Utilization of Improved Forest Management (IFM) as a Natural Climate Solution (NCS) on school trust lands in Minnesota and other state trust lands in the United States has the potential to substantially increase forest carbon sequestration, incentivized through potential forest carbon revenue. This project charts a course for scalability throughout Minnesota and on forested state trust lands across the US by assessing and piloting affordable and accessible mechanisms to enter the carbon market – including project development, recommended IFM practices, and favorable policy recommendations. Over 10 million acres of forested state trust lands exist nationwide across fifteen states.
The deliverables generated through this project are important for forest land managers, researchers, and decision makers at multiple entry points, for scaling up and transferring the methods elsewhere, and for providing a critical baseline for measuring outcomes of future projects.
This project engaged a diverse team of experts that examined the potential for a forest carbon project on school trust lands of Minnesota and evaluated opportunities in other states with trust land responsibilities. The objective was to conduct a Forest Carbon Opportunity Assessment by modeling the total live forest carbon stock across Minnesota’s forests and then identify up to three potential project areas on School Trust Land. An estimated scale of approximately 20,000 acres each for future project development was considered in the design of the assessment. The strategies developed and knowledge gained through this project have potential for replication on forested state trust lands throughout the US, recognizing potential policy or regulatory barriers that may exist within each state. The project included an assessment of opportunities within the additional states with state trust lands and an examination of ecosystem services markets, beyond carbon sequestration, to open the door to additional conservation finance opportunities that can support IFM and accelerate NCS strategies (see Appendices B and C for additional information).
Three Total Forest Carbon Stock Model methods were tested, representing scenarios of available data known as “Bronze”, “Silver”, and “Gold”. The comparison of these three model methods, and reproducing them over time, provides foundational information about the importance of the source and quality of data used to model live Total Forest Carbon Stock. For this project, Total Forest Carbon Stock included live aboveground carbon and live belowground carbon estimates. The two estimates were added together for a total live forest carbon estimate. See the model development section of the report and Appendix A for additional information. This project specifically focused on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) carbon pools 1 and 2: live aboveground and belowground biomass, and these pools are considered most susceptible to management and policy decisions, which require more accurate modeling and frequent monitoring.
The application of the Silver model to forest lands in Minnesota resulted in an estimate of total forest carbon stock ranges from 0 to 38 US tons per acre, with an average of 12.7 US tons per acre, adding up to an estimated total of over 1.2 million US tons of total forest carbon statewide across all Minnesota School Trust Lands. Within Minnesota, approximately 2,513,562 acres are managed on behalf Minnesota’s school trust beneficiaries – over 850,000 students in K-12 public schools.
The project also identified and evaluated three specific potential project areas across a total of approximately 145,000 acres of school trust lands. The evaluation of these three potential project areas in the state (referred to as Leech Lake, Aitkin Area, and the North Shore near Finland, MN) resulted in the identification of a variety of potential IFM strategies, including opportunities for forest thinning, underplanting, and wildlife habitat enhancements, among other possibilities.
This project also set out to apply the strategies developed for the Minnesota opportunity assessment across nine additional states (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) with expressed interest in carbon market opportunities on trust lands by identifying the potential for enhanced forest carbon storage through IFM. Across each of the states analyzed, there was a range of data available for running the Bronze, Silver, or Gold level forest carbon stock models. The evaluation shows that Silver level forest carbon stock models are likely achievable nationwide. Amongst the states we collaborated with on this project, the only states without data resources to consider them at the Gold level were the states with comparatively lower acreage of forest land (North Dakota and Utah). All of the other states in this project are at, or very near to, the Gold model level.
The policy analysis aspects of the project were limited, but we found that the climate policy environment varies across the ten states included in the scope of the project. At least seven of the states have a State Climate Action Plan and six are members of the US Climate Alliance. Carbon pricing is only established in one of the states (Washington) and two states (Minnesota and Oregon) have statutes enabling State Trust Lands to participate in carbon markets.
A final aspect of the project was our analysis of opportunities to market multiple ecosystem services on school trust lands in Minnesota and other state trust lands. Overall, we recommend that ecosystem services criteria be used to conduct a strategic assessment of state trust lands to identify the best and most marketable opportunities for multiple ecosystem services payments.
Through this project, many subject matter experts, land managers and others engaged in in-depth conversations about the state of carbon and ecosystem markets today, spatial data inputs and the importance of quality, the practical capacity to increase forest carbon stocks on the landscape, and on-the-ground projects that are already underway. The discussions included potential workflows to forest carbon project selection under the current planning frameworks. It is recommended that these discussions continue after the completion of this project, bringing in field foresters and other practitioners particularly when working at the forest stand scale. Deeper dives at the stand level will be needed on potential future projects as well as further exploration of the policy context.
Prepared by: Dovetail Partners, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Resource Assessment Program, University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute, the Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands, and The Nature Conservancy-MN-ND-SD
With Support From: This project was made possible through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Nature Conservancy’s Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator program.