Cheap forests and carbon sinks
A recently formed company … has purchased 440,000 acres of timber land in southern Oregon for $108 million, officials said. [Emphasis added.]
Just in case you were wondering how much land that is: the sale covers nearly 700 square miles, an area well over half the size of the state of Rhode Island. Of course, Rhode Island is tiny, as states go. But it seems like a lot of land, and at a bargain basement price, to boot. At $245 per acre, even I could afford to become a real estate mogul. Heck, some houses cost more than $108 million.
Silliness aside, this sale makes me wonder whether a carbon trading system — where polluters have to pay for emissions reductions or sequestration — might create huge opportunities for ecosystem restoration.
“Storing” carbon in forests is obviously a risky endeavor; among other problems, carbon stored in trees and soils can, quite literally, go up in smoke. But by the same token, forests in the Oregon Cascades can store huge amounts of carbon; researchers have estimated that Pacific Northwest coastal forests, on average, could eventually sequester over 500 tons of additional CO2 per acre, on top of what’s already in place.
It would likely take over a century for sequestration to reach that point, but if there were a robust global carbon market in place, it’s possible carbon storage and management contracts could, at least in some instances, pay for the purchase price of bargain-basement forest land. During 2006, Europe’s climate exchange paid about $25 per metric ton for future-year CO2 credits. If you can store a couple of hundred tons of carbon per acre, pretty soon you’re talking real money.