Susan Benedict

Susan Benedict provides ongoing maintenance to her property outside State College, Pennsylvania, via the Family Forest Carbon Program.

CUMBERLAND, Md. — For the first time in Maryland, a new carbon initiative offers financial incentives to owners of small forest parcels.

The Family Forest Carbon Program recently opened to landowners of between 30 and 2,400 acres in Allegany, Garrett, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties.

The American Forest Foundation, a national conservation organization that works with family forest owners, and The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization, announced expansion of the program.

The groups say the program provides payments to landowners to implement scientifically proven forest practices that increase the carbon sequestered on the land, which improves forest health while addressing climate change.

“Western Maryland’s forests are a critical natural resource for both the communities that rely on them and many species of plants and animals that call them home,” said Tim Purinton, Maryland/DC Chapter Executive Director with The Nature Conservancy, via press release.

“The Family Forest Carbon (Program) allows small-scale forest operations to tap into carbon markets and keep forests healthy and connected,” he said.

“Healthy forests not only support the climate and local economies, they also protect clean water and provide better habitat for fish and wildlife,” Purinton said. “We are excited to see this successful program expand into Maryland.”

Carbon captured by enrolled landowners will be measured and verified through a new carbon accounting methodology developed by The Nature Conservancy and the American Forest Foundation under Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard that is on track to be approved by the end of the year, the release stated.

The new methodology advances the accuracy of the carbon calculation to ensure the program is providing a true climate benefit.

“The program then sells the carbon as verified carbon credits to companies who are taking a comprehensive approach to their climate goals — first reducing emissions before working to neutralize those they cannot eliminate,” the release stated.

“This is another source of support for landowners,” Cumberland resident Donnelle Keech, The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Forests Program director, said of the program, which also provides “an opportunity to be part of the solution” regarding climate change.

“It’s an exciting breakthrough to have these carbon markets,” she said.

Keech said Kate Livengood — a Cumberland native, Allegany High School 2002 graduate and family forest outreach specialist for the local The Nature Conservancy office, will help area landowners connect to resources for the program.

Landowners can log onto familyforestcarbon.org, select their property, and see if their forest conditions and personal goals match enrollment requirements.

“It’s easy to enroll,” Keech said.

Landowners can make a 10- or 20-year commitment based on the forest practice adopted.

Payments to the landowner are determined by property size and forest conditions.

American Forest Foundation spokesperson Elizabeth Greener said that while most forests are part of small holdings by families and individuals, the economic opportunities of carbon markets were limited to landowners of 5,000-plus acres.

“Our program is different,” she said and added that it provides expert consultation from foresters to every landowner and creates a forest management plan customized for each property.

The program offers a chance for landowners to “walk your property with a forester,” Greener said.

The Family Forest Carbon Program was first launched in Pennsylvania in 2020 and will expand to the Upper Midwest and the Northeast in 2022.

Susan Benedict, 63, who lives near State College, Pennsylvania, is a landowner in the program.

“I try to have a variety of cash flow to support the property and this would add another stream, this is a critical habitat area that I wanted to protect from harvest by future generations,” she said via email.

“I fully support the program … and I like how this program is practice-based,” Benedict said.

She recommends the program to other landowners.

“We have to get programs like this going to provide some income to landowners,” Benedict said.

“Timber sales don’t provide enough (money) often enough to support a property,” she said. “It has been my experience that as ownership moves out from the original owner if there isn’t cash to support it the property gets sold and often converted from forest.”

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

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