More Incentives to Plant Trees
USDA programs such as Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) offer incentives to Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley landowners to plant trees on land that may be marginally productive under agriculture. SRS Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research (CBHR) scientists are providing research that supports landowners by identifying ways that they can increase their income by planting trees.
CRP establishes various practices farmers can adopt to restore bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and enhance carbon sequestration by establishing perennial vegetation on eligible cropland. Environmentally desirable cropland devoted to bottomland hardwood conservation practices can be enrolled at any time.
In January 2005, USDA policymakers asked Center scientists to assist in updating Conservation Practice 31 (CP-31) to provide additional economic incentives for landowners. CBHR researchers immediately saw an obvious application for the forest restoration technique they had been developing since 1995. The method involves planting slower growing hardwoods, such as red oaks, between rows of fast-growing eastern cottonwoods. This method results in a multi-species forest that can provide landowners with income from timber sales and hunting leases, and potentially from bioenergy fuels and carbon credits, making the conversion of agricultural land to forests more profitable.
After the revised CP-31 was released in May 2005, enrollments in a special CRP set-aside program associated with the update of the conservation practice doubled in the following 6 months. Currently over 26,500 acres are in CP-31. On November 11, 2005, the update to CP-31 was permanently incorporated into the CRP policies and procedures manual as CRP-496.
Estimating Carbon Capacity
Carbon trading is a relatively new development, a market approach intended to help reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide tied to global warming. One way of trading carbon is by giving credits to projectssuch as establishing foreststhat offset emissions by sequestering carbon. A utility company, for instance, could offset its carbon dioxide emissions by purchasing credits from landowners who plant trees on their own land.
CBHR researchers developed a carbon sequestration case study for bottomland hardwoods which included the additional ecosystem services that result from afforesting marginal agricultural land, such as creating wildlife habitat and reducing sediments and chemicals in streams. The study used the cottonwood and red oak system developed by the Center to estimate the amount of carbon that could be fixed over a century. The case study will be revised, for later release, in accordance with the recently released USDA carbon accounting rules and guidelines, which provide information on how to estimate carbon credits in various forest types and ecosystems across the United States.
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