Forests and forest landowners provide important benefits to both communities and ecosystems. Clean water, clean air, natural places to play, and forest products are all critical ecosystem services. These services provide drinking water to communities, support habitat for fish and wildlife, help mitigate effects of climate change, and support other benefits that underpin a sustainable economy.

For the last decade, a variety of organizations have worked with forest landowners to help them access new markets for non-timber forest products, sustainable certification (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®)), and carbon offsets. The term “markets” can be used loosely for both voluntary markets or compensatory mitigation. Generally, “markets” are used for programs in which a landowner goes above and beyond legal requirements to create ecological benefits which are then sold to an entity (e.g. a road department or a housing developer) that is causing an unavoidable impact. Even though the word “market” is used, these programs are highly controlled and shaped by regulations and policy. These emerging markets often have very limited demand, and the ecosystem service provided for mitigation or as an offset usually needs to be geographically close to where impacts are occurring. For example, a mile of stream restored on the Olympic peninsula cannot be used to offset a new bridge project in Oregon’s Rogue River. Currently, thin demand and geographic constraints can make it difficult for large numbers of forest owners to participate in many of these markets.

NNRG collaborated the Willamette Partnership, Swedeen Consulting, FSC US, and the World Wildlife Fund to determine what small landowners can do in the absence of strong markets – either in anticipation for future markets, or for participation in other incentive and third-party certification programs. Monitoring, or quantifying ecosystem services value, is a key piece to any of these uses.

To find out more about general ecosystem services markets, see Ecosystem Services Protocols for Use on Forestlands in Western Washington and Oregon.

Forest Carbon

Forest carbon is perhaps the best developed and monetized ecosystem service associated with forest ecosystems in the world. The ability of forests to accumulate and store carbon over time is recognized as an essential part of the global carbon cycle, and as crucial to mitigating the overall impacts of climate change. Both voluntary and regulatory markets have developed which can result in payments to forest landowners for avoiding emissions and increasing sequestration of CO2 by changing their forest management practices or agreeing to perpetuate practices that maintain high carbon stocks which are not otherwise required by law or considered business as usual for the landowner. The unit of measure is a metric ton of CO2e, and usually conceptualized as an “offset” credit that can be sold to another entity to counter otherwise unavoidable emissions of CO2, usually from burning fossil fuels.

Forest carbon offset projects are built on high quality forest inventory data, and typically require strong confidence intervals for inventory plots. Inventory data on standing live and dead trees and lying dead wood is used to calculate the carbon stocking of the forest at the beginning of the project. Standardized calculations for converting tree measurements into volume, biomass, and finally carbon are specified by the protocol being used. Project information is entered into a monitoring report, which are updated each year to reflect forest growth and change in carbon stocks. Inventories are required to be occasionally verified by third-party auditors, which can be expensive.

NNRG has developed forms for landowners to collect forest inventory data, which can then be entered into NNRG’s Carbon Calculator for carbon analysis and tracking. Find these forms here.

If you want to learn more about incorporating carbon calculations into your forest monitoring, contact us!

To read more about carbon offsets, protocols, and data collection, see Monitoring Forest Carbon.

Biodiversity on Small Forest Lands

Forests on private lands of the Pacific Northwest have the potential to provide enhanced protection of biodiversity and water quality through either protection of existing fragments of complex mature forest or through the restoration of younger managed forests. The existence of structurally complex older forests on private lands in Washington and Oregon is rare and declining. These forest types are not only important for supporting native biological diversity, but also for allowing forest ecosystems to adapt to climate change. Directing funds to small forest landowners to protect and restore biodiversity and water quality has been part of the pubic discussion on forest management for several years. Even though formal Payment for Ecosystem Service programs for forests outside of carbon markets have been slow to emerge, it is still important to be prepared to take advantage of new markets and other opportunities as they arise.

Formal payment programs for biodiversity-related (and other) ecosystem services are likely to require relatively rigorous data collection. There are some examples of methodologies developed to meet this level of scrutiny; for example, the Willamette Partnership’s ecosystem services field tools.

For other landowners, less intensive monitoring may be a better fit for current objectives and needs. An abundance of research describes how structural attributes of forest stands are associated with biological diversity, which can serve as a more inexpensive proxy for biodiversity than monitoring species presence and abundance. For example, forests that support the full level of native biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest share several basic characteristics. These are: the presence of large live trees, large live trees with deformities and cavities, large standing dead trees, large down trees, a diversity of tree sizes from seedlings to very large trees, full complements of native tree and shrub species, and small gaps or openings dispersed through stands and groups of stands, which result in a diversity of shrub and herbaceous plant species.

The Biodiversity Assessment is a monitoring form developed to capture such structural and process-oriented forest characteristics. It is particularly useful as a qualitative tool for landowners with less intensive management, or managing for multiple species and objectives. It can be used to identify what actions might be taken to increase a stand’s biodiversity, and to track how harvest activities improve or degrade biodiversity.

To read more about monitoring for biodiversity for small forest landowners, see Monitoring for Biodiversity for Small Forest Landowners.