The Biden administration has committed USD 150 million to connect underserved and small-acreage forest landowners with carbon markets.
The US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grant program today (Australian time) and said the program would address the challenges that smaller landowners have with connecting to carbon markets.
“For those small, privately held forest owners to be able to do what they need and want to do requires a bit of technical help,” Secretary Vilsack said.
“And sometimes that technical help is not easy to find. And it’s certainly not easy to afford.”
The grant money comes from the sweeping climate law passed by Congress and targets underserved landowners, including military veterans and new farmers, and families owning 2,500 acres (or 1,011 hectares) or less.
The US government has emerged as a world leader in carbon forest management; last month, the Biden Administration committed USD 300 million to improve the measurement of carbon emissions in farming and forestry.
President Biden has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, and agriculture and forestry play a key role in achieving this.
Afforestation has strong bipartisan support, with the House Republicans supporting tree planting and carbon offsets as it pivots on climate change.
“We need to manage our forests better so our environment can be stronger,” McCarthy said.
According to Secretary Vilsack, the goal is to protect more tracts of US forest to help fight climate change.
“The past decade has seen a rapidly expanding market in which companies pay landowners to grow or conserve trees, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere, to counterbalance their carbon emissions.”
However, the expansion in carbon markets has not led to greater adoption of small-acre forests until now.
For owners of smaller family tracts, Secretary Vilsack said, selling carbon offsets or other credits would give them an alternative income.
The President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation, Rita Hite, said companies are already pouring billions of dollars into environmental credits, but small landowners face daunting barriers to entry.
To participate, Hite said owners need to take an inventory of their forested property, have a land management plan and run models to calculate the land’s carbon value.
“Previously, if you didn’t have 5,000 acres or more, you weren’t participating in these markets,” Hite said. “Not only are there technical hurdles, but also financing hurdles.”
The Associated Press reports that the American Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy launched a joint program four years ago that covers many of the costs for family landowners.
Under the new Biden program, groups and other nonprofits can apply for grants of up to $25 million to help landowners directly.
So will state forestry agencies, university agricultural extension services and others.
John Littles, a Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Network leader welcomed the grants.
The group represents 1,600 Black landowners across eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
“Most of the time, we’re left out — more specifically, people of colour,” Littles said.
“We’re not allowed to help design the programs, so the programs are mainly now designed for large landholdings and large acreage.”
Littles said his network plans to apply for a grant under the new program. But he’s not sure how much demand there will be from landowners.
He said that will largely depend on whether owners of smaller acreages can get enough money from conservation credits.
“I think it’s still early to tell,” Littles said. “But it has to be a benefit for the landowners.”
Hite of the American Forest Foundation said landowners with small acreage shouldn’t expect big profits from selling environmental credits.
She said owners enrolled in the group’s Family Forest Carbon Program earn, on average, about $10 per acre in a year.
“Is this going to matter for a 30-acre landowner? It’s not going to make them rich,” Hite said. “But it will probably pay the taxes.”