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Family Forest Owners Empowered to Address Climate Change with New Partnership between REI Co-op, the American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy

The American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy today announced a new partnership with REI Co-op, the nation’s largest membership-based co-op and outdoor retailer, to empower America’s rural family forest owners to manage their forests in ways that sequester and store more carbon. The partnership will support the Family Forest Carbon Program, a joint forest carbon project of the American Forest Foundation (AFF), a national conservation non-profit that specializes in family-owned forestland, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global conservation organization.

“REI focuses its work at the intersection of people and planet. AFF and TNC have done the same in their creation of the Family Forest Carbon Program,” said Matt Thurston, Director of Sustainability at REI. “The program is at the forefront of forest carbon strategies, using ground-breaking approaches that help small landowners join the fight against climate change.”

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Empowering Rural American Forest Owners to Take Climate Action

In the U.S., forests serve as the nation’s largest terrestrial carbon sink, offsetting 15 percent of our nation’s annual emissions. More importantly, studies suggest this could be nearly doubled – through reforestation (planting trees) and improved forest management of our existing woodlands.

To unlock the carbon potential in our forests, lawmakers should look no further than family forest owners. Families and individuals, with properties varying from 20 to 2,000 acres, collectively care for the largest portion of forests in America. Some are generations of families, others are farmers who also own trees, others are wildlife enthusiasts, and some are simply people who own forestland as part of their home. While they may all be different, they all care for land that contributes to clean water, wildlife habitat, wood supplies, and our carbon sink.

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Long-term Offtake Agreements for a Lasting Natural Climate Solution

A number of recent reports have underlined the increasingly critical role that natural climate solutions hold in helping the world stay on a path to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  According to Ceres, “we will not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement without protecting and restoring forests and other natural ecosystems and better managing agricultural land.”  Yet while natural climate solutions could provide 7 to 14 billion tons of annual mitigation by 2030, current voluntary carbon markets produce less than .5% of that potential. This is because the current state of funding for natural climate solutions (NCS) lags far behind what is needed.

How can we infuse more climate finance into NCS projects to accelerate the pace and scale of the private market, while also working to improve the quality of these projects long-term?

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AFF Applauds Introduction of the Disaster Reforestation Act in the Senate

The following statement can be attributed to Tom Martin, President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation in regards to the introduction of the Disaster Reforestation Act in the Senate (S. 2768):

“With disasters increasing in severity and frequency, the fire-prone landscapes in the West and the storm-ravaged South, a key woodbasket for the U.S. are at risk.

What’s more is that families and individuals own and care for the largest portion – 39 percent – of these forests. That’s 290 million acres. These family forest owners care about their land, but most are not wealthy landowners. One in three landowners have a household income of less than $50,000. When a disaster strikes unexpectedly, these landowners face significant financial barriers to clean up the disaster and restore their woodlands to health. Unhealthy and destroyed forests face further threats, including from invasive species and additional wildfires. This domino effect not only harms the forests but also the many natural benefits, such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and sustainable wood supplies, as well as the local communities. It’s a cycle that needs stopped.

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A Q&A With AFF’s New Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Michael Reed

The American Forest Foundation (AFF) is excited to welcome Michael Reed as the new Vice President of Policy. Before coming to AFF, Michael served as the Chief of Staff to Congressman Sanford D. Bishop (D-GA). With nearly 20 years of experience working for an appropriator specializing in agriculture and rural development issues, Michael comes to AFF ready to continue positioning AFF’s policy team as a leader on key forest policy issues.

We sat down with Michael to learn more about what he’s looking forward to in his new role at AFF. 

Favorite Tree—White Dogwood

Favorite Forest Activity— Walk in the woods

Favorite Wildlife Critter— Owl

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Determining a True Carbon Benefit Part 3: From Intention to Action

“I want my woods to be healthy.”

“I want to create better habitat for wildlife.”

“I want to pass on this land to my children and grandchildren.” 

Ask a family forest owner what drives them to own land and these are some of the most common phrases you will hear. But what do these desires have to do with measuring and calculating the carbon benefit of a forest carbon project? More than a ton, to say the least.

A forest carbon project pays forest owners to increase the carbon sequestered and stored in their forest. The project must measure the carbon impact before they are able to sell this carbon to companies in the form of verified carbon credits. 

To do this means measuring additionality or “Is the carbon generated from a forest carbon project because of the project or would it have happened absent the particular project or intervention?” 

To answer this question, most look to intention: Did the landowner intend to capture carbon in his/her trees regardless? While intention does play a role, it is often misinterpreted by those unfamiliar with the needs and behaviors of forest owners. 

Rather, to create a true carbon impact, a forest carbon project should factor intention into program design, yet measure real-life behavior. 

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Announcing the 2021 Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year

Across the U.S, a dedicated group of 70,000 family forest owners are caring for their land –  improving wildlife habitat, lowering risk of catastrophic wildfires, protecting clean water, increasing carbon sequestration, and fostering their own connections to the land. These are the members of the American Tree Farm System, a nearly 80-year old program that  represents the largest, most engaged network of landowners  managing 19 million acres of forestland, meeting a rigorous set of sustainability standards. 

Each year, ATFS, which falls under the American Forest Foundation, celebrates the work being done by ATFS-certified landowners with the Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year (OTFY) award. This award recognizes landowners that have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to caring for their forests and leadership in educating communities about the importance of conservation on family-owned forests. 

Like many other organizations, AFF and ATFS had to adapt to the challenges of the global pandemic. The health and safety of our Tree Farmers and OTFY selection committee is the number one concern. After having identified eight regional Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year finalists early in 2020, for everyone’s safety we elected to defer the selection process to 2021. 

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Celebrating Women’s Equality Day with the Women of AFF

Historically viewed as a male-dominated field, the forest sector has faced challenges when it comes to increasing gender diversity, ironically due to the lack of representation in the field. Yet data indicates that more and more women are becoming responsible for managing their family’s land. It’s important that women landowners feel that they are being represented in the field and are provided with the resources and support they need to succeed.

On Women’s Equality Day, AFF recognizes the challenges that women have overcome and acknowledges the challenges that women continue to face in order to create a more equal society where the accomplishments of women are recognized and celebrated. 

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Family-Owned Forests and Carbon

Some of the most effective solutions to addressing our climate challenges lie in our existing land and forests. Forests have the potential to store even more carbon than they do today through sustainable forest management, which has been proven to play a significant role in sequestering more carbon.

In the U.S., the greatest opportunity to do this is in partnership family forest owners, who own the largest portion – 36% – of all forests.

Forest owners values align with the needs of our climate and environment – they care about their land and its future. But the majority of landowners struggle with the cost of forest management and conservation. Adding to this, the majority of family forest owners, those owning between 20 and 1,000 acres, have been left out of carbon markets – revenue streams that could help them overcome these costs.

To address this, the American Forest Foundation (AFF), with it’s partner The Nature Conservancy have launched the Family Forest Carbon Program, a new program that empowers America’s family forest owners to address climate change.

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Loan Guarantees to Help Scale Carbon Projects for Small Forest Holders

Capitol Hill has been buzzing with conversations, hearings, and round tables on how rural America can help address climate change. One such opportunity is via carbon markets for small forest holders.

Across the U.S., the largest portion of forests are owned by families and individuals in small parcels between 20 and 1,000 acres. For these small forest owners, carbon markets provide a voluntary avenue for action, rather than a regulatory approach. And, like timber markets, signal the value in keeping their forests as forests.

More importantly, carbon markets help landowners overcome cost barriers, allowing them to bring in income from their land that helps them implement improved management practices that they would normally not be able to afford.

The good news is that carbon markets are growing. Mark Carney, chief of the private sector Taskforce for Scaling Carbon Markets, has pointed out that voluntary carbon markets will need to scale 15-fold to meet growing demand fueled by net-zero pledges made by companies. This demand and the dollars associated with carbon credits could be channeled to family and individual forest owners.

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