City has opportunity for carbon income

Despite the fact the forest industry in the northwest is a shadow of its former self, there’s still a lot of money to be made out of trees

Despite the fact the forest industry in the northwest is a shadow of its former self, there’s apparently still a lot of money to be made out of trees.

At least that’s the hope of the Coastal First Nations group of the mid and north coast. And they won’t have to cut a single branch to make literally millions of dollars. It’s all based on the idea of carbon offsets/credits.

Basically the concept is all the trees up in this neck of the woods daily absorb carbon from the atmosphere. So you calculate how much carbon is absorbed and that’s the carbon offsets you can sell.

What are those worth? The Globe and Mail story I read said, “Currently, offsets are selling for about $10 per tonne and the project is expected to generate up to 1 million tonnes of offsets a year.” That’s $10 million a year. For watching trees grow.

Puts me in mind of a line from the Dire Straits ‘80s hit: “Get your money for nothing.”

That’s not a criticism of the Coastal First Nations. More power to them if they’ve figured out an easy way to turn trees into cash. However, I have a suggestion on how they could do even better financially.

Back in the ‘90s when I covered the forestry beat for The Terrace Standard I would pore over documents prepared for the B.C. chief forester that he needed to set the annual allowable cut in this area.

At the risk of oversimplification, the annual allowable cut or AAC was volume based – X cubic feet per year – so forestry staff had to estimate what volume of harvestable timber was out there at the time of the review and would be there in the years to come.

Which in turn involved rating the growth potential of different sites – good, medium, poor – since obviously the annual volume increase for trees on poor sites would be significantly less than that for good sites. And that rating was in turn based on how fast trees were growing on those sites at the time of the AAC review.

One year somebody worked out the growth ratings were flawed in that you had sites which consisted of old trees that were “bulking up” relatively slowly and had therefore been assigned a medium ranking. But in fact they were in reality good sites.

Look at it this way: a two-year-old toddler today will grow dramatically over the course of the next 15 years. While a senior will not.

It’s the same with trees: young ones grow faster which means they absorb more carbon per year than is the case with old growth giants. So if you log the slow-growing trees on good sites and replant, the more carbon that will be absorbed annually and the more credits you have to sell.

Of course there would be a cost to logging, but I suspect that would be more than offset by the increase in saleable carbon credits.

It also occurs to me that there might be an opportunity here for the City of Terrace. How much carbon is absorbed by the trees it has planted along the Grand Trunk path? Look at all the trees in city parks, the trees the Greater Terrace Beautification Society planted around the Sande Overpass, etc., etc. And surely Terrace Mountain must be worth a few bucks.

Of course, the value of the carbon credits associated with these trees won’t be in the tens of millions a year.

But for a cash-strapped community such as ours, every little bit helps.

Just a thought.

Malcolm Baxter is the former editor of The Northern Sentinel now living in Terrace, BC. Email