Carbon stewardship workshop focusing on Gulf Islands forests and coasts

Raincoast teams up with Salt Spring grassroots group to explore the feasibility of carbon stewardship projects in Gulf Islands forests and coasts

Later this month, Raincoast, along with partners at Transition Salt Spring, Brinkman Earth Systems, and a number of other independent collaborators, including Drs. Briony Penn and Ruth Waldick, will be hosting a workshop exploring the feasibility of implementing carbon stewardship projects on the Gulf Islands and across the Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) zone in the Salish Sea. This workshop aims to establish a civic and Indigenous community of knowledge seekers. Our goal is to collaboratively develop a nature-based climate project financed from conservation, restoration and improved ecosystem management.

The workshop on March 17th at 9 AM Pacific will explore how to design and implement reconciliatory projects in which offset revenues move from polluters to stewards (i.e. the polluter pays). In other words, revenues for reducing emissions via restoration and improved forest and coastal/marine management will be used to realize climate equity for Indigenous and rural communities committed to stewardship.  

Forests as carbon storage

According to a 2008 report by The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria, forests are the world’s most productive terrestrial ecosystems with the greatest carbon storage potential. It also asserted that mature coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest can store up to 1,200 tonnes of carbon per hectare, per year. Combined with the carbon storage potential of marine ecosystems at the coastal interface, like kelp forests and salt marshes–which have been found to store up to 10 times more carbon than terrestrial forests due to the storage potential of marine sediment–the Salish Sea region of southwest British Columbia contains some of the greatest carbon storehouses in the world. However, since the arrival of settlers in this area, residential development and industrial activity, such as marine harvesting and logging, much of these carbon sinks have been lost. These activities have also reduced the integrity, resilience, and biodiversity of coastal forests, putting them at further risk of losses from fire, drought, and pests, while causing the endangerment and extirpation of species. At present, Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) forest ecosystems, characteristic of the Gulf Islands, southeastern Vancouver Island, and other regions bordering the Salish Sea, are among the most endangered in Canada. 

Restoring coastal ecosystems, both terrestrial and marine, has extensive benefits from improving local water chemistry, to increasing resilience to coastal erosion and flooding, to safeguarding biodiversity. Incentivizing these types of stewardship activities through the establishment of nature-based carbon projects could generate much needed local revenue to allow these types of activities to continue and expand. For those unfamiliar with carbon stewardship projects, put simply they are activities undertaken by land holders and managers to protect or enhance the carbon sequestration potential of a forest or coastal/marine habitat. Forest carbon sequestration is the ecological process of a community of plants, especially trees, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in their tissues and ultimately soil. Each sequestered unit of carbon dioxide credits a corresponding unit of emissions elsewhere, calculated conservatively to make carbon sequestration equivalent to avoiding emissions of greenhouse gases. Coastal and marine carbon projects act in much the same way, but refer to the restoration of coastal ecosystems such as kelp beds. While these projects are less common, intertidal mangrove forests have been successfully operationalized and temperate intertidal restoration is now  being explored for climate benefits in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Carbon credits as living dynamic wealth

Internationally, carbon credits are an established unit of trade, used as a transitional economic tool to alter harmful practices like clearcut logging to reduce forest emissions.  Each credit represents a unit of allowable greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emission of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide (1 t CO2-e). Incentivizing an activity that produces carbon credits is therefore like any other production system, but it is unique in many ways. Unlike the storage of gold as static wealth in banks, the storage of carbon in the trees, roots and soil is a living dynamic wealth and relies on good long-term relationships with the land and is often enhanced by local Indigenous Ecological Knowledge. Carbon in an ecosystem is as stable as the forests health creating an economic driver to sustain biodiversity, resilience and complexity. 

Carbon credit protection is compatible with traditional cultural, food, and medicinal uses, water protection, fire management and species at risk protection. Well designed projects in BC and other countries have earned cultural and community support, whose local stewardship and monitoring is essential for long term project success. Carbon sequestration adds supplemental revenue streams to enable communities to achieve their goals. 

To date, First Nation and rural communities have had few financial mechanisms available to incentivize sustainable forest stewardship and restoration, despite the proven climate change mitigation benefits of such activities. However, the release of the federal government’s climate action plan (PDF) in December 2020, (read from page 52 on) commits to Nature Based climate action, to reduce emissions by protecting, restoring and enhancing ecosystems. These ideas have been discussed for decades, but the current plan increases the price of carbon from $30/tonne to $170/tonne by 2030 which makes nature-based climate solutions more viable. Together with British Columbia’s historic leadership in developing protocols and initiating pilot projects,  carbon stewardship projects are becoming more feasible.

There are many successful carbon projects in operation

There are already a few successful carbon projects operating in British Columbia, made possible via collaboration between First Nations’ community forests, not-for-profit organizations, rural communities, and local governments. These include Cheakamus Community Forest near Whistler (Territory of Squamish and Lil’Wat Nations), Darkwoods near Nelson (Territory of the Ktunaxa Nation), and the Great Bear Rainforest (Territory of 30+ Nations). Together, these projects have shown that it is possible to use this mechanism to bring financial benefit to First Nations and  rural communities, despite historic low carbon prices. Similarly, New Zealand’s carbon farming program provides an international example for a BC model to be adapted to allow separate land holders to pool together under one project. This model would be essential in the context of the Salish Sea, where smaller parcels of land make implementing carbon stewardship projects more challenging.

The islands of Salish Sea are a mosaic of small and diverse land management systems and world views, with unresolved First Nations land rights overlain by government and privately-managed lands. The workshop we have planned will allow us to explore the feasibility of implementing carbon stewardship as a financial mechanism to transition landholders to long-term community forest stewardship.

Our forests need a culture of care as do our relationships to Indigenous cultures. These relationships could be strengthened through a collaborative transition from an extractive to a restorative economy. Join us on March 17th to explore how we can do this.

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