A Summer with the Carbon TIMO

Oct 21, 2021

by Katie Krejsa

Prior to pursuing a Master of Forestry degree at Duke University, I was distraught at the sight of any tree being chopped to the ground. Like many people, some innate sense inside of me felt anguish at the sight of it, feeling pain for our planet, which has endured immense environmental destruction by humankind. But, through the course of my degree, I began to understand that timber is a renewable resource, and that forestry plays an important role in helping our planet become resilient to the effects of climate change. Forestry, I learned, is not the antithesis of my strong conservation ethic, it’s a critical part of the solution.

Forests sequester carbon from our atmosphere; this is one of the many valuable ecosystem services that forests provide. Forestland owners can quantify that carbon sequestration to sell as offsets in the carbon market, which helps polluting companies offset their carbon footprint as a part of their net zero goals. It also helps forestland owners keep their forests intact by making standing trees worth as much as felled trees. I became especially interested in this field during my time at Duke because it combines my love of forests with the ability to help fight climate change—by using forests as a natural climate solution.

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to intern with The Forestland Group (TFG), a timber investment management organization (TIMO), as a forest carbon analyst. At over 2.3 million acres, TFG is the largest owner and manager of natural sustainable hardwoods in the United States, and they are committed to “managing natural forest systems to mitigate climate change, drive positive ecological impacts, support rural economic resilience, and maximize financial returns for investors.” Over the course of my internship, I learned firsthand how forestry and conservation work together as an investment strategy to create real climate mitigation outcomes.

As part of this role, I gained exposure to the intricacies of the forest carbon space by meeting various stakeholders and learning about the process of developing a forest carbon offset project—from performing carbon analyses to getting my boots on the ground. I was lucky enough to accompany my manager, Cakey Worthington, TFG’s Director of Forest Carbon, on a site visit to one of TFG’s properties in the Florida panhandle. During the site visit, I saw what a sustainable working forest engaged in a carbon project looks like firsthand. I also interacted with field inventory crews, learned how data for carbon inventory plots is collected, and witnessed the majestic trees and abundant wildlife present on the property—think alligators, wild hogs, snakes, turtles, birds, and insects galore!

The property, which is located along the Apalachicola River, includes unique hardwood and floodplain forest ecosystems, two areas of high conservation value for the endemic plant and animal species found there, and various sites possessing cultural significance. While timber harvesting on this property is an important part of TFG’s management plan, TFG’s commitment to sustainable management also means that they are focused on managing to promote forest health, increase carbon sequestration, reduce risk of forest damage from pests, disease, fires, and weather-related threats, improve habitat for local flora and fauna, and preserve the integrity of ecologically and culturally significant sites. This strategy ensures conservation outcomes while also generating a return on investment.

This property is home to one of TFG’s first carbon projects developed with internal carbon expertise. Participating in this site visit and observing the on-the-ground carbon inventory work was the highlight of my summer. To see how forest carbon data is collected firsthand is the key to understanding all subsequent uses and applications of the data. Collecting data for carbon volume estimates is vastly more detailed and nuanced than collecting data for timber merchantability. This was precisely the reason for the site visit—TFG was leading a field training to teach the inventory crew the intricacies of, and precision needed, for forest carbon data collection. It’s complicated work, and with each new data collection plot we visited, we encountered new “special case” tree measurements that required a closer look at the interpretation of TFG’s carbon methodology. However, the field crews learned to work carefully and efficiently, which was crucial, considering they had almost 40,000 acres and about 450 carbon inventory plots to complete on the property.

More than anything, what I took away from my time at TFG is that it is possible to sustainably manage forestlands for multiple objectives including carbon sequestration, wildlife and conservation value, water quality protection, recreation, community resilience, rural livelihoods, and timber production. The way TFG manages their land as sustainable, natural working forests is a clear indication that forestry can serve as a solution to the most pressing environmental issues we face today, and it is inspiring to see it being executed on such a grand scale. After being immersed in carbon project analyses and forest carbon expertise all summer, I am even more enthusiastic about pursuing a career in this rapidly growing and evolving space.

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