Nisqually Land Trust Makes News – and History!

Carbon-credit deal with Microsoft equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road


A look up into the forest canopy on the Land Trust’s Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve

On the eve of the Paris climate talks the Nisqually Land Trust and Microsoft made national news and local history by completing the state’s first-ever “carbon credit” transaction.

News of the deal, announced in late November, made the front page of the Seattle Times and was distributed nationally through the New York Times. It was also featured on radio stations KPLU and KUOW and in the Tacoma News-Tribune, The Olympian, and over a hundred other media outlets nationwide.

To simplify greatly, as part of its voluntary $20 million-a-year initiative to offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions worldwide, Microsoft will pay the Land Trust for carbon stored on a 520-acre property within the Land Trust’s Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve, near Ashford.

As trees grow, they pull, or “sequester,” carbon pollution from the atmosphere and help to reduce the impacts of climate change. The amount of carbon and the rate at which the Land Trust’s trees are sequestering it has been verified under California’s rigorous cap-and-trade program, the only regulated carbon-credit program in the country.

Microsoft is purchasing 35,000 carbon credits from the Land Trust, the equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road.

If the trees were harvested, as they would have been if the Land Trust had not purchased the property and taken it out of industrial management, most of that carbon would be released into the atmosphere.

A sapling thrives on a nurse-log in the Land Trust's Mount Rainier Gateway

A sapling thrives on a nurse log in the Land Trust’s Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve

“This is a game changer,” said Joe Kane, the Land Trust’s executive director. “There are 28 land trusts in the state, and we all face a common problem: How are we going to find the money to maintain our conservation properties over the long haul?

“The carbon market might hold an answer. As these trees grow, they’ll continue to generate new credits. Potentially, we have a perpetual stewardship fund.”

However, the project was a  “huge gamble,” Kane said. “The verification process took over two years, and it was enormously expensive for us, with no guarantee of success.

“But the carbon-credit model holds so much potential for the climate, for our forests, and for land trusts across the state that somebody had to step up. We consider it part of our job to be a conservation innovator, so we gave ourselves the assignment. And in the end, it paid off.”

The Washington Environmental Council (WEC) partnered with the Land Trust and facilitated the deal. Paula Swedeen, a WEC forest-policy specialist and one of the nation’s leading authorities on carbon markets, was the project’s lead developer.

“It was a rigorous process,” she said. “But it has to be. California companies are legally required to meet emissions standards, and there can’t be any question about what work the forest is doing. The data has to be rock-solid.”

Meanwhile, she said, WEC wanted to put together a carbon project with a Washington corporation, to demonstrate to other Washington businesses that it can be done. “We wanted to pair carbon financing with forest conservation right here at home,” she said.

Becky Kelley, WEC’s executive director, pointed out that the project isn’t just about carbon. The forest that Microsoft has invested in provides habitat for at least fifteen different wildlife species, including marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls, both of which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Several Washington corporations, including Microsoft, have purchased carbon credits on the international market. But this is the first time a business has purchased credits in Washington State.

“Microsoft deserves congratulations for leading the way,” said Kane. “They’ve set an example that we hope other home-state businesses will be inspired to follow.”

Rob Bernard, chief of environmental strategies for Microsoft, told the Seattle Times that the Land Trust’s project was a way to look closer to home for its ambitious carbon-offsetprogram, which includes projects all over the world.

“We have been looking for an opportunity in our home state,” he said, “and this was an easy one to get excited about.”

“This is a carbon project you can walk around on,” said the Land Trust’s Kane. “How cool is that?”

A beautiful view of some of the Mount Rainier Gateway forest included in the carbon credits transaction with Microsoft

A beautiful view of some of the Mount Rainier Gateway forest included in the carbon credit transaction with Microsoft