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Beyond the Trees

by | Mar 26, 2019

By providing carbon credits generated by an Alaskan-based forest preservation project on Afognak Island, ClimeCo assisted two bands, Pearl Jam and Third Eye Blind, in mitigating emissions generated during their respective tours.  The Afognak Forest Carbon Project, developed from a partnership between the American Land Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, preserves 8,200 acres of centuries-old Sitka spruce forest from any future logging exploitation, ensuring it will sequester carbon long into the future.

A project that protects such a vast area will additionally result in a myriad of benefits that traverse economic, social and environmental categories.  But, as a biologist with a background in ecological research, I am pulled towards the latter – the environmental benefits.  In particular, I focus on the impressive amount of biodiversity that will be conserved by protecting the forest.

Afognak island is home to a host of animals. Among them are the Roosevelt Elk, 160 species of birds, wild salmon populations, and the largest species of bear, the Kodiak.  Forest preservation efforts promise that critters like these will continue to thrive in an environment untainted by human hand.  However, it is important to note that because of the vast interconnectedness of ecosystems, the positive effects extend past the well-publicized animals to all levels in the system.  While these effects are far-reaching and positive, it is also true that disruptive human actions will create similar ripples that reach far beyond the well-publicized species.  Illustrating this point is the tumultuous history of Gray Wolf populations within Yellowstone National Park.

In the early 1900s, wolves were considered to be a nuisance by ranchers, and by the late 1920s, due to predator control programs, wolf populations were extirpated from Yellowstone.  They didn’t return for nearly 70 years when a team of researchers undertook a campaign to reintroduce wolves into the park.  The wolves thrived and the remarkable impact that they had on the park’s ecosystem was soon obvious.

The most apparent change that researchers noted was the behavior of the elk and deer.  The predatorial nature of the wolves caused these large herbivores to avoid certain areas in order to escape becoming wolf lunch.  Now, that’s a fairly intuitive consequence.  What’s far less intuitive, however, are the broader implications that the renewed predator-prey relationship had on the rest of the park. 

The elk and deer, keen to avoid areas where they were vulnerable, stayed away from the stream banks and lowlands.  This resulted in far less browsing of streamside vegetation, leading to less erosion, which in turn promoted more natural water flows. From this, aquatic populations thrived.  This is truly remarkable!  Simply by being present, the wolves changed the rivers, returning the very lifeblood of the park to what it was before the wolves were removed.  And there are countless other ecosystem benefits the wolves provided to Yellowstone (If you’re curious and would like to learn more, I recommend watching ‘How Wolves Change Rivers’. (The video probably had a larger influence than I’d like to admit on my decision to study these animals.)

The point here is that whether we’re discussing the importance of a keystone predator, like the Gray wolf in Yellowstone, or a primary producer, such as the Sitka Spruce on Afognak Island, interactions within these large ecosystems are endlessly complicated. Preserving the forests on Afognak Island mean so much more than just sequestering carbon; it means protecting the vast, complicated web of interactions that connect the multitude of species that call these landscapes home. 

Utilizing environmental markets to incentivize and promote investments in forestry projects such as Afognak will ensure the preservation of these large, complicated ecosystems, and all the biodiversity that exists within them, long into the future.

To learn more about Afognak and how you can support their ecosystem, contact us here.

 

 

About the Author

Quin Pompi, a Project Associate with ClimeCo Corporation specializing in business development and project management, graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As an undergraduate, he completed his thesis research in the vonHoldt lab, where he examined the effects of sarcoptic mange disease on the reintroduced Yellowstone wolf population.