After more than a century of logging, could letting trees live become the new business for Sierra Nevada forests?The Sierra Business Council thinks it might, using the newly-emerging field of carbon sequestration. And the Truckee Tahoe Airport District may lead the way. Carbon sequestration is the intake and long-term storage of carbon by plants to reduce the slow build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.Taking advantage of that natural process, a growing business sells credits for that stored carbon, allowing polluters to offset the greenhouse gases they create, and in theory, slow the climate change those gases cause.And with the recent purchase of Waddle Ranch in the Martis Valley, the airport may be the first property owner in the area to get in on the market.We are going to maintain the forest no matter what, but if we can use money from industries buying these credits, rather than taxpayer money to maintain it, thats a big bonus, said Dave Gotschall, general manager for the airport.The airport district is still exploring exactly what the future holds for carbon sequestration and would try to figure out how much potential for carbon storage there is in Waddle Ranch, how much the airport would need to offset its own emissions, and how much they would need to sell to break even on maintaining the forest, Gotschall said.The airport wouldnt set out to profit from the practice, instead creating a trust to fund the maintain Waddle Ranch (by thinning fuels, among other things) into the future, he said.But just how the numbers pencil out is tough to tell, said Dave Parsons, executive assistant at the airport.We dont know what we have in carbon storage, weve been told it could be anywhere from 40,000 to 90,000 tons, Parsons said. And there is still a lot of uncertainty in the market in terms of price per ton.The district already has an offer at about $10 per ton, he said, but prices vary in what is right now a voluntary market.As legislation comes to fruition, and requirements are placed on California industries, Parsons said prices could move toward where they are in Europe around $30 per ton.But while the airport district board wants to know how the numbers work, others question the idea of carbon sequestration itself.Youre proposing to develop and sell credits to allow people to continue polluting, said Andrew Terry, a new member of the Airport Community Advisory Team. Were going to leverage a community resource to allow pollution somewhere else.Reactions to carbon sequestration vary in the scientific and conservation communities from supportive to dubious.One of the biggest dangers is it is tempting for a lot of people to claim they are doing something to mitigate climate change when in fact its business as usual, said Chad Hanson, ecologist and founder of the John Muir Project.The type of practices used to maintain a forest traditionally selective logging to reduce fire hazard and open space up for other trees would actually be detrimental to both the forest and to carbon storage, Hanson said.Taking a different point of view, Thomas Bonnicksen, a retired forestry professor at Texas Aandamp;M University, said carbon sequestration projects are actually only short-term solutions.In a century its going to be over, respiration will equal sequestration, he said. You have to cut trees for wood products that will store carbon, rather than rotting wood releasing it.But in an effort to remove doubt about the legitimacy of carbon sequestration, the airport would join the California Climate Action Registry, which has the most rigorous standards for the practice in the country, Parsons said.Because there is doubt out there if this is real, the registry is set on insuring the credibility of whats going on, Parson said.The potential for carbon sequestration will go back to the airport district board in April, when they could make a decision, one way or the other, Gotschall said.
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