Trees

The University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute hosted a workshop on Tuesday to discuss ways to monetize the area forest's carbon capture potential. (Duluth News Tribune file)

DULUTH — The University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute hosted a discussion Tuesday, Oct. 8, on forest carbon capture opportunities in Minnesota.

Government and non-government land management organizations attended the workshop meant to ignite conversation on how to better utilize forested lands’ ability to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Trees store carbon in their wood, roots and leaves, giving forests the potential to help offset carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

Chris Wright, an NRRI research associate who focuses on natural climate solutions, said Tuesday was the first time stakeholders and researchers in the area came together to brainstorm ways Minnesota can get on board with monetizing carbon capture in the face of the climate crisis.

"What I really hope comes out of this is we form partnerships and working groups to move this forward," Wright said of the workshop.

The main way to monetize forest carbon offsets, Wright said, is through a cap-and-trade program. California launched a cap-and-trade program in 2013 after its state legislature passed a bill vowing to return to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

The program sets a greenhouse gas emissions limit on sources responsible for 85% of the state's emissions.

Sources in California that surpass their emission limit can purchase credits from landowners committed improving the management of the forest to capture more carbon.

Minnesota has nothing of the sort.

“We need to get our act together in Minnesota, and hopefully we can move forward with the meeting,” Wright said.

Another way to monetize carbon capturing is through voluntary offset programs.

"That's the kind of thing where if you're taking an airline flight and they ask you if you want to offset your carbon emissions, so pay a certain amount of money" to do that, Wright said.

Currently, Wright said he knows of only 175,000 acres of forests tied up in carbon sequestering projects around Minnesota. Meanwhile, Michigan has 3.1 million acres and Wisconsin has 2.3 million acres. UPM Blandin, a paper mill and forest land owner based in Grand Rapids, runs the only large carbon-offset project in Minnesota.

Grant Domke, a research forester with the United States Forest Service, said there's great opportunity in Minnesota to improve forest management in order to enhance sequestration capacity, and one way to do that is simply through managing forests and keeping them on the landscape.

Citing 2018 numbers, Domke said 44% of forest land in Minnesota is less than fully stocked, and 400,000 hectares are on sites with moderate to high productivity. Forest productivity is also referred to as the yield potential of a site.

"If we could get some of this 400,000 hectares on moderate to high productivity sites fully stocked, the potential is massive on an annual basis to increase or enhance that carbon sequestering capacity," Domke said.

Domke noted it's easy to say so as a carbon scientist and not an economist.

"There's a lot more that goes into this than just saying there's a lot of potential," he said.

Researchers and stakeholders who attended the discussion included the Nature Conservancy, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, City of Duluth, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and more.

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