and permitting of energy generation and transmission projects.

  • Supporting forestland conservation and sustainable forest management practices aimed at maintaining and increasing carbon storage in the region’s forests.

  • Completion of a carbon offset project on a portion of the Maine Woods Initiative lands.

AMC has made an organizational commitment to reducing our own carbon footprint by 80% from our 2004-2005 baseline by 2050. Steps taken to meet this goal include increasing the energy use efficiency of AMC’s facilities, utilizing on-site renewable energy sources, promoting the use of remote communications rather than physical travel, and promoting the use of carpooling and public transportation by staff and visitors to AMC’s facilities.

AMC has been estimating its carbon footprint since 2003. The latest figures (2014) show estimated total operations emissions of 1,346 mT CO2e3. The major contributors to this footprint are transportation4 (37%), on-site fuel consumption (33%), purchased electricity (25%) and solid waste disposal (5%). This is down from the 2004-2005 average of 1,645 mT CO2e (a reduction of about 18%). The annual footprint shows significant variability, increasing when new facilities are opened and decreasing when major energy efficiency or renewable energy projects are completed5. In 2014 about 30% of this footprint was offset through the purchase of “green electricity certificates” (Renewable Energy Credits or RECs).
A more significant source of carbon emissions is the travel of overnight guests to AMC’s facilities, which is not considered part of the operations footprint but has been included to reflect the total organizational carbon footprint. A 2003 estimate (which included only travel to WMNF facilities and Cardigan) put this figure at 1,850 mT CO2e/year – larger than the total operations footprint. This estimate has not been updated to reflect travel to other AMC facilities and other factors.
Meeting this 2050 organizational carbon footprint reduction goal will take many additional steps, especially if guest travel is included in the calculations. Further improvements in energy efficiency, the installation of renewable energy generating technologies at AMC’s facilities and increased purchase of RECs or other types of carbon offsets will continue, but these efforts will not fully meet AMC’s operational carbon emissions nor address guest transportation emissions. Nationwide, transportation is now overtaking electrical generation as the leading sector in greenhouse gas emissions6. AMC s dilemma is that it mission recognizes that “successful conservation depends on active engagement with the outdoors, we encourage people to experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural world.” Such “experiences” typically involve travel and the resultant greenhouse gas emissions; the larger tourism industry is also dependent on travel and faces this same challenge. Outdoor recreation areas are frequently poorly served by mass transit and achieving effective, large scale carpooling by vacationers is problematic.
One factor that has not been considered in AMC’s carbon footprint calculations is carbon sequestration in AMC-owned forests. The nearly 70,000 acres of AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative (MWI) lands7 (plus smaller properties such as the 1200-acre Cardigan Reservation in New Hampshire) are sequestering significant amounts of carbon, even in areas where timber is being harvested. This raises several questions: How might carbon sequestered in AMC’s forests be best utilized in service of AMC’s mission? Might some of this carbon be used to offset AMC’s organizational carbon footprint or guest travel to AMC facilities? How should AMC balance potential economic return versus non-economic values of carbon sequestration? What are the additional ecosystems services to potentially be gained through a forest carbon sequestration project?
Carbon sequestration on AMC’s forest lands
A small portion of AMC’s forest lands (most notably Cardigan) consists of mature forest with relatively high levels of carbon stocking (but still capable of significant additional sequestration). However, the majority of the MWI lands consists of early- to mid-successional forest due to their long history of commercial timber harvesting, which have the potential to sequester large amounts of additional carbon for the next century or more.
Several assessments have been done to estimate the carbon sequestration potential of some of these lands. In 2007 a rudimentary estimate was done for AMC’s Katahdin Iron Works parcel, which estimated a sequestration rate of 14,000 to 17,000 mT CO2e/year based on growth and harvest modeling done for the forest management plan8. As noted in an internal memo on this estimate,
it appears that annual sequestration of carbon on the KIW property may be 9 to 12 times the annual C footprint of AMC’s operations, or 4 to 5 times if both operations and visitor travel is included.
While a crude estimate, it provides an indication of the size of potential forest carbon sequestration relative to AMC’s carbon footprint.
A more refined estimate for the KIW property is now available. In 2014 AMC completed an official forest carbon offset project9 with the Climate Action Reserve, which included the 10,000 acres of the KIW property designated as permanent ecological reserve. Project modeling projects an average sequestration for the project area over the next decade of over 6,000 mT CO2e/year. An assessment done earlier this year of the potential for a carbon offset project on the KIW non-reserve lands estimated near-term sequestration of over 10,000 mT CO2e/year at currently planned harvest levels. In total this comes to over 16,000 mT CO2e/year for the entire KIW property, which is consistent with the earlier estimate.
No estimate has been done for the Roach Ponds tract but it is likely to be in the same ballpark as the KIW tract – perhaps 10,000-15,000 mT CO2e/year.
A recently completed (and very rough) estimate for the Cardigan Reservation indicated potential annual sequestration in the range of 700 mT CO2e/year.
In total these estimates indicate that AMC’s forest lands are sequestering carbon at a rate that far exceeds AMC’s organizational carbon footprint, even given the ongoing timber harvesting program on MWI lands.
Utilizing AMC’s forest carbon sequestration in service to the mission
Even if AMC makes no specific use of sequestered carbon it will provide numerous benefits related to AMC’s mission. AMC’s actions in protecting forest land from conversion, retaining high-carbon forest and increasing carbon stocking in sustainably managed areas are widely recognized as important steps to combat climate change. AMC’s forests also provide a wide range of “co-benefits” including recognized high priority wildlife habitat in the state Wildlife Action Plans for Maine and New Hampshire, recreational opportunities, and support to local economies.
However, beyond these inherent benefits of forest land conservation, the carbon in AMC’s forests may provide additional specific benefits, both financial and mission-related:

  • It may be harvested and sold as timber, providing income to AMC to offset the costs of land ownership and support its mission (our “green endowment”) as well as a source of renewable raw materials to local mills and support for the local economy.

  • It may be developed as an official forest carbon offset project as has been done for the KIW ecological reserve. The “offset credits” registered through such a project are a marketable commodity that may be sold for income that would be used to support AMC’s mission. The development and use of offset credits are recognized as an economically efficient tool in the effort to combat climate change.

  • Credits could be sold to our guests to offset the carbon footprint of their vehicular travel to our facilities. This would both provide income to AMC (which could be used for climate change related projects such as financing additional energy efficiency projects) and help to offset the organizational carbon footprint.

  • The sequestered carbon could be applied directly to offsetting AMC’s organizational carbon footprint. While this does not provide income to the club it would help us reach an important mission-related goal. There could be a financial benefit to using forest carbon in this way if it precluded the need to purchase RECS or offset credits from an outside source.

AMC’s properties vary in their ability to contribute to these different uses for sequestered carbon:

  • The KIW ecological reserve prohibits timber harvesting but is the site of our completed carbon offset project. Credits through 2019 are committed for sale but credits beyond that are available for sale or internal use.

  • The Roach Ponds ecological reserve also prohibits timber harvesting, and the easement also precludes it from being developed as an official offset project. However, it could be developed, following standard protocol as a non-registered project for internal carbon offset purposes.

  • The Baker Mountain ecological reserve is also precluded from development as an official project, because much of the area is steep and economically inoperable.

  • The non-reserve parts of the KIW, Roach Ponds and Baker Mountain properties could be developed as an official offset project, and much of the land is also actively managed for sustainable timber production. Because of the relatively low stocking on much of the property (due to previous commercial timber harvesting) the economic viability of s an officially registered project today is an open question.

  • The Cardigan Reservation is legally available for timber harvesting but AMC is unlikely to pursue this activity due to the conflict with the high level of recreational use. It has a high level of carbon stocking and could be developed as an official offset project, but due to its relatively small size the economic viability of such a project is also unknown.

Some questions
Determining how the carbon sequestration potential of AMC’s forest lands might best be utilized in service of AMC’s mission would involve answering many questions. The following are some of the major ones.

  • What is the most financially beneficial use of a unit of carbon sequestered on AMC lands?

In addition to the inherent non-financial benefits of carbon sequestration, this carbon also has a variety of potential uses that have financial benefit to the club as set forth earlier in the document. For example, an earlier assessment indicated that at current prices a unit of carbon has more value when harvested as timber than sold as an offset credit. However, changes in the relative value of these products could alter this balance. The ability to sell carbon credits could provide a hedge if there were to be a decline in prices or markets for our harvested timber.

  • How might we credibly make use of “unofficial” credits?

There are portions of AMC’s property that are sequestering significant amounts of carbon but which are precluded from being developed as an official project due to existing reserve easements (e.g. the Roach Ponds reserve) or which may not be financially viable as a project (e.g. Cardigan). The carbon sequestration credits on these lands could be calculated following a recognized protocol but they would lack the third-party verification or listing on a recognized registry (such as the Climate Action Reserve) that is part of the project development process. How might AMC make a credible case for the internal use of these unofficial credits (for example to offset the organizational carbon footprint)? Would it be possible to obtain an unofficial but thorough third-party verification (which would come at a significant cost)?

The role of a Switzer Fellow
We are seeking to engage a Switzer Fellow for the purpose of addressing many issues associated with the broader question of how AMC can best utilize the carbon sequestration potential of AMC’s forest lands in service of our mission. The Fellow would provide analysis and information that will guide future decisions about issues and questions raised in this paper.
Among the tasks that would or could be undertaken by the Fellow are:

  • Conduct a more refined estimate of the viability of a carbon offset project on MWI managed lands using existing inventory information.

  • Assess the financial tradeoffs between timber harvesting and carbon credits on MWI managed lands under a range of prices for both products.

  • Conduct a more refined estimate of the viability of a carbon offset project on the Cardigan Reservation (including conducting a field inventory).

  • Develop an estimate of unofficial carbon credits that would accrue for the Roach Ponds reserve (including conducting a field inventory).

  • Develop a more refined estimate of the carbon footprint of guest travel to AMC facilities.

  • Evaluate issues (ethical, public relations, etc) related to using unofficial credits for internal AMC purposes (primarily offsetting organizational carbon footprint).

  • Investigate the practicality of and procedures for selling carbon credits (official or unofficial) to AMC guest to offset their travel to AMC facilities.

  • Develop educational materials for AMC staff, board and members on issues related to forests, climate change and AMC lands.

  • Work cooperatively with AMC staff to develop a long-term plan on how best to utilize the carbon sequestration potential of AMC’s forest lands.

  • Assessing how well AMC’s experience and gained knowledge can extrapolated to broader issues and landscapes. On a larger scale these results could have precedence for other conservation forest lands and addressing the tourism transportation travel sector, whose greenhouse gas emissions are currently not regulated (unlike the electrical generation sector).

Participation in this project would provide the Fellow the opportunity to utilize and enhance their knowledge and skills in a range of areas related to the relationship between climate change and forests, including ecosystem service and forest carbon offset markets, regional forest ecology and management, forest inventory and modeling, organizational carbon footprint analysis and economic analysis.

We do not expect the Fellow to possess all of the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out this project. Our work in this area over the past decade has involved an extensive learning curve and we expect the Fellow to be part of this on-going organizational education. The primary requirements for the Fellow are strong written and verbal communications skills, strong quantitative abilities and experience with using geographic information systems. However, knowledge and experience in one or more of the areas outlined in the previous paragraph would be highly beneficial.
Timeline: The appointment would initially be for one year with the expectation that it would be extended to two or more years. . The Fellow will work with AMC staff to develop a Switzer Leadership Grant proposal. AMC has other funding proposals it is also pursuing. This position will be open until filled and funding is achieved.
Switzer Fellows interested in pursuing this opportunity should contact AMC Senior Staff Scientist Dr. David Publicover at the contact information at the beginning of this paper.

1 See http://www.outdoors.org/about/amc-vision2020.cfm.

2 See http://www.outdoors.org/pdf/upload/2015_Energy_Policy.pdf#search=energy%20policy.

3 Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

4 This includes AMC fleet vehicles, staff travel and staff commuting.

5 Notable changes since 2014 include the opening of Harriman Outdoor Center in New York, the planned reopening of Medawisla Wilderness Lodge in Maine and the installation of a large solar array at Cardigan.

6 Transportation has now surpassed electrical generation as the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. (See http://www.vox.com/2016/6/13/11911798/emissions-electricity-versus-transportation.)

7 MWI lands include the 37,000-acre Katahdin Iron Works property (purchased in 2003), the 28,000-acre Roach Ponds property (2009) and the 4,000-acre Baker Mountain properties (2015).

8 This estimate did not exclude inoperable lands, which should not be included since they do not pass the additionality test. However, it included only growth of stem wood and did not include branches or carbon storage in harvested wood products.

9 In this paper the term “official” project (or credits) refers to those that have been verified and registered with a recognized registry such as the Climate Action Reserve. “Unofficial” credits are those that AMC has quantified according to a recognized protocol but which have not been verified and registered and which may not be sold to outside buyers.

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