The carbon market benefits rural America.
Landowners of large acreage and lush forests are in for a treat. There’s a hidden opportunity for landowners hiding just over the hill, and the word needs to get out: Rural communities can benefit from the carbon market!
Have you heard of a carbon offset program? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Missouri landowner Jeff Fulk hadn’t heard of this incredible opportunity until a forester presented it to him during the Great Recession. Through a carbon offset program, forest owners can earn money and protect their land by simply offsetting the carbon emissions emitted by large companies. Marvelously, trees magically do this on their own, and if you’re a landowner of these green, carbon offsetting machines, all you have to do is register your acreage with a program that will aid you in managing your forest.
Jeff Fulk thought it sounded too good to be true, too.
But carbon offset programs can truly help rural areas flourish! Take the promising story of the Shannondale Ministry and Tree Farm as an example. Tucked into the Ozarks of rural Missouri is the tiny community of Shannondale. This remote and peaceful section of hilly countryside is home to an outdoor ministry and a tree farm with an inspiring story of answered prayers.
Shannondale Ministry and Tree Farm
Shortly after the Great Recession in 2008, Shannondale Minister Jeff Fulk agonized over doubts about the livelihood of his beloved historic mission, campgrounds, and tree farm. The economic collapse led to a cease in funding for the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ. This was the conference Fulk’s ministry resided in, and this meant Shannondale was in danger of being sold like other outdoor ministries at the time.
The tree farm’s timber sales were barely keeping Shannondale afloat, as the Great Recession threatened their revenue streams. Locals stopped attending church groups within the conference and people weren’t using the facility’s campground. The income from their timber harvest wasn’t quite enough to offset the cost of running their facility, so Fulk considered selling the property.
One day, Fulk prayed to God for a miracle, and his prayers were answered. The answer took the shape of an innovation called carbon offset credits. A forester with the L-A-D Foundation told Fulk about a project that could change the future of Shannondale for the better. Little did he know, Fulk was about to embark on a green adventure that continued the innovative tradition Shannondale’s founder had set forth long ago in 1929.
During an interview with Fulk, he explained Shannondale’s history of pioneering. Originally called the Vincent Bucher Memorial Tree Farm, it was founded back in 1929 by Reverend Vincent Bucher. Bucher and his community were living off the land in the Ozarks of Missouri. After sending preachers out to explore the untouched lands of Shannon County, they purchased a plot of land that looked promising for the growth of oaks and pines.
Bucher’s mission was to educate rural Ozarkians about sustainable agriculture so they could preserve their newfound land. He was focused on nurturing the land that supported and fed his community, and he made this a reality by leading others to raise cattle, pigs, strawberries, and a tree farm. Not long after establishment in 1929, the Missouri Department of Conservation began managing the land and timber production. At 4,000 acres, this piece of Shannondale land was one of the first tree farms in Missouri and is now the oldest remaining tree farm.
The Carbon Market Saves Shannondale
Many years later, Jeff Fulk was taking advice from a forester to register Bucher’s beloved land with a carbon offset program that would offer many years of preservation and a generous revenue stream.
How does the carbon offset program work?
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2006, came to Shannondale’s rescue. This law provides a limit to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions allowed in the state of California. The law’s goal was to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions back down to the 1990 level by the year 2020. Today, California’s reduction target is 40% below 1990 emissions levels by 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. One of the ways this works is by giving California corporations the option to offset a portion of their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon offset credits from managed forests, registered tree farms, and other entities that absorb CO2 out of the atmosphere or prevent future emissions from entering the atmosphere. This carbon offset program helps carbon emitters meet their emissions reduction goals by funding forest landowners, like Jeff Fulk.
Fulk explained that a forester came by the tree farm to tell him about the carbon credit program opportunity over a cup of coffee.
“I hadn’t heard of it, but it sparked my interest.” Fulk began. “I started looking online to learn about this carbon credit program. This research led to learning about the Chicago Climate Exchange. It sounded great, but within a year they disappeared so this opportunity sat on the burner for a year or two. Later, I heard about the Climate Action Reserve and Finite Carbon. Finite Carbon was really interested in our 4,000 acres.”
Shannondale partnered with Finite Carbon, a company that specializes in developing forest carbon offset projects, in 2013. Fulk registered his 4,000 acres of forest with the Climate Action Reserve, the official registry for carbon offset projects that decides how many credits each project will receive. In exchange for registering, the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ received $900,000.
Fulk explained, “When I entered the program, I had no idea what I was doing. I had to trust people and convince other people to trust, also. And it’s paying off! This program protects the land and forest for 199 years.”
The registration helps to improve forest management for participating entities by maximizing the amount of carbon their forests can capture. For the Shannondale Tree Farm, activities that manage or increase its carbon offset abilities were put into place. Examples include measuring tree species, noting the soil type, noting which direction each slope of the land faces, rotating the harvest area each year, selectively cutting only the most mature trees, and only cutting the tops of the trees while leaving the stumps.
Fulk proudly stated how successful they were at managing their forests after registering with the Climate Action Reserve. “We managed the forest so well that we could have increased our timber sales and still captured enough carbon to produce more income. But we didn’t because we wanted to keep our forests green. The white pine on the south slope rejuvenates the forest on its own. We don’t have to replant anything. I’m so proud of our forest and what the carbon credit program did for Shannondale and the community.”
Shannondale Tree farm was originally established in 1949. Shannondale became the first religiously owned entity in the United States to complete a carbon offset project, and since Shannondale’s entry into the carbon market, it has been issued over 170,000 offset credits by the California Air Resources Board. This means the tree farm has offset over 170,000 metric of CO2, which is equal to the annual carbon footprint of roughly 10,000 American citizens. Shannondale continues to offset over 2,000 tons annually.
Salem News reported that Fulk expressed, “‘What we are doing with carbon credits I believe is in line with our religious mission. God placed us here to be stewards of the Earth, he wants us to take care of our environment. We need to keep the trees and not cover everything with pavement so our forests can not only provide us oxygen but clean our air.’”
Shannondale’s agreement was signed for 199 years, committing the tree farm to two centuries of sustainable forestry practices, land protection, and receipt of carbon offset compensation. In addition to the initial $900,000 credited to the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ, participation in this carbon credit program earns their conference a sum that equals about $20,000 annually. Shannondale sells its credits about every three years. They determine an amount to sell and bank the rest.
In the interview with Salem News, Jeff Fulk stated, “‘The forest will be here long after we are all gone. That means more to me than the money, knowing that Shannondale will thrive well into the future and the forest is safe. This land is protected. No one will be able to come in here and clear cut the trees for any kind of big new development.’ He also mentioned, ‘None of the money we’re receiving is taxpayer dollars. We are selling credits directly to carbon emitters. There is no government involvement in that process what-so-ever.’”
How Carbon Offset Programs Benefit Rural America
Today, in the fall of 2021, Jeff Fulk’s son Nathan is now running Shannondale. The Fulks have green plans for their ministry and tree farm.
Jeff said, “We are more conservation-minded now. I became an advocate for the carbon credit program and for trying to lessen our carbon footprint. We would love to put in solar panels, and we are trying to go greener and educate others.”
“4,000 acres is a small plot of land in the carbon market, but we wanted to form a group or co-op with other landowners. That was always a dream of mine to have enough people who own property to add up to millions of acres in the carbon credit program together. But it’s hard to convince others because they are skeptical. Missouri could have made billions of dollars, but landowners are afraid of giving up their power. But you’re not; you're just cleaning your air!”
“Our forest is like a vacuum sweeper and it goes into this dirty area and it sucks and cleans it all up. Then, we sell the usage of what those trees do to a company that buys carbon credits. They are trying to improve their business, reputation, and environment.”
The plans and renovation of Shannondale have been made possible by the carbon market. In addition to the generous compensation Shannondale’s conference has received from the carbon credit program, their land will be protected and well-managed for entire centuries. Companies buying these carbon credits will do as Jeff Fulk said - improve their business, reputation, and environment.
Rural communities are uniquely positioned to make those companies their customers. Over the past year, the market value of a carbon offset in the US has increased from $17 to $27 per metric ton. Rural landowners, if you follow in the green footsteps of Shannondale, you too may feel the benefits of climate solutions and carbon markets. Furthermore, this beautiful planet will thank you for taking care of it.
If you are interested in thanking our planet for taking care of us, you can visit Shannondale, where groups can enjoy the community center, a craft center, a lodge, outdoor programs, retreats, thousands of acres of healthy forest, and even guided forays with local mycologists! Arrangements for visits, tours and retreats can be made by contacting the Shannondale Center at Troublesome Hollow.
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