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Storing carbon in the Sierra

Sun file photoThe Truckee Donner Land Trust owns the 1,400-acre plus Waddle Ranch, but the Truckee-Tahoe Airport District has the carbon sequestration rights.
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With climate change confronting the Sierra Nevada, new ideas ” and perhaps new economics ” are beginning to take hold.

Likely a new term to most people, the idea of carbon sequestration is being considered by environmentalists and business groups alike as a way to go green ” as in trees and money.

Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon to reduce or slow the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.



“The only way you can really take carbon out of the air is through photosynthesis in plants,” said Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council. “And the Sierra is already one of the largest contributors in the world to carbon sequestration.”

But as a business mechanism, a landowner with hundreds of acres of trees can’t just start selling carbon offset credits to businesses trying to mitigate their global warming emissions, Frisch said.



First, landowners have to get a carbon inventory done, establishing how much carbon is taken in by their forest, Frisch said.

Then, owners have to create a plan to increase that intake, and that increased amount of carbon intake is what can be sold as credits, he said.

“If a business is looking to improve its environmental standards they can either reduce or offset their carbon output, and this gives them a tool to do that,” Frisch said.

That would create revenue that could go back into forest management, which could help with fuels management and fire prevention, Frisch said.

Thinning would accomplish two goals; reducing fire hazard and promoting the growth of larger trees, which are able to take in more carbon.

But the program is in its infancy, so many factors remain unknown, from the price credits would go for to how much additional capacity the Sierra has, Frisch said.

As one of the first steps in creating such a program, the Sierra Business Council approached the Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board about Waddle Ranch, the 1,462-acre former cattle ranch north of Highway 267 that the airport helped purchase.

“Currently, as of the purchase, the Truckee Donner Land Trust owns the land, but the airport has the carbon sequestration rights, that’s why we are the lead agency on this,” said Mike Scott, assistant general manager for the airport district.

A recent Sierra Business Council presentation to the district was only for informational purposes, so no decision was made about carbon sequestration, Scott said.

“The decision of whether this makes sense for the airport or not could mature over the next few months,” Scott said. “If we decided to move forward, the process of getting inventoried credits validated would be a longer-term process.”

A similar practice was used in the Northeastern U.S., Frisch said, where sequestration programs reduced acid rain producing nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide were successfully reduced by 70 percent.

“This is a new concept for the region,” Frisch said. “But it could be a very significant contribution to the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.”


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