It’s a hot day. But deep in the Nisqually community forest, there’s no shortage of shade as my photographer and I work around the lean trees and towards a pair of researchers.
A familiar cracking and popping sound echoes around us as we walk over old fallen branches to the forest floor before it is interrupted.
“Alright, what’s the matter,” says Sam Tharpgeorge, a researcher with Resilient Forestry.
Carson, a recent University of Washington graduate and work partner of Tharpgeorge, calls remotely between two trees, then scribbles down the information.
They trace trees inside the forest. The couple sit around a tree and start calculating the distance from a point they have plotted on a map and the trees themselves. The measurements include the width and height of each tree.
âThis tree has a little basal scar,â Tharpgeorge explains as Carson types notes and measures on a tablet.
We have been guided in this area by Jeanette Dorner and Joe Kane, the current and former executive directors of the Nisqually Land Trust. The measures are part of a plan that will ultimately end with the nonprofit selling verified carbon credits to companies to raise money to manage this land for years to come.
Carbon credits are a way for companies to offset the damage they cause to the environment. The direct or indirect combustion of fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Having carbon credits is one way for companies to try to offset their footprint. By measuring the amount of carbon extracted from the air by the Nisqually Community Forest, the nonprofit can be verified in the form of ‘credits’, which can be sold to companies looking to clean their wallets while climate change is becoming a bigger problem in today’s world. world.
âThe earth doesn’t take care of itself,â says Kane. âPeople think so. This is not the case. A carbon market is an excellent mechanism to cover this kind of cost.
The goal of the Nisqually Land Trust is to acquire and manage essential land for the benefit of the water, wildlife and people of the region.
One of the ways they try to do this in the community forest is to buy property that was once managed, like a timber plantation – to get it back to what it once was. The sale of carbon credits makes it possible to finance it. The same goes for allowing the harvest of specific trees while leaving the majority of the forest intact.
Much of the land that has been purchased by the Land Trust in recent years was heavily forested in the past. Some portions have been clear cut, which means no trees have been left behind.
As the forest grew back, it came back thick with trees struggling for sunlight, blocking the bottom of the forest floor and making it almost impossible for the smaller plants to be present, needed by animals in the lower levels of the forest. forest. As we walk through more recently purchased sections of forest, there are examples – places where little light reaches the ground and tree branches have died from competing with each other.
Research in this forest shows that younger and less mature trees need more water. Older trees are the opposite. They release water into the soil during key times of the year.
As Kane explains, by encouraging trees to mature faster, they can increase flow in the watershed, which will help two types of critically endangered salmon in the area.
âBy clearing these dense forests, the trees that we allow to spring up,â says Kane. âThey age faster. They sequester more carbon. They control more water … which is good for our endangered species.
In other words, helping the trees helps the salmon. Dorner goes even further.
âA lot of people don’t understand this connection between the health of our community and the health of these wild places,â she says. âThe tribes that have lived here since time immemorial – they understood these connections, and they still understand these connections. They handled the landscape in a different way to make sure those connections were healthy. “
The community forest has also developed. Over the past year, a major land purchase has been announced. Between the land trust and the community forest, more than 8,000 acres are now under their control.
It is hoped that by targeting the land between a state forest and the national park, they can connect wildlife habitat to ensure the survival of various species – not just protecting the land. Additionally, the plan has been to slowly purchase connected land at higher and higher elevations, creating a retreat path for animals as the climate changes.
It is not cheap. And with soaring timber prices, there is stiff competition for land.
Dorner says she is an optimist – something that is required in this area of ââwork. It’s a daunting task: saving various species, securing the survival of a forest for a future generation, and returning the land to practices that hark back to the local Nisqually tribe, long before Washington existed.
âThat’s part of the reason we were created,â she says. “Work with the tribe to help take care of these special places so that they can continue their tradition and way of life.” Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about – saving what we can. After all, climate change, species loss, and the health of our waterways are all linked in this forest.
Dorner may also have a reason for his optimism. The Nisqually community forest is no longer isolated. In recent years, grant funding for these types of projects has increased, and at least 20 similar community forests have now sprung up in Washington state.
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