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.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).