A bid to sell carbon credits in the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) is moving forward with a project validation process getting underway that's expected to take between two and three months to complete.
Ecotrust Canada, a charitable organization working to build a conservation-based economy, has been working with the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) for the past seven years and has committed to the project. It believes it's the best possible way to ensure a healthy forest for the region and to create a revenue stream that supports low impact forest management into the future.
"The Cheakamus Community Forest could be the first forest tenure in Canada to succeed with a forest carbon project," confirmed Satnam Manhas, Ecosystem Services Program Manager for Ecotrust Canada. He also emphasized that it's been a complicated process to get to this point. "We frequently find ourselves in a place with this project where the rules of engagement have yet to be invented."
Since the creation of the 33,000 hectare Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) in 2009 — a joint partnership between the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Squamish Nation and Lil'wat First Nation — the goal has been to protect environmental and recreational values, while using low-impact harvesting techniques to meet the provincial government's annual allowable cut requirements. Currently, the CCF is obligated by its forest licence to harvest 20,000 cubic metres of timber per year (roughly 40 hectares), averaged out annually over five years.
However, by using lower impact cutting techniques, protecting other values and cutting less wood than the previous tenure holder, there's a net reduction in carbon being emitted. Manhas said that gap is where the opportunity lies.
The concept for a forest carbon project was first discussed over 2007 and 2008, and finally accepted in April 2012. It required multiple steps along the way, including negotiating an agreement-in-principle with the provincial government that will see carbon revenues shared between the CCF and the province.
The next step, according to Manhas, is to have an independent validator confirm how much carbon can be sequestered in the forest, given the Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) plan that has been developed for the CCF.
Once validation is complete, the verified carbon credits can be sold into the market in five-year increments. Carbon modelling suggests that from 2008 to 2013 some 42,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were saved in the CCF tenure, and the CCF is projected to reduce carbon output by another 50,000 tonnes from 2013 to 2018, and 57,000 tonnes from 2018 to 2023.
Carbon credits sell anywhere from $9 to $19 per tonne, although public agencies like school boards and hospitals have been required to purchase credits from the Pacific Carbon Trust, a Crown corporation, for $25 per tonne. The province is reviewing the program and prices.
Public agencies have been asking for the ability to purchase carbon from the free market. Local governments have also demanded the ability to spend carbon credit funds on local carbon reduction projects to reduce their costs in the future.
Revenues from carbon sales, based on current negotiations with the province, would see 80 per cent of the credits going to the CCF and 20 per cent going to government for the first year, with the province's share increasing over the next two years to 37.5 and 50 per cent.
As Manhas explained, "A revenue sharing agreement for carbon recognizes that B.C. will lose stumpage revenues when trees are left standing; and that the First Nation's partners (Lil'wat and Squamish) on whose territory the CCF tenure operates, and Whistler itself, are agreeing to forego some employment and revenue as a result of reduced harvesting."