Five Ways to Prepare for Carbon Offsets Markets

By Megan de Graaf, Forest Ecologist, Posted on June 12, 2023

A Short Guide for Land Stewards

Forest carbon offsets opportunities available to forest stewards are starting to pop up across the Maritimes. Each program is different and will vary in its accessibility, requirements, and the amount that it pays for carbon offsets. While you continue to evaluate emerging opportunities, there are several things that you can do right now to best position yourself and your forest:

  1. Know your forest, know what you have.

Having a clear picture of the age and species composition of stands, and the condition of trees, across your forest, is an important first step. Most carbon offset programs are only viable for forests that are more mature or carbon-rich than the region’s average or status quo forest condition. That’s because current offsets programs mostly reward carbon storage in forests for being above something called the regional baseline – the average carbon across the region. So you can’t evaluate your likely eligibility for a given program until you know what you have – that could be by doing a thorough review of your forest yourself, or by hiring a forestry professional to do a forest inventory (also known as a ‘cruise’) for you. Frequently, this kind of inventory is standard as part of developing a management plan, and in some parts of the Maritimes, the cost of these plans is even partially subsidized. 

  1. Cut some if you want, but don’t cut too much.

Since forest carbon offsets programs mostly compare a participating forest’s carbon stocks against a regional baseline, harvesting too much could reduce your eligibility for such programs. There’s a fine line to tread – undertaking light, infrequent, and thoughtful selective harvests could keep your forest above that regional baseline, and even set your forest up to sequester and store more carbon in the long term. Harvesting too much could delay your ability to participate in a forest carbon offsets program or negate your eligibility altogether.

  1. Prioritize climate-focused management and silviculture.

Many forest carbon offset programs that are coming to the region are a style called Improved Forest Management offsets – and they actually require a certain amount of ongoing management (and harvesting) over the life of the project (typically several to many decades). Climate-focused forest management encourages more carbon-rich and climate change-resilient species to grow through different interventions and often produces timber as a by-product. Some tree species are projected to fare better than others as the climate continues to change, and this varies somewhat from one part of the Maritimes to another. Familiarizing yourself with this style of forest management now will set you up well to continue that work once enrolled in a carbon program and maximize your forest’s carbon storage potential. A forestry professional can help advise you on what this management could look like – again, a management plan can help with this.

  1. Consult with experts & build a relationship with a trusted forest advisor 

There are forestry professionals in the region who can help you navigate the ever-changing forestry and carbon offsets landscapes. These professionals are continually building their knowledge and understanding of climate-focused forest management. They can help create a plan for your forest that prioritizes near- and long-term management for carbon offsets. These professionals are often associated with forest owner co-ops and marketing boards, or with small companies with clear objectives towards ecological forest management.  

  1. Leave some carbon-rich permanent reserves. 

It’s tempting to actively manage all parts of your forest, but in many cases, nature has already made the best choices. If you have a stand of old, shade-tolerant species (like sugar maple, yellow birch, ironwood, hemlock, red spruce, or black spruce), then consider leaving that stand largely unmanaged. These old forest stands are critically important for certain species of plants and animals who rely on those special habitats for their survival. And since old forests are rapidly disappearing across the region, yours can do double duty as an important habitat and a valuable carbon reserve! This is another great opportunity to speak with your trusted forestry professional about what activities should or should not be done to keep any special old forest stands on the landscape for as long as possible.