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Science and Innovations

Carbon Offsets Could Help Fund Forest Restoration in Northern Arizona

Salt River Project

Two students at Northern Arizona University have developed a first-of-its-kind methodology for calculating the carbon stored in forests. They want to use it to generate funds for restoration.

Katharyn Woods and Spencer Plumb wrote the methodology as part of their master’s degrees at NAU. Woods calls it a “rulebook” for calculating how much carbon is stored in a restored ponderosa pine forest, compared to one still at risk for catastrophic wildfire.

“So basically when we maintain forest cover, we maintain live trees that are actively sequestering and storing carbon,” Woods says. The methodology estimates how much carbon is stored long-term at a restoration site, plus the carbon saved by avoiding catastrophic wildfire.

This number is called a “carbon offset.” Plumb explains companies will buy offsets to meet their sustainability goals. “We think there’s a real market for this type of credit that’s generated locally,” Plumb says, “so that’s the whole reason why we wanted to start this, was to find another tool to help pay for restoration.”

The National Forest Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and Salt River Project supported the development of the methodology. It’s awaiting approval from the American Carbon Registry. The public can comment until August 17.

Credit Woods et. al. in prep
This schematic shows carbon fluxes on the landscape in restored Southwest forests. The methodology accounts for carbon lost in activities that reduce forest density (thinning and burning) and the carbon saved long-term by forest cover and reduced risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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