The Need for Trees

The Need for Trees

The Need for Trees

by: Taylor Marshall, Director of Sustainable Programs, Restore the Earth Foundation | May 27, 2021

When we talk about all the ways to combat greenhouse gasses, one method that is gaining a lot of attention recently is reforestation.  Not only does reforestation help sequester future carbon, but it provides many additional benefits for surrounding communities that make reforestation a win/win type of project.  Planting trees adds vital nutrients to the soil, enabling other vegetation to thrive; they also create a habitat for animals to flourish in, protect waterways, prevent flooding, and create a healthier ecosystem.  It seems simple to plant trees, but in order to achieve the large scale and long-term permanence required to realize the greatest impact and value, it takes partnerships, a major funding investment, and resources to make it happen.

restore the earth foundation

Procuring Funding and Partners

So, we need trees, but how do we pay for them? How do we find partners who want to support a reforestation project?  This is where Restore the Earth Foundation, Inc. (REF) steps in.  REF is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to restore the Earth’s essential forest and wetland ecosystems. They work together with partners to bring solid solutions to deliver successful restoration projects that meet strategic environmental, social, and economic objectives.

Many people know that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is on the ground in every region in the U.S., working with conservation partners. These partners consist of private industry, non-government organizations, Native tribes, state and local governments, soil and water conservation districts, and universities.  The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is a standalone program that offers $330 million yearly to support locally-driven partnerships that address climate change, improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability in the United States.  Each year, only 85 projects are selected to receive this money.  In 2020, REF focused on applying to this program to pilot its private/public investment model to reforest 1 million acres in the Mississippi River Basin, the third-largest watershed on Earth.  We are pleased to announce that in April 2021, REF was awarded $7.4 million in grant money from RCPP.

“RCPP is a public-private partnership working at its best,” said Terry Cosby, Acting Chief for USDA’s NRCS.  “These new projects will harness the power of partnership to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”

In addition to the grant, REF secured additional private investment partners to match and amplify the grant funding for a total of $19 million.  Their hard work to find funding and the right partners has paid off. Now, REF can support a unique pilot project that will extend permanent conservation easements to reforest and protect critical land.  This additional funding increases impact and provides measurable environmental, social, and economic outcomes.

Developing the Project

The funds secured will support restoring 5,000 acres of marginal land in a floodplain in Arkansas to its previous forested condition.  With this pilot project, REF and the NRCS will apply innovative approaches to the wetland reserve easement process to engage more landowners, focusing on overcoming historically underserved landowner participation barriers.  Conservation easements restore and protect land for future generations, while allowing landowners to retain private property rights, enabling them to live on and use their land at the same time. 

To accomplish this, REF will develop an easement template with NRCS to emphasize water quality and acknowledge carbon sequestration while amplifying wildlife and biodiversity benefits.  The project envisions accelerating the easement process and resources, providing more landowner participation to restore the land to the previous native forested condition.  NRCS will hold the easements to assure the integrity, permanence, and long-term benefits of the investment. 

The Benefits

As a result of this reforestation, NRCS will address climate change and achieve significant environmental, social, and economic co-benefits beyond their regular funding.  High-yielding croplands will not be taken out of production.

In addition to the restoration of the forest, the newly planted native trees will generate 1,000,000 mt (CO2e) of carbon emission reductions.  REF will recapture funds through revenues generated by ClimeCo, which will market the greenhouse gas reductions.  In addition to a payment for the easements and reforested land, participating landowners will receive a share of these revenues. The balance will be reinvested by REF into additional projects to scale the program.

“Through the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, we’re excited to be engaging more of those interested landowners to ensure that wildlife, habitat, and communities are enhanced in a restored, healthy, self-sustaining system,” said PJ Marshall REF, Co-Founder and Executive Director.  “The restored ecological systems provide for public benefits that include erosion control, improved soil and water quality, wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, flood reduction, and carbon sequestration.”

Arkansas has a substantial backlog of landowners interested in conservation easements; this project will help make a meaningful dent in the backlog.  Project partners have committed to purchasing carbon emission reductions in the form of Forecasted Mitigation Units (FMUs) or credits associated with project activities.  

We are excited about this project.  Both REF and ClimeCo believe that these large-scale, collaborative projects, focusing on regional water quality, carbon sequestration, and local impacts, provide a tangible path for achieving big-picture climate solutions.  These projects also go beyond environmental improvements to provide significant regional and local benefits through ground engagement.  

To learn more about this project or if you have an Arkansas Landowner interested in participating in this project, please contact Taylor Marshall,

About the Author

Taylor Marshall is the Director of Sustainable Programs at REF.  She has dedicated her professional life to identifying and promoting solutions and opportunities to address national and international environmental issues.  Taylor manages partner relationships, represents REF at local, national and international workshops, meetings and conferences.  She has been responsible for securing major grants and funding for REF and is the chief “in the mud” coordinator of all of REF’s corporate and community volunteer planting events. Taylor fills a key role in coordinating with all REF’s partners in implementing strategic communications, outreach and educational plans related to all projects. 

Prior to joining Restore the Earth, Taylor was with The Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she applied her expertise in integrated water resource management to develop and promote community-based approaches to protecting and restoring the Gulf coast communities from storm risk and land loss and enhancing community resilience.

Taylor has a Masters of Science from McGill University in BioResource Engineering with a concentration in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM).

Beyond the Trees

Beyond the Trees

Beyond the Trees

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.